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The Disappointing Truth About The Most Popular Hair Chart

The natural movement is powerful. It’s about more than hair. I grew up without seeing positive images in the media that reflected my hair. This is the frustrating truth for most black women in Canada and the US. When it came time to maintain my hair on my own, I experienced products that didn’t work. There were products that dried my hair out, and caused flakiness. I didn’t have access to products or styling techniques that brought out the true beauty of my hair.

Luckily this is changing quickly. At some point curly hair tips became more prominent on the internet. We’ve seen more and more beautiful curly haired folks. We have seen styles and tutorials and products to try. We’ve seen beautiful natural hair in magazines and in popular culture. The natural movement was born with the internet and there is a lot to learn and navigate.

You’ve likely noticed people describing their hair in categories with numbers and letters. 3B 2C, etcetera. You can find charts on Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, and on every curly blog. You can see illustrations and tutorials on how to tell which type of hair you have. They’re the “hair types” and they seem to be the standard categories that we all accept. They also seem to have come out of nowhere.
But this didn’t come out of nowhere. And I think it’s important that naturalistas understand the reality of the origins and the limitations of the hair chart.

Where the Hair Chart Came From

The curly hair chart that we all know came from Oprah Winfrey’s personal hair stylist Andrè Walker. Having been her stylist for years, in the 1990’s he came out with his own line of curly hair products. As one of the ways to market those products, he came out with the “the hair chart.”

Given the fame of his superstar client, his curl type system spread like wildfire. For many women, if Oprah endorses something—even indirectly, it’s trusted and shared. Walker’s chart is arguably more successful than his products themselves.

Walker’s hair chart has four different categories, each with subcategories. Type 1 is straight hair, 2 is wavy, 3 is curly and 4 is kinky. Each number has letters that follow from A-C.

 Problems With the Hair Type Chart

There have been a lot of critiques about this system, and rightfully so.

Many people don’t fit into just one category.
Different parts of your hair can have different textures.
Many people have much coily or kinkier hair in the “kitchen”or the nape of the neck.
The pattern at the front tends to be different due to its exposure to the elements.
Your curl pattern can be impacted by the climate or water quality in your area.

The chart is also lacking. It leaves so much to be desired and discussed. It doesn’t give you all the information you need to know about your hair. It doesn’t address:

Differences in Length
Heat Damage
Hormonal Changes
Chemical Changes

Some argue that Andrè’s system creates a hierarchy. It literally starts with straight hair as number one and everything else is a deviation, 4C being the most deviant. He now sells products for kinky hair, but he wasn’t always complimentary about kinky hair. He may want to capitalize now, but previously he was quoted in Elle Magazine saying:

“I always recommend embracing your natural texture. Kinky hair can have limited styling options; that's the only hair type that I suggest altering with professional relaxing.”

As a kinky haired naturalista I can tell you that his statement is not true. You don’t need to relax your kinky hair. We have styling options and we don’t need to put harmful chemicals on our heads. We should be critical of using a system designed by someone with such an obvious bias against kinky hair. His system may have been a helpful starting point, but it’s not the best way to talk about our hair anymore.

The Hair Chart isn’t All Bad

Walker’s chart gives us a starting point to talk about, share information about, and research curly hair. You can type in 4C and a ton of information will pop up. This is a lot easier for search engine algorithms than using diverse terms and categories. These systems also help us to create categories when distributing and buying products.

When I started Mello I realized that there were very few products created for 4C hair. Without Andrè Walker’s curl typing system, it would have been really difficult for me to help those types of naturalistas find my natural products that actually work. It can also help us to find styles and techniques for our specific hair.

Walker’s chart has been helpful in some ways. When I was growing up the categories were “straight hair, good hair, and nappy hair.” So this chart has definitely added some depth and respect to the descriptions of natural hair. It has allowed us to have a shared language when discussing hair. It has given black hair more dignity than it previously had.

Different Ways to Think About Your Hair

Although Walker’s system is the most well known, it’s not the only system. The LOIS system is much more comprehensive. It was created by a blogger on a now shut down website The idea was to get away from hierarchies and focus on descriptions that were more comprehensive and less judgemental. It addresses texture, not just pattern, and other blind spots from Walker’s system.

You should also be thinking about the ingredients in your hair products. Your hair maintenance routine and environmental factors play a large role in the overall manageability of your hair. How often do you shampoo? Do you wear a bonnet at night? When you use protective styles, what type of hair do you use? These factors will contribute to your perceived curl pattern and your texture.

You should also think about your hair’s porosity. Porosity has to do with your hair’s ability to soak up moisture. It’s kind of like the pores on your skin. If you have high porosity hair that means it absorbs things like water, oils, etc. easily. If you have low porosity hair, then it is harder for your hair to absorb moisture.

Let’s Think Critically

Rather than thinking about Walker’s chart as gospel, you should think critically and holistically about your hair. Walker never apologized or addressed his critiques of kinky hair. The chart was created to market his products, and we should remember that.

When thinking about your hair, consider your own personal goals. Are you looking for more length, stronger hair, more retention, better hydration? Anything that you want to achieve can be achieved naturally.
Sources: Hair Types
99 Percent Invisible The Hair Chart
Madame Noire The Great Debate on the Hair Chart. Is it Useful?
Elle Magazine Camera Man

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  • Peta on

    Thank you for this enlightening and encouraging post. I was having a conversation and made the same points as you about the hair typing chart. I will use your article as evidence to what I was saying.

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