I remember feeling so nervous the first time I decided to wear my natural hair to school.
I spent the night before trying to create the most pristine Bantu knots, using as many products as I could while anticipating the final result.
The feeling of excitement I had while unravelling the Bantu knots that morning was akin to waking up on Christmas Day – and the flood of compliments I received made the night before struggling with my comb, 4C kinks, Shea moisture and Cantu catalogue all the more worth it.
I remember this moment so vividly because it was at the beginning of my natural hair journey which is now 6 years old.
The decision to go natural was political for me. I was starting my junior year of high school following the murder of Mike Brown and the subsequent protests which took place in Ferguson.
For me, embracing my natural hair meant embracing every part of my Blackness that society told me I should be ashamed of and that needed to tame.
I decided to stop getting the perms that I got every six months and bought as many products as possible that had the term “curl enhancer” in it from my local beauty supply store.
But while my intention was to embrace my Blackness, a part of me was only willing to embrace a specific type.
I started my natural hair journey trying to ensure that my hair didn’t look anything like its natural state. My edges had to be laid, my kinks had to be transformed into curls, and my shrinkage had to be minimised.
My internet search history was full of “how to get 4c hair to…” instead of “what is healthy 4c hair”. In the process of trying to abandon a harmful beauty standard, I replaced it with another.
The hair typing system that many of us use was created by Oprah Winfrey’s personal stylist Andrew Walker, as a way to categorise hair texture.
The system characterised hair into four categories and three subsections in each category with 1A being the straightest and 4C being the kinkiest. This made it easier for Mr Walker to market his own products with all the varying hair textures in mind, paying close attention to the care each may need.
Like categorisation systems tend to do, the creation of this hair type method has resulted in a caste system, where only certain types of hair is represented and celebrated.
Out of this system, texturism – a concept that celebrates and markets looser natural hair textures opposed to tighter, kinkier coils – has well and truly flourished.
This ranking system is reflected quite clearly on social media. Girls with type 3 hair and type 4 girls who manipulate their hair in a particular way are the most visible. Beyond texture, these girls also typically have thick long hair with baby hair to create the ‘ideal’ look.
However, thick long hair with baby hair is not the natural state of all Black hair. There are women who have very thick hair but have shrinkage. There are some who don’t have much length at all. And there are some women whose edges are the kinkiest part of their entire head, forming what is referred to as a “kitchen”.
A combination of factors including diet, weather, environment, and most importantly genetics also influence the natural state of our hair.
Representation in the natural hair community, particularly on social media, should be about embracing the beauty of all types of natural hair, rather than focusing on how to conform and manipulate our hair to fit the status quo.
A movement that was once about celebrating the beauty of Black hair outside of westernised beauty standards has become a variation of it – where the closer in proximity to type 1-3 hair you are, the more you will be seen and celebrated by the masses.
In a movement meant to shift the standard of beauty, it is very important that we are aware of what we are talking about when we discuss and define “natural hair”.
Speaking to one of the most visible 4C Youtubers, Star Puppy, she tells me that one of the best ways to combat texturism is to “show don’t tell.”
“I think positive, normalised representation is the most impactful action we can take,” she says.
“More specifically, 4C media representation in movies, commercials and physical ads.”
Another way to tackle texturism is to shift the focus from prioritising curly hair to healthy hair – after all, health should be the focus, not mimicking curls that also erases the kinks from our hair.
In order for this shift to happen everyone in the community must partake in it – including brands.
Brands should prioritise making products that actually help your hair instead of placing the majority of their attention – and marketing budgets – on products that give a very specific desired look.
Influencers, particularly those who fit within the standard, must also stop pandering to trends and make room for a variety of hair textures to be celebrated.
And as consumers, we must re-evaluate what we define as natural and who we are putting in front of the movement.
At the end of the day, our hair is more than just a beauty statement – our hair is our history, our protector, and most simply ours. We must make sure we are all celebrated and accounted for.