‘Put some respek on my mane’: The texture movement and cultural appropriation

Photo courtesy of Pekela Riley
Photo courtesy of Pekela Riley

–article by pekela riley (celebrity hair stylist/owner of Salon PK) (@PekelaRiley)

Texture Power

The explosive growth of the “Natural Hair Movement” has evolved into what I like to call “The Texture Movement.” It’s a lifestyle movement that shouts “Hey beautiful Black girl with that gorgeous hair — be free to do whatever you want with your own natural texture.” Creatively style it, curl it, grow it, color it, braid it, straighten it, lock it, cut it, blow dry it, wet it, protect it, or even boldly add more texture to it by way of extensions. Then strike that fly texture selfie pose on Snapchat, while chanting “Slay!” The formation of this bold movement breathes life into millions of Black women around the world and sends a powerful message that “Our natural hair texture is beautiful 24/7 … love it and own It!”

What is texture? Texture is a feeling, a touch, a flow, a quality, a consistency, a pattern, all inherent within a substance uniquely identifiable. For the Black woman, the natural “texture” of our hair is indeed a remarkable variety and mix of all the above. The extensive degrees of curls, coils, coarseness, density, and patterns simply serve as special properties for unique texture expressions. As is the case with all expressions, both the observer and the observed co-exist to validate its beauty.

The Gatekeepers

Traditionally there have been royal gatekeepers for the validation of beauty within our society — the mainstream general market beauty media. They have been the elite influencers for validating beauty observations. To say these powerful outlets have historically marginalized the natural texture and beauty of Black women would be an understatement. However, for the first time, there is a “big sister” overlooking the world of beauty. Her name is social media.

She watches everything 24/7. She validates and showcases all beauty, with no biased filters. She also loves images in their most organic and natural form, explaining her unconditional love affair with the texture movement. Social media also plays the role of “big momma,” and checks the hell out of the beauty media gatekeepers. She sons them, and embarrasses them. She strips them of their “cool points,” beauty credentials, and gate keys whenever they are “off” the mark with nearsighted validations of beauty. Social media is the new royal gatekeeper, with a universal lens and open door policy for validating all beauty.

This new social gatekeeper dynamic is why the Natural Hair and Texture Movement has been such an epic breakthrough. Everyone around the world is just one Instagram scroll or hashtag away from seeing a gorgeous bantu knot or kinky curly ‘fro on a Black woman. For once, a Black woman’s beauty is being undeniably uplifted and validated. So when other women of other ethnicities want to channel the beauty of the Black naturalista’s styling craze, I totally get it.

Culture Appropriation

I’m sure Kim Kardashian West found herself on the ‘Gram, checking popular trending topics like #naturalhair or #blackgirlmagic, and became mesmerized by the beautiful texture styles she kept seeing on these Black divas from around the way. She saw something so fly and so sexy that she said “I want to rock that!” So Kim K got herself some straight up cornrows. Gwen Stefani was so influenced by the Texture Movement that she debuted her kinky hair braids look on “The Voice.”

Hey Kim K and Gwen Stefani, know what? It’s all love! I really don’t consider that cultural appropriation. Sure they’re aware of how hot “Black” styles are as pop icons and publicity magnets, but it’s their artistic right to wear their hair how they want as a woman. They’re simply admiring the beauty of another ethnicity, and incorporating it within their own look to be beautiful. It’s something we all do all the time. Jamaicans can cook tacos, just like Mexicans can order jerk chicken. Everybody is influenced by everyone, and that is a beautiful thing.

But … when the general market beauty media helps a Kim K “break the internet” by praising them like they invented these so called “brand new” styles, that’s when the negative exploitative effects of culture appropriation begins. You got all of us black beauties in America puzzled like “how the hell you miss the hundreds of thousands of arrays of natural braids we’ve rocked for decades, and identify with Kim K or Khloe as the originator?”

I saw an outlet covering what they were considering one of the “hottest trends.” It was White women, getting a wave on a braid — or brushing their hair back, and putting bobby pins on top of it. This was “the new rave” … because it was on White hair. But if a Black girl walks around the block, with her hair slicked back or wrapped up with bobby pins showing …she’s ghetto.

When the very full lips, hips, and hairstyles we were told for years were unattractive, become the pride and joy of the mainstream beauty media once a white woman mimics the style — that’s a problem. If a White girl has two braids, why is it “ohhs and ahhs” and viewed as more fascinating than when black girls wear them? Beyoncé wears beautiful Eurocentric blonde hair down to her behind, and I don’t recall one hair article in mainstream print, praising her for starting a new trend. However, Kim K wears the same two braids society has labeled Black girls “ghetto” for wearing, and she’s the cover story and talk of every influencer within beauty media? The wrong is not with Kim K or Khloe, but with the beauty editors tendency to glorify re-runs seen countless times within Black culture.

Expression is fine, but the exploitation is the crime. Here lies why the guilty verdict falls on the mainstream general market beauty media. According to race relations expert Nadra Kareem Little, “culture appropriation typically involves members of a dominant group exploiting the culture of less privileged groups — often with little understanding of their history, experience and traditions.” This has unfortunately been the case with so many Black expressions, styles, music, and traditions we weren’t properly credited or advanced for.

The Beautiful Struggle

For as long as any Black woman of any generation alive can remember, our beauty was not rightfully validated. Every naturalista within the Texture Movement has a story, often beginning in a struggle, to discover our natural beauty. It’s what we call “the journey.” This journey is about overcoming deeply rooted feelings of shame, pain, and frustration because for far too long the general market beauty media told Black women “you are not naturally beautiful.” No room was made for ethnic products for our texture in the beauty aisles, and no space was made for our faces on the cover of mainstream general market magazines.

We felt the wrath of what I call “texture shaming.” This mainstream conditioning literally acted as a social “conditioner,” for “straightening out” not just the texture of our hair, but more devastatingly, our spirit.

However, social media has created a paradigm shift that has forever marginalized the mainstream media and its bias standards for beauty. Black women have been able to communicate with the world, and receive validation for our natural beauty sparked by the Natural Hair and Texture Movement.

Now we can marvel at the millions of beautiful images of ourselves shared around the world daily. Even Japanese women in Tokyo are now sporting Afros and going crazy over ethnic texture. There’s an amazing abundance of options, hairstyles, products, stylists, bloggers, tutorials, expos, hair shows, forums, posts, and hashtags to celebrate our very own texture. An equal opportunity platform for validating what is truly beautiful has emerged.

The Ask

Beauty has color and beauty has movement. The beauty media is supposed to be the best at capturing it all. The beauty media is supposed to be full of artists. More like an artistic Prince, and less like a politically stifled Richard Nixon. The general market beauty media is supposed to be full of incredible creatives, story tellers, and visual vanguards of what tomorrow’s world of beauty truly looks like. Full of editors, writers, photographers, and executives committed to showcasing unconditional beauty, to an extent where they’re obsessed with getting the story right.

I know so many women, of various races, who haven’t picked up a general market beauty publication in years. There was once a time where we looked to such publications as the elite curtain masters for new beauty and fashion. Now we look at them more like the captain of the football team who had all the girls in HS, who is now looking thirsty in the club trying to holler in his letter jacket at 40.

That’s the played out misfortune that has the general market beauty media getting clowned on social media. It’s the embarrassing effect when you produce issue after issue, without a validation of beauty, for ethnic texture. Or to request a Black hair stylist to achieve that “hot natural style,” in a “non-ethnic way,” using “non-ethnic tools,” which should exclude the use of that blow dryer with the Afro attachment. Or even more flawed, giving groundbreaking coverage of White women starting genius texture trends that can be seen on a Black woman’s “Throwback Thursday” pic from a decade ago on Instagram.

Social media is clowning you for perpetrating innovative art, with plagiarized beauty dissertations that represent classicism and blatant discrimination. Social media is the mobile community of universal engagement that serves as the undisputed curator of: The truth, what’s hot, and what’s now. Black women and the Texture Movement are a permanent fabric to beauty — in the now. Anything that doesn’t reflect that is disrespectful, shameful, lame, and past tense.

This new era commands a savvier more studied truth-based media. One that reflects true universal beauty unbounded with cover ready — color, melanin and texture!

So for your own relevance, please — “Put Some Respek On My Mane!”

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