Emily Kemp

Where the natural hair movement falls short.

It’s no secret that in the past 6 years or so there has been a shift in the hair care industry mainly brought on by people choosing to embrace their natural hair. All over social media there are perfectly curled and coiled influencers, companies that market bouncy, juicy manes, and many ordinary people choosing to love their natural hair. This is not just a celebration but a cultural shift which is so important because shouldn’t we all feel confident at our core, at the root?

Growing up in Denmark as a Somali, I was always surrounded by natural hair and so it never occurred to me that there was something different, I was at least 13 when I got my first blow out. Getting your hair braided before a new school week, having henna dumped into your hair once a month, getting your scalp oiled in the evening, these were the routine occurrences that I never thought twice about until being older and moving to Malawi and learning what a relaxer was and that there are wigs that are used for beauty purposes. During this time was also when I began hearing that my 3c/4a hair was “good hair”, which being 8 and naive I didn’t quite understand because I wanted my friends’ long, multi coloured box braids.

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So now we live in a time where all types of black hair is good hair right? Where we embrace our crowns and anything less than this is unacceptable. Hmmm…But then this doesn’t make sense to me because the marketing behind this movement are these perfect curls that bounce with every step and are frizz free, which to anyone who has natural hair can tell you is quite unrealistic. My hair gets frizzy, the ringlets are not perfect, sometimes I just like them brushed out. I don’t use gel on my hair and what is edge control? My focus is always on making sure that my hair is healthy not making it do things that don’t make sense for it or to look like someone else. Type in “black women curly hair” into Google image search and there are many light skinned, type 3 curl having women and they are gorgeous. But the representation is very obviously skewed, why is that?

The natural hair movement or at least the aesthetic and brand behind it is not as inclusive as is made out to be, and let’s be honest has made many of us view curly hair with the same sort of categorisation that we did with straight vs. curly hair before. It’s the same exclusivity that made us believe that straight hair was more put together, more presentable. There is no such thing as “good curls”.

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So when some Twitter users were outraged because H&M have a young black girl modelling on their site and her hair isn’t done to their liking, it got me thinking. First of all, for their development mentally and their self image I don’t think children modelling should have a bunch of makeup on and hair done so unrealistically for their age. Secondly, she is a beautiful young girl whose hair looks like so many other black girls’ hair. Unless our edges are naturally laid, this obsession is ridiculous. More than anything I worry about what knock on effects it has on a child that is already in an industry that isn’t the healthiest when it comes to body image, and now to have the entire of over opinionated Twitter saying there is something wrong with her hair, is heart breaking and out of line. It also speaks to the standards that people hold for their own hair, and I wonder what that does for our own journeys of loving ourselves. If you can dog on an innocent kid, looking like a kid… are you honestly right within yourself?

Black hair is always going to be a lot of experimenting, whether it’s finding the right products for your hair, whether you’re getting your first wig or beginning the journey of dreadlocks. It’s both a frustration and an absolute joy. Personally straight hair isn’t what I prefer because I don’t feel like it suits my face but aside from this I do feel as if there is something perfect about natural hair on us, it’s so unique on each one of us and brings out a beauty that can’t be replicated.

I say all of this to say: stop policing black hair and bodies and let people live.

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