Black Hair and Mental Health: A Tale of Texturism
Ya’ll I’m so excited because there are some amazing things happening.
Ariel is going to be played by a Black woman with locs, Natural Hair Journey has become a hashtag my melanin sisters are proud to use, and California and New York have finally embraced the idea that Black women’s natural hair is not unprofessional, well, at least by the new CROWN Act. As small as some of these milestones may seem, they mean a lot because just a few years ago we were all getting our perms every 8 weeks because our natural, kinky hair wasn’t considered cute. Having 4c hair wasn’t something we were told or shown that we should be proud of. We were all striving to have “good” hair – you know, that long straight hair that the light skinned girls had. Whether that was through perming, using a hot comb, or getting a weave we were determined to have good hair or get as close as possible.
So I’m proud that we have begun embracing our natural hair and society is beginning to respond positively, but we as Black women still have work to do, because texturism is STILL a problem. There are still some things we need to work on within our own communities before being able to truly combat texturism in society.
What is Texturism?
I’m sure we’re all familiar with colorism, which is a system of evaluation based on how light or dark your skin is. The lighter (or whiter) you are, the more accepted you are by society. Well, meet its sister, texturism.
Texturism works in much of the same way – you have to have the “right” hair texture, closer to Eurocentric standards of beauty, to be accepted. So the longer, the wavier, or curlier, the more beautiful it is considered. Any hair that can’t be described this way is often looked at as nappy, unkempt, and unacceptable. Whether aggressively or subtly, I’m sure we’ve all experienced texturism in one way or another. Whether it was your mom constantly telling you how bad you need to get a perm because your hair was “nappy,” or seeing all the Black women in the media having the perfect beach waves and hair down their back.
Like many other things in this country, texturism stems from racism. Black people were not (and still aren’t) liked, and anything that is exclusive to us, such as our skin tone and hair texture is frowned upon. From the beginning, we have been told that what makes us unique and that should be a source of pride, we should instead try to hide or change to meet white folk’s standards of beauty. Hence the popularity of perms, wigs, and weave. Now I’m sure some of you reading this are like “hold up, I wear wigs and weave and I love my hair!” But, I challenge you to really reflect on why you put them on, other than liking to change up your style. Is there not a small part of you that feels sexier and more confident when you have long hair or have the perfect curls? Do you not feel as though when people see you they will be more accepting to you? If not, kudos to you! But for many folk, we front like it’s a “preference” when in reality there is something else a little more insidious living beneath the surface.
On the other end, there are lots of folk who are natural out here in these streets, wondering if women who ONLY where their hair straight truly love themselves. However, just because you are natural doesn’t mean you are off the hook! The natural hair movement is still subscribing to Eurocentric standards which why kinky hair is praised only when it’s long and why laying edges is a MUST. We will see ambiguous Blacks as the focus because kinky hair on light skin works better for folk. Meanwhile, dark skin and super kinky hair isn’t seen as beautiful unless the hair is super long. I mean think about it, when you see everyone on Instagram commenting #hairgoals they’re not looking at the woman whose hair is ear length and super kinky, they’re looking at the woman who’s afro is so big it takes up the entire picture. Or they’re looking at the woman who is 4 years into her hair journey and now has the perfect coils and curls.
Folk are still using texturizers or even using twist outs and stretching methods, calling it a way to make their hair more manageable, when in reality they are still trying to manipulate their hair texture because the original doesn’t feel as cute. The natural hair movement should be about Black women being proud of their hair without ANY manipulation. Your hair should be seen as beautiful without laying your edges, spending 3 hours on a twist out, or having to be down your back and, right now, it’s not. While white folks think we’re saying that we give zero f*cks about what they think about our hair - we ultimately do. We are still trying to make sure we’re seen, at the very least, as acceptable by both Black and white people, but on that Eurocentric scale. The natural hair community is supposed to be a space where we embrace and support our natural hair texture, and yet we find ourselves still striving to meet specific standards for our own sisters to celebrate our hair. Point being: This needs to change because it’s impacting our mental health.
How Texturism Impacts Mental Health
When we talk about texturism, we are ultimately talking about self-worth and value. As I said before this country’s evaluation system is founded on one’s proximity to whiteness. Even with regards to hair texture, the closer you are to Eurocentric standards of beauty the better off you are. Those who do not meet and/or cannot conform to meet these standards are left at the bottom of society’s totem pole. They are the ones who are left to constantly consider how they are being perceived by others in ways that some of our brothers and sisters don’t have to because their hair texture is working in their favor. This constant worry of perception can breed anxiety, self-doubt, and low self-esteem.
For those of you who have hair down your back or “pretty” curls, I’m sure you walk out your door every morning with a bit more confidence than the woman whose hair was considered nappy all of her life. While kinky hair may be considered something worth bragging about today, it wasn’t always, so those negative thoughts and feelings you experienced growing up can very much still have an impact on you today. It may be the reason why you’re worried about your hair when having sex or why you feel you need to check the mirror every time you pass one. Because deep down you’re trying to make sure that you’re still “presentable” and considered worthy.
As a grown woman, dealing with texturism can be overwhelming, so you can only imagine what our young girls are going through.
Black girls, as young as six, understand the social capital of “good” hair and the “right” skin tone. Regardless of how many times mommy and daddy tell them that their kinky beautiful hair is perfect as is, they still feel as though they have less value than other girls. This negative perception often can lead them to feeling as if they must be willing to do more things for other people or overcompensate in other aspects of their lives so they can be seen as worthwhile, including having fewer boundaries or doing things that make them feel uncomfortable to fit in.
So, What Do We Do?
Well, like racism and colorism, this isn’t something that can be solved overnight and it’s going to continue to take a lot of effort.
As we celebrate our natural sisters, let’s make sure we’re celebrating EVERYONE! Continue to show love to our sisters with huge afros and locs down her back, but also include our sisters with the extra kinky 4c hair. Just because she may not be your #hairgoal doesn’t mean she shouldn’t be praised for embracing her natural hair. Support those who don’t want to lay their edges and don’t walk around looking down on them because they don’t. By not celebrating these women we only do ourselves (as a community) more harm and continue to cause those who don’t meet white standards to feel as if they must try harder or do more, rather than to be proud of what they have.
We also must learn to love ourselves and everything about us, so we don’t feel like we need validation from ANYONE about how beautiful we are. This is one of the reasons I wrote Cocoa Butter and Hair Grease, so women had a tool to help them navigate their feelings about their hair and skin tone, learn how it impacts them mentally, and learn to love themselves completely.
Because at the end of the day we are all beautiful and we shouldn’t have to change a damn thing to be considered as such or be treated with respect.