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The Student Newspaper of MAST Academy, since 1991.
The Student News Site of MAST Academy

The Beacon

The Beacon

The hair hierarchy: How internalized racism has polluted the natural hair movement

By Hillary Simmons
Truck Editor

From big ‘fros in the 60s to sleek hair in the 90s, attitudes about curly hair have drastically changed with the decades. The most recent upshoot in attitudes about natural hair have come through in the 2010s, really around 2015. Girls with curly hair have ditched chemical relaxers and replaced them with coconut oil, wide-toothed combs, and DIY conditioners. However, what began as a call for those with textured hair to embrace their curls and feel uplifted has turned into a new source of stress for many.

Natural hair is not a monolith by any means. Natural hair textures range from loose curls to tight coils. So, naturalists have come up with ways to categorize it. Popular stylist Andre Walker’s hair typing system labels curly hair from 2A (wavy) to 4C (tight coils). This system is helpful in acknowledging the varying needs of curly hair, but with easy labeling comes easy prejudicing.

Andre Walker’s hair typing system, showing the vast differentiations in curly hair type. (Photo courtesy of Pinterest).

Coined by Cynthia Robinson in 2011, the phrase “hair hierarchy” refers to inequitable attitudes about varying curl patterns. A byproduct of colorism, hair discrimination is a testament to the ever-prevalent, Eurocentric beauty standards imposed on marginalized cultures.

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Senior Martiva Toby has had natural hair for about four years now and expresses how a lack of proper representation instills prejudice in us beginning from such young ages.

“When the media, like Disney Channel, does show Black girls in TV shows and movies, they tend to show only the ones with lighter skin and 3C hair,” Toby said.

The natural hair movement outwardly says that its purpose is to uplift Black women, but reading between the lines can reveal much more. Longer, looser, shinier curls are preferred to thick, tight coils. Additionally, there is a strong amount of pressure for girls who have 4C hair to alter it in some way; but it is strange because on one hand you are encouraged to embrace your natural curls, while on the other you are underhandedly told that your unaltered hair is not beautiful.

“4c hair is only praised when it’s long,” reads a tweet on Twitter.

4C hair has the tightest curl pattern and is usually prone to tangles. It also has a lot of shrinkage, which makes it seem shorter than it truly is. Because 4C girls are so strongly encouraged to spend hours on end trying to stretch their hair and define their curls, it is implied that there is something inherently wrong with 4C hair.

Some 4C women may opt for alternative solutions to wearing their natural hair, simply because caring for 4C hair is like a second job. These include wearing wigs, braids, weaves, and even chemical relaxers. Unfortunately, many of these women are shamed for self-hatred.

“They do not like when we wear our natural 4C hair. They call it nappy and bully us from such a young age. Then, when we use protective styles like wigs and weave to alter our hair, they say we are stealing white girl’s hair. Really, we just don’t want to get bullied, so we try to find ways to fit in,” Toby said.

The fact that 4C girls are constantly met with pressure from all sides of the spectrum, including those within the natural hair community, is disheartening and unfortunate. Hair texture discrimination’s involvement in a movement meant to uplift those with natural hair can strike some as oxymoronic—and it is. The truth is that 4C hair has a mind of its own. Caring for it on its own is enough pressure. What a girl with textured hair decides to do with it is, honestly, no one’s business but her own.

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The hair hierarchy: How internalized racism has polluted the natural hair movement