BLACK VOICES
01/05/2016 10:32 am ET Updated Jan 08, 2016

Let's Talk About Colorism In The Natural Hair Community

Black hair can be as personal as it is political.

I only wore my hair natural maybe a handful of times last year. 

If my hair wasn't wrapped up in box braids or faux locs, it was blown out and flat-ironed straight, or thrown under a scarf. Why is that? Part of my reasoning would be "protective styling" -- low manipulation hair styles that will protect my hair during the winter months as I try to grow it out. But if I'm honest, another reason is that, while I love natural hair, I don't always love my natural hair. 

I love my kinky-curly texture of hair, but I don't love the time and energy it takes to take care of it. Wash day spans over two days. Detangling alone takes hours. The only way to define my curls is through an arduous process of twists and braids to stretch out my incredibly tight kinks. My full hair-length never shows because my hair shrinks to about 50 percent of its actual length if there's even a drop of moisture in the air. This is my hair, and I adore it, but I'd be lying if I said that it doesn't frustrate me sometimes, that I've never, for a split second, contemplated just giving up and slapping a relaxer on my head. 

A photo posted by Zeba Blay (@zebablay) on

But part of my frustration also lies in being unable to turn to women who share my hair texture or hair woes. My hair's difficulties doesn't make it any less beautiful, but in the natural hair community, hair that doesn't perfectly "lay," that doesn't respond to gels and pomades and yield easily defined twist-outs is neither celebrated nor admired nearly as much as hair that does. Deep down, perhaps part of my desire to deal with my hair as little as possible is a symptom of colorism in the hair community -- the fact that because my hair is more kinky than curly, I shouldn't be as proud to show it off.

There's this idea that once a black woman goes natural, she's reached some higher plane of self love and understanding. The Big Chop is viewed as this abrupt, profound political statement against white beauty standards -- and for many women this is true. But hair, especially black hair, can be as personal as it is political. 

And I've began to notice that within the natural hair community, the politics of hair don't necessarily escape the influence of white beauty standards. In the past five years or so, the natural hair community has thrived, thanks to amazing online blogs like BlackGirlLongHair and natural hair YouTube gurus including Taren Guy and HeyFranHey.

But a perusal of the online natural hair community also brings up some unfortunate trends: the preoccupation with longer, looser curl types. 

The frustrations that I experience with my own "4c" hair are frustrations that many black women deal with, but within the natural hair community, while there are some amazing 4c vloggers and bloggers with tips and tricks, so many blogs dedicated to admiring natural haired women tend to (whether intentionally or not) prop up women with light skin and loose curls, as if "natural hair" is synonymous with them. 

The message is subtle, but profound. If you're a black woman with natural hair that is considered "nappy," your hair isn't beautiful in its natural state. It's only beautiful with heavy manipulation to emulate looser natural hair patterns. And If you're a dark-skinned black woman with long, loose curls -- you must be "mixed with something."

Being natural is supposed to combat the idea that straight hair is the only "good hair." But colorism in the natural hair community, and the despondency of so many black women with kinkier hair textures, is rampant. This isn't necessarily anyone's fault -- not the YouTubers who provide content for looser curl textures, nor their fans.

But why the "face" of natural hair has become light-skin and loose curls is still worth exploring. In its own way, it's adding to the ongoing erasure of darker black women, and it's perpetuating the idea that even when we choose to embrace our natural hair, we're still not good enough. 

Also on HuffPost:

 

PHOTO GALLERY
NYFW Spring 2016: Natural Hair Moments
CONVERSATIONS