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On Texturism, and the Deep Roots of Hair Typing
On Texturism, and the Deep Roots of Hair Typing
Eartha Hopkins
April 08, 2023
3 min

In the 1990s, Emmy Award-winning hairstylist Andre Walker wisely decided to capitalize on his growing fame for his work with Oprah Winfrey by creating innovative ways to promote his own line of hair care products. With clients ranging from Winfrey to Halle Berry (the man behind her signature pixie cut) to Barbara Bush, the Chicago native set out to attract a wide range of customers. So he created what has become known as the Andre Walker Hair Typing System.

The system classifies hair into four categories - straight, wavy, curly, and coily - then assigns three sub-categories, labeled A-C, to indicate the amount of texture the hair either has naturally or can hold based on styling and product. By Walker’s model, the straightest hair is a 1A, and the hair with the tightest curls is a 4C. The system was intended to help consumers identify which products would work best on their hair. And it quickly became a helpful guideline even outside of Walker’s products.

“Hair types help predict and describe how different chemicals and processes might interact with hair,” explains Star Donaldson, the senior social media editor at Byrdie and host of the site’s Black hair history series Crowned. “This system also helps us set expectations surrounding hair health, but it’s important not to confuse hair type and hair health.”

There’s very little to criticize in a vacuum about the Andre Walker Hair Typing System. As natural hairstyles have become more prevalent over the past 10-15 years, it has become an easy standard used by beauty influencers and brands to help their target audiences and consumers learn how to care for and style their hair. But the Walker Hair Typing System does not exist in a vacuum. It is nestled in the history that has seen African American women, especially, often convinced that proximity to whiteness was the most desirable beauty aesthetic.

Walker’s chart arrived after years of conks, relaxers, Jheri curls, and presses. It exists in a space where, despite the prevalence of Black hair care products, ads with women rocking natural hairstyles or celebrities taking to red carpets with intricate braids or short afros, appearing in certain settings with natural hair is still considered bold. Hair typing also has its own racist historical predecessors. “One of the earliest hair typing systems was invented in 1908 by Eugen Fischer, a German Nazi scientist, who created the ‘hair gauge,’ to determine Namibians’ proximity to whiteness based on their hair texture,” Donaldson explained in her series.

Another similar example is the Apartheid Pencil Test, which stated that no one holding a pencil in their head could be classified as white in South Africa. Many have also drawn comparisons between the Walker Hair Chart and the Brown Paper Bag test, which even people of color infamously used to deny access to darker-skinned Black people in the U.S. The term that has evolved around maintaining certain hair textures as desirable, easier to manage, or better than others has become known as texturism.

And while Andre Walker himself has stated that his intent was never to rank hair textures but rather to create a code by which to identify them, there is a ton of evidence in pop culture and in the hair and beauty community that points to the fact that his intent has been subverted.

Tutorials directed towards women with 4B and 4C hair tend to center around ways to “stretch” or “define” their hair. And while, according to 99% Invisible, the consumption of hair relaxers is down 30% since 2011, the desire for women of color to loosen or “improve” their hair texture is evidenced by the number of styling products for textured hair promise to do just that.

The Walker Hair Typing System has become tainted by the attitudes about Black hair, skin, and beauty that remain just below the surface, ingrained in American culture. And for many who buy into these constructs, texturism has become an unconscious bias. Those who seek to manipulate their 4B or 4C hair to achieve a looser curl pattern likely don’t realize that they are subconsciously buying into the idea that kinky, coily hair is less desirable. The same can be said of those who go to great lengths to “lay their edges down.”

The fact that texturism is undeniably a thing doesn’t mean there is no validity or usefulness in the Walker Hair Typing System. It does still remain a great 101-level guide to understanding how to care for your hair. But that should always be the goal of using such systems: learning to properly care for different hair textures and understanding which products are better suited for your hair.

However, those who use the hair chart as a guide should be mindful of the end goal when making choices for themselves; what message they might be sending to others, be it consumers, audiences, or even the next generation of people with textured hair. Throughout history, Black people have used hair as another way to express their personality, communicate their heritage, or even praise a higher power.

So it’s very possible that some are seeking to stretch or loosen their curls in search of a different look. In that regard, it would be no different than coloring or cutting your hair. The abundance of products available for people with textured hair in today’s market is a blessing.

But like all other -isms and unconscious biases, it is important to remember the history that led us here… and continue the dialogue around texturism.


texturism Andre Walker hair typingracism
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Eartha Hopkins

Eartha Hopkins


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