Why I Don’t Type My Natural Hair

September 3, 2012

The natural hair-typing chart is supposed to be used as a guide – a resource for identifying your own hair type and using this information to care for your specific hair texture; from which natural products are best suited to your hair type, to which styles will get the most wear.

Yes, I said supposed to… The more information we have about our hair, the better, right?  Well…

It’s not that I think the hair-typing chart is bad, or that I discourage anyone from wanting to know their own hair type.  My main problem is the categories.  Bear with me, here…

Why I Don’t Type My Natural Hair

First Let’s Go Over the Technical Facts About the Natural Hair-Typing System:

Every woman is born with either naturally curly hair or straight hair.  The amount of curl, wave, or lack thereof, is dependent on the number of disulfide bonds between hair proteins found in the hair shaft; the greater the number of links, the curlier the hair, and the fewer the number of links, the straighter the hair.  Hair is primarily composed of keratin, a protein, which grows from the follicle. Keratins, and other proteins, are formulated in the cells of the hair follicle. All of the proteins become a part of the hair shaft and contain sulfur atoms. When two sulfur atoms pair up and bond, they form a disulfide bond. If the two sulfur atoms in the same protein are at a distance, and join to form the disulfide bond, the protein will bend. This is how your curls are created.  (curls.biz)

Andre Walker, Emmy award winning stylist, created the hair chart that would begin a kind of cult following for how women of color would identify their hair texture.  This original chart had four variations of texture – straight to kinky, type 1 to 4; thirteen years later the chart was amended to include more breakdowns of each type, defining the variations in texture, which is most commonly used today.  This chart can be found on NaturallyCurly.com. 

from 4naturals.com

from 4naturals.com

Now What Was That About Categories and My Views on the Natural Hair-Typing System?

The way I see it, we spend so much of our lives being put into categories – grouped according to just about everything – from job applications, religious denominations, ethnicity, to even clothing size and blood type.  It almost seems excessive to be grouped according to our natural hair, too!  Especially when most women who decide to ‘go natural’ do so to step outside of that general category of having chemically straightened hair; it just seems like walking away from one complication right into another.

Then I have to ask myself, ‘what is the intent behind creating a natural hair typing system?’  The focus of this chart is on curl pattern, yet, in my opinion, it is not necessarily our curl patterns that helps determine how to best care for our hair.  Is it?  When I’m in the drugstore pondering over which conditioner to use for my natural hair, I don’t decide based on my curl pattern, or hair type; in fact, natural hair products are not even sold according to curl pattern, but based on what your hair needs.  Does my hair need more moisture?  Is it color-treated?  Does it have build-up?  Does it lack protein?  So it seems to me that the hair chart distracts us from listening to what our hair is trying to tell us, and causes many women to obsess blindly on obtaining a certain curl pattern.  Therefore, products are looked at, not for how they will benefit our hair, but how “spirally” we can make our curls.  Sometimes this causes our hair to be in a state of denial.  Yes, denial.  We see pictures of 3B/3C type hair on every hair product label, with promises that using that product will magically give our hair that bouncy wavy-curly look.  We want so badly to have this type of hair, that we spend money on products that we think will help our natural hair find that curl-topia, and use routines for styles that we think will help us accomplish certain styles; not realizing that if we have the (sometimes seemingly) less “desirable” 4C hair texture, that there are routines and products/oils/butters that will best help our hair retain moisture and length.  We lose sight of caring for our hair in this sort of exploration for the perfect curl.  The important fact is that natural is natural; which means that if our hair is not naturally curly, then no product in the world will make it so.  So we should forgo the typing charts and systems and focus more on how our hair feels.  Like our bodies, our hair will often speak to us and tell us what it needs – if we will simply listen.

Less desirable.  Am I being mean when I say that?  Certainly not; but I have also believed that the natural hair-typing chart has added to the divisiveness of the black community in holding the “more desirable” up over the “less desirable”.  There is an unspoken “hairacism” that has existed within the black natural-hair community.  Just as damaging as the skin tone controversy that pit light-skinned blacks (viewed as “better than”) against dark-skinned blacks (who were not as desirable – smh), is the constant raising up of one curl pattern, or hair texture, over the other.  And generally it is the battle of good hair (‘in one corner we have the 3-curls’) versus bad hair (‘and in the other corner we have the 4-curls’).  Whether we want to openly admit it or not, there is a preference, and this preference can be damaging to someone’s natural hair journey.  The black community does not need any more ways or reasons to keep us separated and segregated because of deep-rooted prejudices that we refuse to acknowledge as truth (a whole ‘nother post!).

::breathe girl: breathe::

Overall, I think hair typing can be more destructive than helpful.  It is limited on information, and forgets to disclose that what may work for one 4C’s hair texture may not work for another; and the same for C’s, D’s, and F’s (lol).  There really is more to hair than it’s texture; and definitely so if you don’t really have a curl pattern, but just maintain natural hair.

But Wait, There’s More to Say about Natural Hair and the Hair-Typing System…

With that being said, there is good as well as bad; and I have [edited] this article to include a recent epiphany that I had which helped me understand the potential usefulness and popularity of this typing system (and to play Devil’s Advocate… against myself!):

(you know I have to give both sides of the argument!)  So here’s the infamous example…

Weight.  Ah, the one word that can uproot the peace and calm of any woman’s world, no matter what size she is!  No, you’re still reading about natural hair typing!  But I work best with analogies – in fact I aced that part of the SAT when they were still a big part of the silly test!  When I could not figure out how to lose weight – and I spent countless hours in the gym, sweating and trying to kickbox, spin, and run my way to skinny utopia – and almost gave up after a year of living at the gym twice a day; I was told that I needed to know my body type in order to know the most efficient and effective exercises and diet plans to use for increased weight loss.  Well I thought I did know my body type – fat!  But turns out, I really didn’t… Now this is where I admit that I completely bought in to the body-typing concept, and that it helped me understand what I needed to do, or not do, in order to lose the weight and be healthy for long-term results.  Body typing influences how one will respond to diet and training; and helps one understand their body type in order to plan muscle building training and a diet program.  I’m an endomorph (www.muscleandstrength.com), and I accept that.  On the flip-side, I have always said that I don’t believe in the natural hair-typing system because I felt it was yet another way to keep us in categories, much like light skin versus dark skin, etc.  But now it seems a little hypocritical to buy into a body-typing system for the same reason that I don’t accept the hair-typing system.  Well, doesn’t it?  So here is where the analogy clicks:  Weight loss is to body typing as hair care is to hair typing.  **mind-blown**  In comparing natural hair growth to diet and exercise, the same can apply to healthy hair growth:  knowing our hair type can influence how our hair will respond to routines, maintenance, and products, and help us to understand what types of hair textures there are so that we can tailor our routines around it.

Here’s the caveat:  … we have to be realistic about the type of natural hair we have.  The typing systems are not set in stone, and your hair may be a combination of two or even three types/textures/curl patterns – apples and oranges!

AAAND, we have to understand that there is not just one way to determine our hair ‘type’; that there are other factors in the typing equation that we often leave out – texture and density are just a couple of examples.  A number does nothing for our knowledge of we don’t have the rest of the story.  So go beyond the hair type and really get to know your hair!

Want to know the best natural hair typing there is?  The type that listens – get to know your hair so that you know what it needs.

So see?  It can work… if its powers are used for good instead of evil!

9 Comments

  • Reply What’s Your Hair Type? – Natural In Lagos December 21, 2016 at 3:08 PM

    […] Source Source […]

  • Reply Jess June 9, 2016 at 11:31 AM

    Thank you Kelly, for this blog. To this day I still don’t know what my hair type is. Is that with product; without product? When I wash my natural hair, none of those pictures fit. I have learned to care for what I know is God’s gift. Whatever type I have, it is beautiful! I am a little disappointed at some, who I have known that turned back to relaxers. My hair has never been so thick, long, and to me gorgeous. I never knew what lay beneath hiding my identity. It’s who God created me to be. He gave me “clay-doh”. I can mold it to be whatever I want it to be; including straight! Thank you once again.

    • AskMeAboutMyHair
      Reply AskMeAboutMyHair August 9, 2016 at 8:03 PM

      Thank you for those thoughts, Jess! And I would agree that our hair is our crowning glory…

      But don’t be too hard on those who may have gone back to the relaxer. Sometimes women have to do what is easiest for them – natural hair is work! So just be an example of natural hair goodness to them and maybe they’ll come back to the natural! 🙂

      Best, Fern

  • Reply Kelly j March 17, 2016 at 3:41 AM

    I agree with what u said n ur blog. I have two textures of hair and so far it’s been an up hill battle learning to take care of my natural hair. Please keep write this good info for us hair novice.

    • AskMeAboutMyHair
      Reply AskMeAboutMyHair March 17, 2016 at 12:41 PM

      Hang in there, Kelly j! Before you can ride that downhill, you have to climb up and the journey will seem a bit like uneven terrain at first. But you will get it and it will become like second nature.

      Thank you so much for your support and for reading my blog! If there is anything you need to know, or any ideas you have for a post, let me know and I will work on it.

  • NappyGoddesse
    Reply NappyGoddesse December 15, 2014 at 3:57 AM

    Hi Meg! I’m hoping that this post was helpful for you, although I’m not quite sure by your comment if it was or was not. Either way, thank you for reading the post and leaving a comment. I’d like to explore how to care for multiple textures on one head, because I do experience that as well. I’m thinking a new post idea coming soon! 🙂

    How do you care for your multiple textures? Care to share on my blog? If so, send me an email! 😉

  • Reply Meg December 5, 2014 at 3:54 PM

    Also from the image I thought your argument would be “because most people have multiple hair types”. I have a 2 texture at the top and have developed a 4 in the back, my infant daughter has all three 3-textures lol so the question would be caring for multiple textures on the same head, and that’s where typing breaks down, but the truth is moisture, conditioning and oiling cure all sins and treat all hair types.

  • Reply Meg December 5, 2014 at 3:51 PM

    I’m glad you had the epiphany, that was the original subject of this comment. America has a beauty standard so the photos on the boxes are what they are, but knowing your hair type allows you to ignore the marketing and seek what your hair (or body) needs.

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