Since the natural hair movement dashed on the scene, WOC everywhere stood in reclamation of their natural tresses. Learning to care for and love natural hair became a pilgrimage to embracing natural beauty in a society where that reflection is often not mirrored in mainstream culture.
Along the way, a glorified breakdown of hair texture became an encyclopedia for figuring out where your curl pattern fit. Like anything in Western society, the idea of what type of hair texture was more favorable than others started great debates. Though diversity in natural hair is more represented in today's social media climate, there still seems to be a quieted trend of underrepresenting the natural hair characteristics that are "least favorable" by collective admission and vocalized acknowledgement of the internalized pain this causes.
Today, as the natural hair movement has spread into blogging and Instagram, there is still a happy-go-lucky energy that ignores the lesser represented hair types and characteristics.
My personal testimony began as the natural hair movement exploded in our culture. YouTube gurus popped up left and right. Unfortunately, the forerunners of this movement had hair that looked unbelievably easy to manage. Finger detangling, washing hair without separating it in quadrants, and doing the quick wash and go with defined curls that seem cemented in time, are not things that every woman with natural hair can easily do. Yet, for a long while, that was the only type of hair texture you would see online.
I did not see many reflections of mixed 4B/4C, thin, coily, kinky, or Z patterned hair, and the process one would go through to wash, deep condition, and style. When I would happen to see a more fitting hair type tutorial, it would always be about how to stretch the hair and how to define a curl. The videos that I needed to see of women with thin strands and low volume seemed nonexistent.
I personally remember stressing over where the videos were of women with hair like mine. I used to think that I wouldn't see any of those videos because nobody wants this hair. I knew that my hair couldn't and wouldn't do the things that the softer, looser, longer, and curlier textured hair types could. For a long time, I felt left out and lost as I learned how to care for my own natural hair, after years of succumbing to the "creamy crack".
I knew I am not the only one feeling slighted by what the natural hair movement has become, so I reached out to some other women who have a lot to say.
*Responses have been edited and condensed for clarity.
Kayla Williams @KayJohnae
Kayla is a wardrobe stylist hailing from New Jersey, and she recently did the big chop for the second time.
"In 2014, I wanted to go natural. I did the big chop. I felt like my hair wasn't as pretty as the natural girls on social media, or my friends. I wore my hair out for a short time, and I put braids in and wore other protective styles. In 2017, I cut my hair back down. I went as low as a pixie cut this time and then I relaxed it. I wore my relaxed hair proud and boldly because I felt like it looked better than my natural short coily cut.
"Two weeks ago, I decided to embrace my natural hair fully this time and not backpedal. I cut the perm out of my hair after letting it grow out for five months. I'm now back down to my short coily cut. I feel completely naked when I wear my short hair, I can't hide under the perms, wigs or braids anymore. I've decided to embrace my hair and I finally understand that I'll never be the natural girl with the big curly fro."
Ayana Hall @yan_niii
Ayana is a model from New York City, and she broke down why the natural hair movement is misleading.
"In all honesty, we [in the 4b to Z patterned community] are so underrepresented and it's honestly misleading to those looking to join the natural hair movement. These images of looser textures have somehow become the face of our movement, when I know I never casted my vote!
"My beef is not with women with these textures, but with those spreading the propaganda and appeasing to this European standard of Black beauty. It's continuously holding us back from seeking and flourishing in self-love.
"Think about it, young black girls who are very impressionable see these images and still think that this is what it means to be natural, and this is the "look" I must have to be "presentable" and socially acceptable with my natural hair. Sound familiar? It definitely should, because this is the same idea and rhetoric behind relaxers; aside from the ignorant rhetoric about natural hair maintenance.
"It honestly kills me that people think being natural is just about hair! It's more than that! It's about embracing your true self! Appreciating what God has given you! Accepting your honest self and vowing to never let that truth slip away! This movement is about identity and standing firm in that beauty comes in all shapes, sizes, and TEXTURES! If we're gonna keep momentum going, it's time to be inclusive of all textures! From loose to kinky, soft to coarse, curls to waves, kinks to coils!
"My journey hasn't been easy and honestly, I'm still on it! You know the Black woman is one of the most disadvantaged groups in the world. Now tag on dark skin or 'nappy headed' and look, we've got more setbacks. With that being said, if we're going to do this, and if we're going to be in this, let's do it together and get it right! From my naps to yours."
Coral Foxworth @FXWRK
Coral Foxworth aka FXWRK, is an up-and-coming underground electronic producer and DJ from Brooklyn, NY. She had some profound truths to share about black hair and identity.
"I have 4C hair. But not the thick, long, dense kind. Not the 4C that does enormous puffs or juicy twist outs that hang and shine. Mine is short. Naturally thin. Highly porous and cottony. No curls unless I rake gel through it, or put rollers in. Too thin to hang, shrinks up and tangles badly when loose, but starts to lock if I leave it bound too long. It breaks so easily, not because it's unhealthy... it's just naturally fragile and knotty.
"I've been natural since 2010, and my hair is six inches long. It doesn't grow fast and never has.
"It's genetic. Coming home and falling asleep with loose hair or without a scarf on even ONCE can mean noticeable, irreversible damage from breakage...or tangling so bad I'm forced to spend four hours undoing it strand by strand. Most people without this hair type really don't understand.
"The natural hair movement initially gave me the strength to transition. It was about self-love and reclaiming the glory of something I'd been conditioned to hate. A few years into it, I started to feel the movement had changed a lot. It had become extremely commercialized and 'curl' focused. I found myself looking at famous YouTubers and bloggers with type 3 curls, and long, thick type 4 hair. It seriously seemed like NO popular vloggers had hair like mine. I won't lie; I got sucked in, and found myself coveting other woman's tresses, wondering if I used this cream or that method, that I could get their look and manageability.
"I would cringe with envy when I saw 'hair growth' videos celebrating six inches in one year, or styling tutorials for the many looks I can never achieve. Millions of girls have my kind of 4C. I hope the 'movement' changes to reflect our beauty back to us. Now I look for low manipulation YouTubers and ponder freeform locs because I'm tired of feeling like I HAVE to constantly soften, stretch, detangle and baby this stuff on my scalp.
"Is it really necessary, or is this a social construction the black community hasn't confronted yet? Is our hair really so unkempt in its truly natural shrunk state? Are breakage and knots inherently bad? Can we love our hair as is and not use styling as a way to avoid inner work?"
Featured image via Coral Foxworth
Originally published on July 5, 2018