There’s an added layer of anxiety women with highly textured hair, often referred to as “4c hair,” are currently experiencing. Beyond the normal obstacles of figuring out how to maintain moisture, or deciding whether a style will work with your length, women with tight curls are struggling to find hair stylists.
The reason? Texturism.
Texturism is the idea that only loose or well defined curls deserve favoring or praise, and it manifests in the smallest ways within the natural hair community. Charging women with 4c hair above average prices for hairstyles. Requiring women to show up to appointments with their hair already straightened. Making comments about how “tough” and “difficult” taking care of 4c hair is.
Texturism can also manifest in how the media portrays hair. This can look like a magazine praising North West, who has loose curls, for inspiring a generation of girls to wear their natural hair, while Blue Ivy Carter, who has tighter curls, was (and is) bashed on the internet for doing the same thing.
When the natural hair movement exploded in the early 2010s, it promised to make all Black women feel proud of their hair types, but that promise seemingly wasn’t meant for “all.”
Jasmine Norris Marsh, a Brooklyn based first-grade teacher, said she’s had to deal with texture discrimination her whole life. Norris-Marsh, who’s Liberian-American, spent most of her life without a clear understanding of her hair.
“From about second grade to ninth grade I would get my hair in braids,” she recalls. “Then somewhere in there that's when I started relaxing my hair more regularly.”
Norris-Marsh did this for years until she was ready to be completely natural. When it was time, she thought there would be a certain freedom to going natural, but soon faced the same problems she had when she wasn’t.
“I don’t remember what my expectations were,” she explains about her first hair cut. “But I remember thinking, ‘This is supposed to look a certain way, and it doesn’t look that way.’ And she charged me out the ass for what I felt like wasn't anything special. It looked like something that I could have done myself.”
Norris-Marsh describes her hair as “very thick and coarse,” and said she’s experienced multiple times where having this hair type was a problem for stylists she visited.
“I was natural for a while, then I went back to this guy who used to relax me and my mom’s hair,” she says. “I broke down and I got sick of my natural hair, and I went to him like, ‘Listen, I'm ready. Just perm my hair again. I relapsed.’ His reaction was something to the effect of ‘I'm glad you're finally being an adult.’ He was basically trying to say that going natural was childish, and getting your hair relaxed was being an ‘adult.’”
Norris-Marsh isn’t alone in her experiences. On Twitter, women are calling out a range of issues in the natural hair community — from speaking up about stylists who willingly promote the idea that 4c hair should be charged more money, to highlighting the fact that people only like 4c hair when it is drenched in product.
Twitter user @_slimarella_ tweeted, with over 15 thousand retweets, “if you can’t do 4c hair you can’t do hair. if your client has to come wash, conditioned, dried, ends clipped, flat ironed for you to be able to maintain the hair you don’t do hair. if your client has to have a perm only you can’t do hair.”
While women are calling out stylists, some are also reexamining the hair chart system that many of us use when trying to figure out our hair type. The system, which was created by Oprah Winfrey’s personal hair stylist Andrè Walker in the 1990s, has been criticized for multiple reasons. Some say it doesn’t capture every hair type, or that their head contains more than one type. It doesn’t take into account dryness, porosity, differences in length, or even heat damage. To many, the biggest flaw of the chart is that it creates a hierarchy. It begins with straight hair as number one, and everything else is a deviation — 4c being the most “deviant.”
It doesn’t help that Walker was once quoted in a magazine as saying, “I always recommend embracing your natural texture. Kinky hair can have limited styling options; that's the only hair type that I suggest altering with professional relaxing.”
Hair stylists that love working with 4c hair have taken notice. Dre, a Brooklyn-based stylist, said she made it her mission to create a safe space for women with highly textured hair. She doesn’t use the hair type system created by Walker. Instead, she simply calls hair by what it looks like.
“There’s so many different stories you hear connected to people’s trauma with their hair, and many of them start young,” she explains. “That's one of the biggest things that I've realized through this work, is those early experiences that you have with your hair really shape your ideas about your textured hair.
“There's a big misconception about the whole scale, and it just rubs me the wrong way,” she continues. “It can be very exclusive for people who don't fit anywhere within it, or are just confused about it. I classify hair by it being straight, wavy, curly, or kinky.”
Dre understands that, for some stylists, the top priorities are time and money. She still doesn’t believe they have to compromise the feelings of clients to save time or make money. “You shouldn't say because this person's hair takes less time that I should charge them less,” she says. “Start your rates at whatever it takes you the longest to do, and then everybody else has to meet you where it's at.”
Dre said this will minimize the chance of creating feelings of inferiority within clients that don’t have straight hair. “If you set the standard high already, then people will meet you there,” she says. “That's how I ran my business. I charge hourly, so if your hair takes me this amount of time to do, this is how we're upfront about it.”
Owner of the Beauty Lounge Minneapolis, Melissa Taylor, also doesn’t agree with charging by hair texture. To her, stylists should focus on broadening their skill set to include tighter curls.
“I would [suggest] diversifying your portfolio. If all you're showing is one texture can you really even do textured hair,” she asks. “Being critical of yourself is important. If a person with tighter curls sat in your chair, would you feel comfortable? If the answer is no, then they need to ask themselves, ‘What skills do I need to build up to feel comfortable?’ ‘How should I educate myself to be more comfortable with that hair type or that hair texture?’”
For many Black women, finding that perfect hair stylist is a lot like coming across a unicorn. You have to find someone who fits your schedule, understands your hair needs (like knowing the right products for your hair), and is simply willing to execute your look of choice. With this in mind, it can be particularly frustrating for Black women with 4c hair — but some women do find their unicorn.
Dre’s client Ashley Brunkow, who lives in Minneapolis, was devastated when the stylist moved to New York, but said she learned a lot from her before she left. “I literally cried the first time someone else did my hair,” she remembers. “Dre provided a whole experience and safe space for me. When I would go to other places, they would always grunt because my hair was so thick, and I would feel guilty.”
Brunkow said Dre always radiated positive excited energy when it was time to do her hair. This dramatically changed how she felt about her hair. “I’d come to her with a style and ask her if it could be done, and she’d be like, ‘Girl, yes,’” she recalls. “It made me feel more confident about my ability to take care of my hair. I’m embracing my hair as it evolves.”
Norris-Marsh also offered advice for Black women on how to cultivate a healthy relationship with their own hair and hair stylists. “I had to build the confidence to tell stylists, ‘You’re going to do my hair as it is or I’m going somewhere else,” she says. “I had to be assertive about that, because at the end of the day, we are the authority over our hair. The stylists are servicing us. This is our crown. This is our beauty.”