The curly world has had quite a struggle separating itself from the limelight that shines on those with silky, straight strands. A decade ago, drugstores only carried silicone-laden, sulfate-infused products that swore to eliminate frizz, ease split ends, and strengthen only straight hair. For those with more texture, there were specific products available so that you, too, could attain perfectly straight hair. That, or you could take your curly hair over to the "ethnic" section and stock up on poorly made, albeit cheaper, products that smelled like Nair.
But, while the decades that preceded the millennium were not pretty for curls, thanks to some determined women (and the Internet) those with curly hair found a product solution that didn't stigmatize, discriminate, or segregate: homemade products.
As curly-haired women searched for a product that cleansed without stripping, conditioned without weighing down, styled without crunching, and moisturized without greasing up, they took to their own kitchens to cook up solutions, and many ended up making careers out of it. With names like Carol's Daughter, Miss Jessie's, Kinky Curly, and JessiCurl, the curly-hair world became a place where women who embraced their texture could go for seriously healthy and empowering products — ones that didn't call their natural hair "messy" or "wild," as though curls needed taming.
But, along the way to carving out this real-world solution in a straight-hair obsessed world, some think that even a few of the natural-hair brands lost their way — beginning with the attempt to separate the curly-hair community via The Hair Typing System.
The Hair Typing System began with Oprah's hair guru, Andre Walker, and eventually evolved into a full-blown chart, with many curly-hair sites like NaturallyCurly.com using the system to help women determine their best products.
Not everyone, though, thinks that the system is worthwhile.
"I don't like the hair-typing system at all," says Patrice Yursik, founder of AfroBella, a leading natural-hair care blog. "The hair typing system is something I think was created to divide."
The system breaks hair down into four numerical sections with straight hair as number one and kinky hair as number four. Within each of those categories, there are three alphabetical level: A, B and C. Slightly wavy hair is considered to be a Type 2A, whereas the tightest curls, those that form a zigzag pattern, are considered to be a Type 4C.
"The fact that hair typing begins with straight hair being number one and kinky hair being number four, A, B, or C — it just automatically stratifies things in a way that speaks to preference," says Yursik. "You are fighting over a letter here to see which one is best or the most acceptable to the media or to society. It is unnecessary. I don't know anybody who has really been helped by the system that was created."
Aside from personal use, brands have begun to utilize the system to create products for particular hair types, many of which advertise to women as if they have a less-acceptable hair type, encouraging them use their product to achieve something more desirable.
"There is this kind of desire to look like what you're seeing [in pop culture] and currently the images that are most popular do feature a looser curl pattern," says Yursik.
After all, Miss Jessie's best-selling products claim to “transform shrunken kinks to super shiny stretched out curls,” suggesting that kinks are out and curls are in. And, for larger brands, the curl bias — or worse, the reluctance to change — can only intensify.
“There are definitely big brands that have been around for a long time that adhere to the perception that women want this, rather than to just embrace and love what you have as you have it,” says Yursik. “What has been happening in the past is that these brands will come and slap on a new label and put a girl with curly hair on there and be like, 'Here's a new product!' No. People don't want that anymore.”
While some big brands like L’Oréal, which now has a sulfate-free line, are catching on and creating products for women of all hair types who simply want healthy hair, there is still a long way to go for curly-hair advocates who want to see a comprehensive hair-care system that doesn’t unnecessarily categorize women by their hair type.
In the meantime, what are curly-haired women to do?
“I think the best thing for you to do is to just educate yourself. Look to the blogs. That might sound very obvious, but somebody like me, or somebody like Black Girl With Long Hair or Natural Chica. We are real women who are using all kinds of natural products to try to achieve certain looks,” says Yursik. “There is no excuse anymore for being uninformed about the possibilities and beauties of your natural hair.”