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Health

Your (afro-textured) hair is beautiful: the trauma of texturism


In our third episode of our four-part series, we’ll dive into texturism and its impact on many black and Latino individuals. We’ll also look at ways to better appreciate your naturally beautiful curls and curls.

December 1, 2022 – It’s your first day at a new job, and you’re a bundle of nerves and excitement. Your hand will press the “Join meeting” button. As you breathe, that pesky thought fights to punch you self esteem.

“What message will my hair send to my new colleagues? »

If you are not of African descent, you may not know what I am talking about. Historically, our natural hair the texture was deemed unattractive, unprofessional and, perhaps most upsetting of all, “sloppy”. Fortunately, the natural (Afro-textured) hair movement has won momentum (on and off) over the past few decades.

In our new docu-series “Color by WebMD: Exploring Race and Mental Health by WebMD,” we’ll dive into what’s called texturism and its impact on many Black and Latino people. We’ll also talk about ways we can better appreciate our naturally beautiful coils and curls.

The four main types of hair

According Vanessa Gonlin, PhD, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Georgia. To help explain where and how texturism works, she breaks down the four main hair textures.

  • Type one: Straight hair
  • Type 2: Wavy Hair
  • Type three: curly hair
  • Type 4: Coiled or Coarse [afro-textured] Hair

According to Gonlin, not only do people in your racial group treat you badly because of your Afro-textured hair texture, but those outside of your race may also view Afro-textured hair in a negative light.

“I have type 3 hair and have never worried about having a hard time in a job interview because of my natural hair,” she says. “But I know other people who have curly type 4 hair who have this problem.”

It starts early

As someone born with Afro-textured hair, I have a strong connection to texturism – as does my sister, Liz Davis, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Kansas City, KS. Liz visited WebMD’s office in Atlanta, and we discussed how texturism affected our self-concept without us fully realizing it. Liz says some of her most traumatic early experiences with hair happened when we went to beauty salons to relax our hair, or chemically straightened.

“I just remember my scalp getting burned and scooping up in different areas,” she recalls.

Many people don’t consider the psychological factors of relaxing their hair, or the kind of message it can send about what type of hair is considered “attractive,” Liz says.

“I don’t even think I had the cognition to figure out that my hair texture was changing.”

Liz and I also talked about what it was like growing up in predominantly white communities and how Eurocentric beauty standards influenced how we perceived our hair. In college, Liz recalled showing a friend (who was white) various pictures of haircuts and asking her which one she should take.

“I remember her saying to me, ‘Liz, they’re all white people. Don’t you want to choose a hairstyle that is representative of you, your skin color and your culture? says Liz.

Liz started looking for black and natural hair content creators on social media who talk about their natural hair journeys, as well as how they take care of their afro-textured curls.

“I wanted this for me. I started to become more empowered in my own sense of myself and in my culture,” she says.

Facial features

Featurism is often talked about less, but it still plays a major role in how people of color are treated within their own communities and can have detrimental effects on self-perception, according to Radhika Parameswaran, PhD, Associate Dean from The Media School at Indiana University in Bloomington. Featurism focuses on how close or far apart a person’s physical characteristics are to typical Eurocentric characteristics (narrow nose, thinner lips).

“If your features deviate from the ‘European ideal’ type, then you are not considered beautiful. Therefore you have eye-altering surgeries in Japan and other parts of the world who have cosmetic surgeries that help you achieve features closer to that “European ideal,” she says.

This phenomenon is prevalent in many Latin American communities, says Nayeli Y. Chavez-Dueñas, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist and professor at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology.

“For example, if a person is fair-skinned and has a large nose, there’s always this stereotype with comments like, ‘Your skin color is nice, but look at your nose,'” she says.

Mental health effects of “-isms”

The effects of texturism on mental health can be seen in “the most subtle way,” says Liz. Statements like “I don’t like my skin. I don’t like my hair. I hate social media because everyone there is so much prettier than me” are commonplace with many of her black and brown therapy clients, she says.

When Liz asks for examples of these “exceptionally beautiful” people, it’s usually images of lighter-skinned people of color, with looser curl patterns and Eurocentric features.

“It’s an incredibly painful place to sit when someone is hurting and hurting because of who they are,” she says. “There is nothing wrong with their hair, their skin or their facial features. There is something wrong with our society that privileges a Eurocentric standard of beauty.

Then we will see what is made to fight colorism, featurerism and texturism. WebMD traveled to Dallas to visit the May family — two millennial parents with Afro-Latin triplets.

Their example is a great lesson for people of color and non-colors alike in how to combat these harmful thought patterns that children can often adopt at a young age.


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