Reclaiming Our Time: Embracing Shrinkage

Reclaiming Our Time: Embracing Shrinkage

People of African descent all over the world are embracing their natural hair texture. There is an influx of social media videos showcasing the versatility of afro-textured hair and we are here for all of it! The celebration of the African aesthetic is a welcomed evolution of the 1960s Black Power movement and the much-needed healing we need from the ongoing policing of coily, curly, strands and protective styles.

I went natural in 1997 and quickly learned about the dedication required to keep my hair moisturized, hydrated, and styled. In fact, the upkeep of my natural hair required more product, time, and effort than the chemical relaxer I wore for a brief period in high school. While I did use some of the methods that are popular to define curls today, I often rocked my afro in all its shrunken glory.

Today, I am noticing a curl manipulation trend, particularly in highly textured hair, that can be interpreted different ways. First, I acknowledge that the stretching, reshaping, shingling, twisting-out, braiding-out, recoiling, and fluffing is our way of experimenting and discovering all texture possibilities especially now that there are so many curl-specific products in the market. However, I can’t help but notice the lengths (pun intended) that we are going through to make textured hair more palatable for mainstream audiences. I believe that the over-manipulation of our hair is the manifestation of the lingering psychological effects of colonization.

For example, let’s examine attitudes towards shrinkage. Shrinkage occurs when the water moisture that expands and lengthens the hair during a wash evaporates and the curl contracts or reduces in length when dry. It is a sign of healthy hair and acts as a barometer for moisture retention. Shrinkage is what our true natural hair texture looks like. Unfortunately, raw texture presented as shrinkage is often judged as unkempt, undone and undesirable. It is common to see influencers pose with shrinkage in disappointment, hopelessness, and disgust before revealing the joyous transition of being “rescued” by anti-shrinkage products. I get it. The frustration is likely linked to the feel and look of dryness. But we are not simply re-misting, adding additional moisture, and allowing the curl to spring back freely. We are willing to add hours or even days to our wash day routines by using techniques that involve blow-drying the hair completely straight-just to re-wet the hair and manipulate sections into another protective style that stretches and smoothes the curl pattern when dry.

I’ve learned in my research of this topic that the preference for loosening curl pattern so it is closer in proximity to Euro-centric beauty standards is known as texturism. Texturism also involves the discrimination of people within the same race who have tighter curl patterns. Could the hundreds of years of policing and degrading Black hair, have caused a deeply engrained and subconscious rejection of our raw beauty?

At the end of the day, we have to do what makes us feel beautiful and confident. Maybe the time we are dedicating to defining and altering our curls is all about self-care, self-discovery, and self-love. If that is the case, then let’s continue to explore! But if the weight and pressure of Euro-centric beauty standards is continuing to influence what “type” of curl we deem acceptable, it’s time to shift. I’m with Auntie Maxine (Representative Maxine Waters D-CA) and her viral quote from the 2017 House Financial Services Committee meeting on the importance of “reclaiming my time.” The true freedom of just letting my hair be is priceless. I challenge the natural hair community to unlearn attitudes toward shrinkage and begin to peel back the layers holding us hostage from basking in the glory of our authentic curl patterns-shrinkage and all!

Zenda Walker is the Executive Director of Know Your Hairitage, LLC-a DEI consulting business. She is the author of Zara’s Wash Day– a children’s book that celebrates hairstyles of the African Diaspora. Know Your Hairitage offers in-person and virtual vocational hairitage demonstrations, corporate DEI training, and author visits for K-12 school districts. For inquiries, contact for more information.

KYH & The C.R.O.W.N. Act

KYH & The C.R.O.W.N. Act


Here's some exciting news & information about KYH and the great ways we are infusing cultural beauty traditions around the world.

KYH & The C.R.O.W.N. Act

We were only about six years old. He was the class clown. His race never mattered. He made everyone laugh and so I crushed on him. He liked me too.

We passed notes back and forth in class. He asked if I liked him. I checked the yes box. I asked him the same thing. He checked yes. The mutual feeling had me on cloud nine. Then he asked if I was black or white. I knew I was black but I hesitated. I didn’t understand how in that very moment an anxiety came over me and stomach began to turn. I couldn’t shake the feeling that if I checked black, there was a possibility that he would like me anymore. I held my breath and checked white.
He asked , “So what’s wrong with your hair?”

From that early childhood memory until now, I continue to receive messages about how the world views my textured hair. This is why I wrote Zara’s Wash Day and continue to get involved in legislation that protects our cultural hairstyles.

Although I grew up in a home that affirmed my natural hair texture, I was also influenced by the world around me.  The messages that I received from peers in school, teachers, co-workers and employers was that my hair was different- but not necessarily in a positive way. My hair was always described as weird, untidy, ugly, offensive and unprofessional. It was always confusing growing up because my natural hair texture was my state of being and I never felt like it was ok to just be.

I experienced potential employers taking pictures of me in job interviews and touching my hair without permission.  I even wonder if my natural hair has been a deterrent or created a barrier for my personal and professional growth. The challenge for so many is that our natural hair texture, hair traditions and customs are a part of who we are. Our coily, curly, textured strands, locks, braids and afros are linked to our African ancestry and is one of the most important traditions we manage to still celebrate hundreds of years after the horrors of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.  Afro-centric “hairitage” is one way that we hold onto our heritage and is also one of the ways we seek true freedom of expression.

I want my daughter to grow up in a world where she is not judged by her hair, but by the content of her character.  I want her to grow up being proud of her natural beauty and being confident about celebrating our hair traditions.  No person should be forced to hide who they truly are and employers should be focused on the competencies of the job and the importance of creating work environments that foster a sense of belonging.

On November 23, 2021 I testified as Founder and Executive Director of Know Your Hairitage, in front of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary in support of H.1907-The C.R.O.W.N Act MA. CROWN stands for Create a Respectful and Open World with No Racism. This legislation was spearheaded by CA Senator Holly J. Mitchell and is supported by The DOVE Coalition. To get involved please visit the following link and sign the petition.


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