• e.l.f. cosmetics

    the cooptation[?] of the natural hair movement

    A few days ago, the above image came across my Twitter feed and caused me to stop and think. Was shawty right? Have mixed women taken over the natural hair movement? Aren’t some mixed women also BLACK women? Who tf is she or I to police someone’s identity? But damn, it sure does hurt to not see my hair texture well represented. 

    For those who don’t understand my sisters point, let me offer up a quick summary of Black hair in America. 

    Like most things in Black America, we trace its roots to slavery. When slaves who would eventually become Black Americans first arrived in what would become the United States of America, their hair texture was to be wool-like because of its kinky and coarse nature. Since white was right, meaning the straight or looser curls of white or mixed women were deemed more appropriate and beautiful, the European colonizers developed a tool, the hot comb to “remedy” the problem by straightening Black hair. 

     Photo: Live Auctioneers

    Photo: Live Auctioneers

    In the 1900s, Madame C.J. Walker innovated the press and curl style, becoming the first female, Black, American millionaire in the process. Then, Garrett A. Morgan invented the first relaxer, a set of chemicals designed to literally relax or tame Black hair and make it straight. Throughout the 1900s, we then saw many prominent Black women (Diahann Carroll, Lena Horne, Dorothy Dandrige, etc.) wear their hair relaxed or covered with straight or lightly curled wigs. 

    However, in the 1970s, the era of Black Power, prominent Black women like Angela Davis and Pam Grier rocked their natural afros, making both a strong political statement and beginning to bring natural hair in-style. In the 80s, the Jheri curl dominated as it promised curls, but looser ones. In the 90s we began to see more variety amongst hairstyles both on TV and off through shows like Living Single, The Cosby Show, and movies like Poetic Justice (word to Janet’s box braids S L A Y). Popular singers like Aaliyah, who rocked long straight weaves also contributed to the continued prominence of straight hair styles, whether the hair was modified once it came out ones head, or purchased and installed. 

    In the late 90s and throughout the 2000s the natural hair movement came to prominence again after fading with the “end” of Black Power in the 60s and 70s. Whether because products for natural hair became more available, seeing stars like Tracee Ellis Ross (who is mixed but a Black woman) rock her curls on TV, or through commentary around documentaries like Chris Rock’s Good Hair, Black women were ditching their relaxers in favor of what grew from their head. 

    Okay, so that wasn’t exactly a brief history, but stay with me here, I needed you to have the whole story. Enter in the current moment. 2017. Black hair is as versatile as ever. Women rock everything from straight or curly wigs/weaves, to box braids/faux locs/twists, and the hair that grows out of their head. 

    Natural hair is in again. 
    Some black women have always been natural and others are leaving behind their relaxer in favor of their natural hair. Natural meaning whatever the good Lord blessed them with. 

    But, here’s the thing, like the politics of any other choice, those surrounding Black hair are especially complicated. And that’s why I really had to stop and think about my sister’s comment. As a type 4b/c natural, I have a hard time finding beauty influencers with hair like mine. One could make the argument that I haven’t done the work of looking for them and that could very well be true. But, we’ve also got to acknowledge the ways that colorism, Eurocentric standards of beauty, and the continued propensity to vilify Blackness manifest. (I’m thinking of Blackness on a gradient here. So light is right, dark is out, and everything in between is dealt with as it comes).

     Photo: Lipstick Alley

    Photo: Lipstick Alley

    If you look at the chart above, it’s easy to see that 4b/c hair is the kinkiest and most “lacking” in a defined curl pattern. Wash and go’s require a bit(lot) more effort. The hair is not “defined” on its own, it has to be manipulated to show a distinct curl pattern or style. It’s the tightest, kinkiest, and in my personal opinion, Blackest hair that one can have. 

    So, the products that work for women who have 3a/b/c or even 4a hair do not work for me. Yet, those are often the hair textures had by women who one could deem “influencers” in the natural hair movement. The textures of the women you see being sent free products on Instagram. The textures of the women men so often herald up and say they need to make babies with so their children can have “good hair.” 

    This post isn’t about shading those women. Their hair is beautiful and I myself have at times wished mine looked like that. (Let me not lie, I’ve wished it looked like that often). Wondered, if I’d have to worry less about what I look like when I go to an interview if I had a looser curl texture. Would hoteps tweet about me too? Could I get sent products to try and market to others if I had a looser curl texture? 

    We all need to remain committed to creating space for and appreciating the myriad of textures, colors, shapes, and sizes of Black hair.

    Maybe. But, I’ll never know because I’m not going to do anything outside of styling that changes the texture God gave me. Seven years of wearing a relaxer was enough. I will however continue to both pray and do the work of diversifying[?] the representation found in the natural hair movement. Us 4b/4c girls need love too. Our hair is strong, it bounces back, and I’m proud to have a true afro. Hair that grows up and out instead of down. 

    I don’t think mixed girls have taken over the natural hair movement, especially if those mixed girls identify as Black. But, I do think we all need to remain committed to creating space for and appreciating the myriad of textures, colors, shapes, and sizes of Black hair. So that myself and other type 4b/c naturalistas can find Youtubers, Bloggers, and brand partnerships that represent us too. So I can worry a little less before an interview (debate your momma, the bias is real).

    So that all Black is truly beautiful.
    Because, it is and if we don’t do a good job representing ourselves, no one else will.

    Header Image: Freddie Harrel

    Gabrielle Hickmon
    Gabrielle Hickmon

    Find me on: Web | Twitter


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