Texture Discrimination – How I Really Feel About It

It’s been awhile since I’ve written what I like to call a think piece. This topic is something that’s been subconsciously on my mind for years, but only recently did I realise what exactly it was that bothered me about it. I know it’s very controversial because a lot of us would like to think that all naturals are equal. But in my experience, that’s not the case. A lot of people don’t want to talk about it, some are in denial about texture discrimination. As with anything, there’s no truth, just different perspectives. So of course, I’ll be talking about this from my perspective and you might share in it… or you might not. I’m opening it up for discussion on this space of mine. It’s been brought up in other places and other spaces but I’ve never addressed it here. For the sake of this post, I’m going to call it ‘texture preference’ rather than texture discrimination because to be honest, I don’t feel like I’ve been discriminated against. Discrimination is a very strong word, but I definitely know that others’ hair has been preferred over mine because of what it looks like and how it behaves.

The natural hair movement is amazing – obviously. I think it’s about time. I’m so proud that we’re taking back our beauty, that we’re standing up to the mainstream, we’re going against the grain and defiantly so. But what I have noticed, is that even amongst the natural hair community, there’s a bit of a division. Just look at how we type our hair. In itself, it’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it can get dangerous. I feel that hair typing can breed new self-hate, new doubt, new self-comparisons. I think it’s fine to be able to relate to other women who might have a similar hair texture to you when you’re looking for products, tips and styles. Naturally, we gravitate towards the women who look more like us than those who don’t. Having said that, I think it’s crucial to have realistic expectations for you, your hair and its capabilities. Embrace what your hair can do, rather than lusting over Tracee Ellis Ross’ curls when you’re several hair types away from that hair. Your hair will never look like her hair naturally does because you don’t have her hair. You have your hair. Her natural isn’t the only beautiful natural.

I’ve noticed that even as an influencer, I’m not immune to this. I’ve been to events or other hair spaces and noticed the way people treat and behave towards women with looser hair textures than mine. In many ways, it reminds me of my (and I’m sure others’) childhood. Just as how I mentioned that I’ve been treated differently with shorter natural hair, compared to my longer hair, I can also feel the difference between how some people approach (or not approach me) compared to how they interact with the girl with the loose textured hair. They might not explicitly say that her hair is more beautiful than mine, but their behavior (in awe, reaching out to touch, and heightened interest) signals a difference. I see the difference. I hardly ever hear ‘her hair is SO beautiful’ from guests, attendees, brand managers referring to a woman with tight curls or kinks. And how many of us didn’t believe we could go natural because we didn’t have that “good hair”?

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but who exactly is the beholder in this regard? For me, mainstream media and society have always portrayed ultimate beauty as very Eurocentric – lighter skin, slim nose, straight hair. By deduction, the closer you are to that, the more beautiful you’re considered. And the further away from that, the less beautiful. Let me be clear:

I’m not blaming the women with looser hair. I don’t think we should place blame or negative feelings, hate or whatever it is towards them. It’s not their fault, don’t get it twisted. What I’d like to do is acknowledge that the blame should be placed on society and how it breeds this preference.

That we can’t deny. From the time we’re born, as little girls in our communities, in our neighborhoods, in our families, the beauty ideals are clear. The little girl with the soft, curly hair is ‘beautiful’ and the girl who doesn’t have that is also beautiful but, conditionally. How many times have you heard “she’d be so beautiful if only her hair was a bit softer”. “She has a cute face but such hard hair. Her mother should relax it.” Or “her hair was so beautiful and soft when she was a baby, shem”.

“But, we’re all natural.”

When I hear this response to the texture preference topic, I mostly hear it from someone with a looser hair texture. It’s comparable to the Black Lives Matter movement (definitely not in gravitas though); when a non-Black person responds by saying ‘but, all lives matter’. I think it’s easier to say that all of us are natural and all of us are equal when it’s from an advantage point, whether you consciously know it or not. This isn’t to exclude anybody. This isn’t about excluding the looser haired girls. What we’re saying isn’t that natural hair is just for ‘us’. What we’re saying is: include us. Represent us. We’re being underrepresented and misrepresented. Our kinky afros are accepted in the more creative circles but not corporate – as it’s unprofessional. We’re considered beautiful – but only if our 4C hair is long. When it’s short, or cut in a certain style, it’s considered rough, or rebellious, or poor, or the best one – too African…as if that’s a bad thing.

I’m no more natural than someone who has 3A curls. She’s also natural. But as I said above, 3A is not the only beautiful natural. When you’re promoting a natural hair care line, you say it’s suitable for all curl types – so show all curl types. Why can’t it be her and me? What I’m saying is: I want to be represented more. I want to see women more like me. Not to cancel the other girls. As what they call a 4C, kinky haired girl, I’m putting my hand up to say yes all naturals are beautiful, yes all naturals are natural, so represent me.

I’ve been chatting to other women on the ground, friends, and colleagues. Texture preference is underlying in a lot of how we see ourselves and how we see each other. If I had “good hair”, if I didn’t have “kroos hair”, then I’d be natural. That’s where I have a problem. We need to figure out how to stop that kind of thinking from permeating our minds and do so before we pass it on to our impressionable young girls. I don’t think we realize the damage that we’re doing to little girls and their confidence when we look at the girl with the looser hair, the longer afro and call her beautiful. Even if we don’t even say anything specific about her hair, the other little girl with the short, so called ‘coarser’ hair is going to compare herself to the ‘beautiful’ girl and wonder what is it about her that makes her so beautiful? Children spot the difference, draw their own conclusions, they figure it out. If I’m not called beautiful, and she is…that means I’m the opposite. That’s where I believe it starts. It’s where it started with me.

So that’s my two cents on it. I know that this topic stirs up a lot of emotions. I felt that it was important for me to share how I see things. I’m really not trying to bash girls with looser hair, not at all. Your hair is gorgeous. Kinky haired girls’ hair is gorgeous. We are equal. Just not in the eyes of society or mainstream media.

Thoughts? Do you feel discriminated against or preferred over? Is there still a ‘good hair/bad hair’ vibe in the natural hair community?

Weigh in below.

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13 Comments

  1. Nele
    September 26, 2017 / 7:40 am

    I have natural hair and though I’m not sure about hair typing , it’s definitely in the 4s. My hair is tight, thick, black and has ZERO curls. It shrinks A LOT , it looks 90 ℅ shorter than its real length. Its hard to open a clear line in it because it’s “rollsed” in the scalp. Nearly forgot something about my hair, IT’S beautiful and I adore it!

    So now let’s get to the business of the day, your post. With the type of hair that I have described above. It has been praised by many, because my hair definitely has volume. I grew up in South Africa, Bizana to be specific and I can tell you here volume is the main thing not curls. I stayed in Durban and volume there was the main thing again and for many years now I stay in Pretoria and work in the corporate world. Here, I have got mixed reactions, surprisingly more negative comments (55% negative and 45% positive). Ofcoz not a big difference but believe me every difference counts to me. Some people feel that my hair is too thick and they would never tolerate it, it is not straight so not professional, especially for someone who deals with international clients ( most with straight hair), Others would ask, when are you doing your hair? As if my hair needs to be done.. it hurts that some people just can’t accept me just like I am, because this is me, real me, my hair grows like this it’s not like it’s a haircut that went terribly wrong, it’s God’s will His creation. I have however noticed that most people who have bad things to say about my hair are just jealous and have very low self-esteem issues and can’t understand how I have been able to stand up and embrace and celebrate my hair. I just feel sorry for them and wish one day they will find inner peace and enjoy who they are and how they look because they ARE beautiful, all of them. As for me, I really don’t wish my hair was any different.

    ***Forgive me for any spelling errors, punctuation errors and omissions. I’m using a mobile phone.

  2. Mina Moroaswi
    September 16, 2017 / 10:09 am

    Hi, Aisha.
    This hair issue is beyond just hair issue for me. It’s skin tone and body size as well. Growing up I got treated differently because my mother never believed in putting chemicals on a child’s head. Even when I was in high school, she would never give me money for hair. To her, neat hair is kinks. Just wash and comb your hair.
    On top of that I am dark and skinny. I hated myself because no one wanted to sort of relate to me. I only survived Because i was a smart stud. So no one could tell me anything when my grades are better than theirs.

    Fast forward to 18+ and starting to date. Black guys NEVER approach me. I got told I’m ugly and should change my hairstyle and gain weight and all kinds of insults. But mostly my hair was an issue. I felt like I’m living in a wrong world. Suffered low esteem Because my friends were popping.

    • Aisha O'Reilly
      September 25, 2017 / 7:19 am

      Thanks for weighing in Mina. It’s sad that as much as there’s a struggle/discrimination with hair, that it’s pretty much our entire bodies as women. We’re always too thin, too fat, too short, too tall. Eugh, how boring would it be if we all looked the exact same though? SO sorry you had to go through it all, but glad you’ve made it on the other side, found something you could feel confident in and used it to propel yourself forward. I love that!

  3. Rebone
    September 16, 2017 / 7:20 am

    In South Africa, it isn’t a looser vs tighter comparison cause the hair of most naturals this side is tightly curled. It’s mainly about the volume of the hair. The bigger, the better. My hair is less volumous and will Never be on a “hair goals” poster, even though it’s healthy.

    • Aisha O'Reilly
      September 25, 2017 / 7:16 am

      Hi Rebone, I tend to disagree with you. Not to say that volume vs lack of volume isn’t a thing – I’ve definitely experienced that, just as long over short is also a big preference but the looser curl type is still what many aspire to. Yes, the hair of most naturals here is tightly coiled, but how many of us still think it’s “uglier/less professional/less tidy” than the others? That in itself also lends itself to the more voluminous look people go after. Kinkier coils have more shrinkage so naturally can’t appear as “big” as the curly afros.

  4. Olebogeng
    September 14, 2017 / 9:43 am

    Hi Aisha
    Interesting article and very true, the descrimination is there and its clear that most women aspire for the loose curly natural hair and get frustrated when they realise that their hair cannot be like that but luckily for me i prefer the tight kroos steelwool type of hair, the type that is said to be untidy/not professional etc. Thats my favourite! When i see a woman with that type of hair i make it a point to go up to her and compliment her and not saying the loose curls are not beautiful but because i know she usually gets comments like ‘why dont you comb it/ why dont you blow it to be softer/ isnt it painful to comb’

    • Aisha O'Reilly
      September 25, 2017 / 7:10 am

      Hi Olebogeng, thanks for your comment. I think it’s great that you already prefer the kinkier hair. It definitely helps when you have confidence in it then no one’s words or narrow-mindedness can affect you. I’ve honestly had to work on it, from before going natural, being natural 3 years in etc. Cos I believe it’s constantly in our faces. Regarding the untidy/unprofessional mentalities, I’m proud that I made people rethink that with my 30 Updos challenge 🙂

  5. September 12, 2017 / 4:18 pm

    Hey Aisha! Great think piece, very balanced perspective. I have two big issues, with texture in the natural hair community and it’s very hard to untangle whether they stem from some of the negative ideas bestowed on the dark-skinned, kinky-haired, wide-nosed community or if it is an outcome of the the natural hair community itself. For one is the fact that a majoirty of natural hair products say they work for “All Hair Types” but in fact most work for curls and not coils and kinks. This is how in fact a lot of us become product junkies (particularly of the type 4 hair), because we see videos on Youtube and Instagram of hair products that seamlessly moisturise curls, but once you buy it for tighter kinks or coils it does not work. Lemme call them out while I’m here lol. Mielle Organics just relased four products for type 4 hair (You mean what you had on the market was not good enough for very textured hair?!), As I Am introduced a “Coling Jelly”for kinks and coils and Taliah Wajid I think it is, specifically says on the products that this works well on type 3 hair (really?!). So it’s a very embedded thing that kinky, coily hair is excluded. We’re still “too black”. Secondly, is that black women with kinkier hair are the ones complementing curly hair more and supporting curly haired beauty influencers more than those with their own texture. That type of miseducation seems to go back to colonialism because I don’t know how deep the natural hair movement goes on self-love when you reject peeps with hair like you, you definitely need to intropsect on your ideas of self-worth. Long comment but yeah, had a lot to say:)

    • Aisha O'Reilly
      September 25, 2017 / 7:06 am

      Hey Fatsani, I totally agree. I didn’t quite understand why I was a product junkie (aside from the fact that I’m an influencer) but you’re so right, it’s this quest to find products that really do work for our hair types. Not all curly hair is the same and they have different needs so having products that work for our kinks and coils for sure (and as they are, no remixing) is quite rare. Sigh. I do think it mostly comes from colonialism, and apartheid locally (pencil test anyone) but the mentality is so entrenched it’s going to take awhile to overcome it. Until then, it’s almost a daily grind. I think the most we can do is call people, companies, brands out and teach our children better.

      Thanks for the “long” comment 😉

  6. Luxolo Keyise
    September 9, 2017 / 1:16 pm

    I couldn’t agree more.I have struggled with that for so long.
    We need more representation.

    • Aisha O'Reilly
      September 25, 2017 / 7:01 am

      Thanks Luxolo, can you elaborate a bit more? I’d love to hear it from a guy’s perspective!

  7. September 8, 2017 / 9:54 pm

    Curl discrimination is a hot topic because it exists, whether we like it or not. We shouldn’t dismiss it with “just love your self”. It definitely should be addressed head on, by bloggers/influencers, brands and community at large. We all have our struggles in the natural hair community but we tend to down play hair typing and preference based on our individual experiences of being natural. We need to be mature enough to walk a mile in each other’s shoes. Everyone’s pain is valid, we need to listen.

    • Aisha O'Reilly
      September 25, 2017 / 7:00 am

      Thanks Unathi, I love your response to this. I’m glad I’m not alone in believing we should be addressing it more often and I’m loving seeing more and more 4C influencers in the local hair community.

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