Curly, straight, long, short, or somewhere in between, many people embrace their hair as a way of showcasing their individual style. Whether you’re styling your hair with heat and applying products or keeping it all-natural, everyone should feel confident rocking their locks. Unfortunately, this has not been the case for a large margin of people, specifically Black women, who have long been subjected to criticism and ridicule for choosing to wear their hair naturally. Many Black women continue to face backlash in schools and in the workplace for their natural hair. In recent years, we have seen pivotal change as social justice movements reach new heights and the beauty industry makes moves to include people of color in marketing and advertising campaigns.
At some point in their lives, many Black women embark on a natural hair journey as they embrace their kinks and curls. K-State graduate, Brooklyn Robinson, grew up in a predominantly white community with prejudice against textured hair.
“I grew up in a town where there wasn’t people who were the same race as me, and so I just grew up seeing people look a certain way,” Robinson said. “I never really had that confidence of wanting to wear [my hair] out until I came to college where I got to stp outside of that sort of place that I was in and see and meet people who looked similar to how I did.”
From a young age, Robinson felt the weight of prejudice towards her hair which greatly affected her confidence.
“As a kid, when we grow up, we start to have crushes on people and I learned that some of the people I had crushes on had crushes on other people who had straight blonde hair,” Robinson said. “I kind of put it into my head that I had to have straight hair in order to seem attractive.”
Robinson spent much of her childhood trying to look like her white peers by attempting to style her hair like theirs.
“I talked to [my parents] about straightening my hair and they were like, ‘Absolutely not, that’s never gonna happen,’” Robinson said. “So I would just try and find ways to make my hair look like theirs and so that would be just like slicking it back into some sort of ponytail. I didn’t feel comfortable wearing it that way, but I thought that was the way I had to look.”
After spending years hiding her hair, she arrived to K-State and decided enough was enough.
“I kind of got tired of feeling like I had to hide myself and hide my hair so I was just like ‘Why don’t I try wearing it natural and see what happens?’ I tried it once and I was like ‘This is amazing, I’m going to do this forever now,’” Robinson said.
As her hair and confidence grew, she began turning to YouTube and integrated what she learned there with tips passed down from her parents to create her own unique hair care routine.
“My family spoke to me a lot about what [natural hair] was like and how to do certain things,” Robinson said. “Then I started to watch certain YouTube videos about how to style it and how to wash it properly so it could be healthy. I’ve been through a ton of different products and all the things to figure out what it is that works best.”
Learning to care for your hair, no matter the texture, can be a lifelong endeavor of trial and error as new techniques and products are developed. Robinson, who describes her hair as being between 3C and 4A texture, is always trying new things in search of the perfect routine.
“I am still trying to figure out exactly what [my hair routine] is, but I use Shea Moisture … and typically in the past I would just wash it with shampoo and then deep condition,” Robinson said. “I would do twist-ups on my hair and sleep in that overnight and then take it out. I’ve gotten to a place where I don’t feel like I need to do twist-outs anymore so I just shampoo and deep condition it.”
The reality is, many people are largely excluded and underrepresented in the hair care market. While there are more products than ever before available for folks with textured hair, they aren’t marketed the same way as products for non-textured hair. The products are out there, the issue is a lack of awareness in the communities they are made for.
“Growing up, I was constantly seeing advertisements for Suave and [other] shampoo and hair products catered to non-Black people and that was the products that I thought I had to use,” Robinson said. “But I think over time there has been more people speaking up and people creating beauty brands catered towards [natural hair] and I think that has helped a lot with people wanting to go natural with their hair and also being able to help people find the right products to use so it could look the best way that they want it to.”
While store shelves now display many products marketed to Black consumers, it is important to consider who is behind the brand. Companies that create products for textured hair that are owned and operated by white people may not be considering the unique needs of natural hair when developing product formulas.
There are many Black-owned hair care brands available for different hair textures. Unfortunately, these brands are not marketed as heavily as other brands, so they often go under the radar. A few Black-owned hair care brands are Melanin HairCare, Kinky Tresses, Girl + Hair, and Adwoa Beauty.
Robinson, who now works as a social worker in Manhattan, weighed in on the importance of understanding how prejudice toward natural, textured hair has fed into the oppression and racism that lies within our society.
“People don’t understand the history of [natural hair] from slavery to racism to now, we have been told that we’re not supposed to look this way,” Robinson said. “There’s years of generational trauma of what our hair is supposed to be like. I don’t think people really understand the wide scope of all of that and just how much that affects us.”
While the beauty industry has made strides towards inclusion, there is more work to be done in order for equity to be achieved so that everyone has the opportunity to grow the healthy and beautiful hair they deserve. It should go without saying that the definition of beauty should include people of color. Radical change starts at the consumer level. It is imperative that consumers speak with their dollar by advocating and uplifting brands that empower.