Happy Nappy!

Oprah Hair

Thanks to Oprah Winfrey and her hair stylist, this is a different time for black women with type 4 hair. For a long time, long wavy hair was good hair and short kinky hair was bad hair in the African American community. However, Andrew Walker, Oprah’s hair stylist, started with the premise that all hair was good hair. Until Andrew Walker created it, there was no typing system to help decode the various curly textures most common among African American women. Now because of his work with the Oprah, Walker has set the industry standard for identifying hair types. He is considered the authority on textured hair and has styled other luminaries such as Michelle Obama (type 4) and Halle Barry (type 3).

He began, as all good professionally trained stylists, with the chemistry behind hair. Everyone is born with either naturally curly, straight or wavy hair. The amount of curl, wave, or lack thereof, is dependent on the number of disulfide bonds between hair proteins found in the hair shaft; the greater the number of links, the curlier the hair. Hair is primarily composed of keratin, a protein which grows from the follicle. Keratins, and other proteins, are formulated in the cells of the hair follicle. All of the proteins become a part of the hair shaft and contain sulfur atoms. When two sulfur atoms pair up and bond, they form a disulfide bond. If the two sulfur atoms in the same protein are at a distance and join to form the disulfide bond, the protein will bend. This is how your curls are created.

Did you get that?

All that said, Walker then created a hair typing system that classified various hair textures and breaks each hair type down into 4 types with added sub categories. Here they are:

Type 1: Straight hair with no evidence of curl pattern or texture. 

You know you have type 1 hair if the journey from the root to the tip literally travels in one straight line. Due to its closed cuticle the hair is very resilient, even with frequent styling, and tends to be oily as the scalp’s sebum can travel in one straight shot along the hair shaft. Straight hair is resistant to styling. The gorgeous Lucy Lu has type 1.

Type 2A, B & C: Wavy hair.

2A is a loose wave, 2B is moderately wavy and 2C has a strong defined wave, all of which form a lengthy “s” patterned curl.  Julianne Moore has 2B. Zoe Saldana has type 2C.  

Type 3A & B: Curly hair.

3A has a stretched and loopy curl. 3B has a rounded body-full curl. It follows a definitive pattern displayed as an “s” or “z.” This type hair is prone to dryness as the scalp’s sebum has a rocky road to travel to naturally hydrate the strands. Equally challenging is the presence of frizz. Alicia Keys, Sarah Jessica Parker and Andie MacDowell have type 3B curls. Nicole Kidman has 3A.

Type 3C, 4A: Very curly hair.

Type 3C has a tighter corkscrew curl with lots of volume. Type 4A is known to be coily-curly and has many short “s” patterns. While it holds all the attributes of curly hair, it is even more prone to tangles, breakage, dryness and frizz. Some types carry the “s” and “z” patterns, or even a texture in between. Tracee Ellis Ross, the daughter of Diana Ross and Robert Ellis Silberstein, has 3C curls. Andy Allo, the singer song writer who was born in Cameroon has 4A.

And now, the infamous…

Type 4B & C: Kinky hair.

It is sometimes called ziggy, crimpy or nappy. 4B hair forms tight “z” or coiled patterns along the hair shaft. Type 4C may show little to no curl pattern. It appears to be the strongest of hair types while it is actually the most fragile and delicate of all hair types. The strands could follow a ziggy or coiled pattern or show no pattern at all, leaving a “puffy” appearance. This hair type also experiences extreme dryness and requires consistent hydrating and protecting. Those of us with type 4B and C hair make sure we sleep in a silk or satin bonnet each night, to prevent additional tangles, knots and breakage. For this type hair you must use thick creamy based products to help hydrate your hair. Solange, yes Beyonce’s sister, has 4B hair. Teyonah Parris of the series Mad Men has 4C. She always wore a wig on the show because there weren’t many happy-nappies in the 60’s. This is also the hair type of Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama and me. We all probably sleep in the good old silk bonnet. Can you imagine Michelle Obama asleep in her silk bonnet in the White House? She may have slept on satin pillow cases as I sometimes do in lieu of the bonnet. I imagine Oprah, Michelle and me all sleeping in our bonnets at slumber party at one of Oprah’s mansions. Hey, it could happen.

On an episode in 2009, Oprah Winfrey wore her type 4 hair in a pressed style so that Chris Rock could run his hands through it. Pressing hair is one of the ways to straighten natural hair temporarily without the use of chemicals. It is done by running a pressing comb, also known as a hot comb, through the hair to straighten out the curls. The hair is coated with a light oil and the temperature is carefully modulated as to not to burn the hair.

“When it came to teaching us to straighten hair, there was a way to do it properly, so as not to burn the hair or the client,” my sister India told me.

One of my sister’s specialties is pressing hair. Back to Oprah.

“I knew this was a hair show, so I said, I’m going to wear my own hair,” Winfrey said.

“You’re hair is looking really nice today. I know you have a little extra piece in the back,” Rock said, pointing towards the back of his head.

Winfrey wore her hair in a loose style that hung about a foot or more down her back.

“I do not,” Winfrey said as she stood up and let him run his fingers through the back of her hair.

“Whoa!” Rock exclaimed standing up looking shocked.

“I do not. No extra pieces. All mine,” Oprah said proudly.

“Naw, get out of here?” Rock exclaimed, still not believing.

“Look. You can pull it, feel it, see it,” Oprah said, lifting her hair up high. It was about eighteen inches long when pulled from the top. Rock musses the top her head with glee.

“I’ve never done that to a black woman before,” Rock said jokingly.

Until now, type 4 hair was considered bad hair by just about everyone in the black community as featured in Chris Rock’s film Good Hair. According to Rock, he was inspired to make the movie after his three-year-old daughter asked him,

“Daddy, how come I don’t have good hair?”

She has type 4 hair. He realized she had already absorbed the perception among some blacks that curly hair was not “good.” So Rock did extensive research into the $9 billion black hair industry. He visited such places as beauty salons, barbershops, and hair styling conventions to explore popular approaches to styling. He also visited scientific laboratories to learn the science behind chemical relaxers that straighten hair and explored why black women adopt so many different styles for their hair. Techniques designed to straighten hair appear to be intended to give it characteristics of European hair.

“There’s always this sort of pressure within the black community like that if you have good hair, you’re prettier or better than the brown-skinned girl that wears the Afro or the dreads or the natural hairstyle,” Actress Nia Long said in the film.

Rock questioned why African-American women adopted a concept of “beauty” that was not based on the natural characteristics of their hair. Some endured painful, hair treatments in order to achieve this definition of beauty. If the treatments, such as hair relaxers, are done improperly, they can cause hair loss or burns to the scalp. Truly the black scalp needs a rest and our notions of beauty need to relax.