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Texture Typing: A Uniter or Divider?

Michelle Breyer

In April 2014, we at NaturallyCurly were thrilled to see our 16-year-old Texture Typing System ranked first on BuzzFeed’s list of essential tools for the curly girl. Stylists, curlies, wavies and coilies chimed in about how helpful the chart has been for them as they learned to work with their own and others’ texture—a daunting task for many.

“I use this all the time for helping clients get a sense of their 'hair identity,'” says stylist Scott Musgrave, who heads up an international group of curl specialists called Curly Hair Artistry.

From the first days of NaturallyCurly, when it was still a hobby we worked on in our spare time, we wanted to create a place where people could learn how to work with their curls and coils. In a world where hair had only been categorized by dry, oily and normal, we were a place that spoke in terms of texture. We discussed nuances of wavy, curly and coily hair, as well as how this affected product selections, hairstyle options and general hair care regimens. However, we never talked ethnicity or skin color. It was all about the texture.

To help with this, we developed our Texture Typing System, one that was evolved from stylist Andre Walker’s 1-2-3-4 system. Walker, who was Oprah’s stylist, created the system to help decode the most common textures.

Our curly community demanded more detail, recognizing big differences between 2cs and 3as, between 4a and a 4b, and so on, so our Texture Typing System became a way for people to relate to one another and understand the more granular aspects of their hair. We have since added other variables like density, porosity and length to provide even more detail. And throughout the years, several hair care brands, stylists and bloggers have implemented NaturallyCurly’s system into their everyday lingo and branding.

“I absolutely feel like it helps give newly natural customers a baseline of where to start,” says Mahisha Dellinger, founder of the Curls line of hair care products. “Is it the end-all be-all? No. But I do think that it is helpful in that it assists our online customers with selecting the right hair products based on his or her needs."

Richelieu Dennis, founder and CEO of Sundial Brands, owner of the hair care brand SheaMoisture, says it has become common to hear women referencing their texture types at SheaMoisture events, natural hair meet-ups and throughout social media. “Its frequent use speaks to the need for guidance, education and support for women with textured hair,” says Dennis, whose company uses NaturallyCurly’s texture typing system to help customers select the right products. “Because there are so many hair types, it can be challenging to find the right combination of products that are effective. Identifying hair type and curl pattern is a good place to start to therapeutically and effectively take care of the hair and keep it healthy.”

Other Classification Systems

However, NaturallyCurly’s hair typing system is by no means the only hair type system out there. Curly brand Ouidad has the Wavy, Curly, Tight Kinky and Kinky classification system while Devacurl, another large curl brand, uses S’wavy Curls, Wavy Curls, Botticelli Curls and Corkscrew Curls to help its customers identify their texture. L’Oréal’s Mizani brand has its Curl Key, which segments texture into eight classifications, and Milady, one of the cosmetology industry’s main providers of education, breaks texture down by straight to slight waves, loose waves, wavy, curly, very curly, coily, tight curls and zig-zag curls.

Miss Jessie’s has developed a “hair narrative system,” which describes the personality of the hair, not defining the “type.” “The 'Hair Narrative' system is similar to how many schools are conducting report cards nowadays,” says Miss Jessie’s co-founder Miko Branch. While schools once graded solely on an A, B, C system, many students are now given a full descriptive analysis rather than just a grade.

“This kind of approach translates well to curly hair maintenance,” Branch says. “We encourage finding a narrative within a head of hair, using as many constructive adjectives as possible, in order to provide a thorough composite of what an individual is really working with.”

Questioning the System

Whichever system you use, one thing is clear: the consensus is that not all textures are the same. But that’s where the controversy begins, with some people labeling texture-typing systems as a bad thing to happen in the world of curls and coils.

There are those that believe it creates a caste system, or a way for people to determine whose hair is “better.” The subject of hair, like ethnicity and religion, can be highly charged for many people. “Hair is highly personal and is a powerful facet of one’s identity,” says Branch.

“To have a snap judgment about one’s hair quality or type can feel just as unjust as being judged for any other superficial reason,” Branch continues. “No one ever wants to feel limited by stereotypes, and some texture typing systems can be misinterpreted as doing such.”

Blogger KurlyKichana says, “The thing about hair typing is that it forces us to sort, segregate and file in relation to the differences. As human history can attest, the minute individuals or characteristics are classified, feelings of 'the other' come into play.”

Blogger Imani Dawson, founder of TribeCalledCurl, notes, “Hair typing as it exists today is divisive and ultimately destructive because it emphasizes one type of curl texture over another. It also provides limited information; just because your hair looks like someone else’s doesn’t mean it’ll respond to products similarly. Here are some important factors that the current hair system doesn’t take into account: porosity, strand size and density. Curl pattern is the least helpful in terms of caring for your natural hair and figuring out which products work best.”

Curl Pride

A survey of NaturallyCurly readers reflected the conflicting thoughts on the use of hair typing. “I’m a proud 4b,” proclaimed one reader, while another said “Texture typing is confusing and can be divisive.”

From NaturallyCurly's point of view, when used correctly, the Texture Typing System is meant as a foundation, a starting point. It is designed to be a tool to empower and educate women about how to work with their natural hair. We’ve seen very few examples of how the Texture Typing System has segregated our readers. If anything, it has enabled women to bond over a common interest in their curls, coils and waves. Friendships have been forged between women of all different background, ages and ethnicities, and yes, textures types.

So, when it comes to choosing products, styles or a stylist, women may need a little more help to narrow down the myriad options. That’s where the NaturallyCurly Texture Typing System can be most valuable—to educate and open up the conversation, not divide. It can provide an important first step navigating the twists and turns of how to work with their texture.

“Those who use it to fuel the 'good hair”/“bad hair' debate are missing the point of trying to provide clarity and help guide those with textured hair, not stigmatize certain texture types,” says Sundial’s Dennis. “We want all descriptors of textured hair to be embraced and celebrated, as all types of textured hair are ‘good.’”

Michelle Breyer is president and co-founder of TextureMedia, one of the world’s largest social media hair care platforms. It works to empower, engage and educate its multicultural community of female influencers. Based in Austin, Texas, TextureMedia has an audience of more than 30 million unique visitors a year to its NaturallyCurly, CurlyNikki, CurlMart and CurlStylist websites.

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