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The Big Debate: Have ‘Mixed Women’ Hijacked the Natural Hair Movement?

Some women of color feel that mixed-race women are taking over the natural hair movement. (Photo: Getty Images)

Natural hair has been — and remains — a popular topic of discussion. From women embracing and celebrating their naturally curly, wavy and kinky textures to huge brands creating products that cater to this specific hair type to minors being told to change their natural hair as it goes against school policy, it’s an ongoing conversation — one that can be positive, but in some cases, can also take a bitter turn.

In a Facebook post on June 14, Tiffany Buttafly brought up the topic of mixed-race women and natural hair. “Mixed women have completely hijacked the ‘natural hair movement’ and have somehow become spokespersons,” she wrote. “I thought it was about embracing hair that wasn’t seen as acceptable.”

Hair vlogger Ashley Malone, known as @nappyadvocatee on Twitter, tweeted Buttafly’s post on June 14, though the tweet has since been deleted. Malone had opened up the conversation with, “What ya’ll think about this? I have mixed feelings.” The tweet, which had garnered more than 1,000 likes, 700 reposts and 300 comments, sparked a debate that fired up a lot of people about the touchy, controversial topic.

Siding with Buttafly, one person tweeted, “I agree with her; yes, I’m natural, but I was told I had pretty hair by everyone (white people included) growing up.” She also went on to include another tweet: “Type 4 girls started the movement of embracing natural hair and should remain at the forefront.”

Yahoo Beauty wasn’t able to reach Buttafly for comment, but Malone shared her thoughts with us: “My intentions were to see everyone’s views on the subject, because it is something that I have come across in conversations with others. I understood what Tiffany, the original poster, was trying to say, but I do believe that her rhetoric was distasteful. I agree with the fact that it seems as if lately the new face of the natural movement is lighter-toned black women with loose curly hair, and I believe that the kinkier-haired women are being left out by the media and the companies that make them the face of their brand and the natural hair movement as a whole.”

She added, “On the other hand, I disagree with Tiffany when it comes to who to blame. She is blaming the mixed women for the attention that they get. They do not chose who the spotlight gets put on; it is the companies that do. So I believe she had some valid points, but her anger was misdirected, and she was being very rude to mixed-race women, especially those who identify as black.”

When categorizing natural hair types, most brands have developed a system in which hair texture can range from 1 (stick straight hair) to 4c (tight, voluminous afro texture). Buttafly’s post spoke to those who might be categorized as a “3” as being the ones who are praised and highlighted as some of the biggest brand spokespersons.

Throughout the debate, others agreed with Buttafly’s position, reflecting on their personal experiences and how natural hair is perceived.

Jamilah Lemieux, vice president of news and men’s programming at Interactive One as well as vice president of the new website, cassiuslife.com, is an avid contributor to the heated debate. “It’s time to stop being intellectually dishonest and, perhaps, deliberately tone-deaf as it relates to the ways that complexion and hair texture are treated as hierarchal in black communities,” she shares with Yahoo Beauty. “We don’t erase the bias and trauma of lighter-skinned, mixed and/or Afro-Latinx people by addressing the statistical data around skin color and employment, education, marriage, self-esteem, etc., nor by exploring the reasons why you’re more likely to see a woman who with 3C hair and light skin in a hair product ad than you are a darker, kinkier hair woman who may have faced greater barriers to accepting her natural hair texture.”

Looking at the topic from a brand standpoint, some companies have faced backlash for putting racially ambiguous black women front and center. Case in point: Hair and skincare company Shea Moisture left lots of loyal customers unhappy by releasing an ad that featured one black woman and two white women.

“The ad that people responded to, yes, it was about the white girls included, but it was also about the racially ambiguous ‘black’ girls in that as well,” Yaba Blay, PhD, a scholar on global black identities and the Daniel T. Blue Endowed Chair in political science at North Carolina Central University, tells Yahoo Beauty. “How you get us is you put a women who looks like me in your ad. Nobody has been brave enough to centralize dark-skinned women with 4c hair in the context of natural hair. That would be revolutionary, which is sad.”

Blay adds: “Ultimately, most black women would associate and find affinity in a women who looks like me than we would when we see a racially ambiguous woman. There’s not enough variety at all, which is why I shy away from the natural hair movement, because it’s not radical, it’s not revolutionary.”

Another veteran business consultant, founder and CEO of Strategic Solutions International Romina Brown, spoke to the underlying issues with natural hair and brand positioning. “Hair care brands like Shea Moisture and many others are generating the most growth for the multicultural hair care segment because they have a broad appeal to curly, wavy, coily and kinky hair textures alike,” she shares with Yahoo Beauty. “The perception or recognition that there is a bias for mixed-raced spokespersons with softer and curlier hair textures is more related to the deeper issue of systemic colorism.”

Brown went on to highlight that “brands like As I Am and Taliah Waajid have a perceived value proposition that caters to consumer demand for products specifically created for coily and tightly curled hair. Demand for these niche hair care products is also on the rise and positively impacts overall growth for the hair care category.”

But some pointed out there are deeper issues that need to be addressed that go far beyond hair typing and dividing women of color. “It’s no debate that mainstream media consistently glorifies light-skinned Black women with more “European” features but as Black women, we unfortunately have far bigger problems than the texture of our hair and the color of our skin — problems which require us to come together as sisters if we want to have a fighting chance” shares Lindsey Day, president and editor in chief of CRWNMAG, a quarterly print magazine that celebrates the diversity of black hair. “If we continue to divide ourselves further into categories based on hair texture and skin tone, we hand our power over to the very people who oppress us.”

Are mixed-raced women taking over the natural hair movement? Weigh in below.

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