Recently, I was giving a cousin some natural hair tips and I even told her about this blog. She’s a type 3, just big chopped, and has no idea what to do with her hair. I’m a type 4 but we both have very thick porous hair so our regimens and product usage is very similar. Anyway, her mom over heard me talking to her about our “curly hair needs” and turned to me to say, “But your hair is not curly, it’s nappy.” Normally, I’d snap back, but this is my aunt (married into our family I must disclaim) and I love my cousin and my uncle. Though her comment was snide it made me wonder about this…Do you think that kinky hair is nappy or curly? – Jocelyn


I think a lot of naturals with kinky hair can relate to wondering about this. Since we’ve heard our hair is nappy for so long from both a historical and even current cultural perspective from both white and black people, many of us can’t think our way outside of these thoughts. For many black women, being “nappy” conjures up the self-hate ideas tied to being too black and when you are too black, your hair is too tough, too “not curly”, too far from white, too brutally reminiscent of who we really are–African descendants. If you are not comfortable in who you are, recognizing and accepting where you come from, then of course this will sting.

But since you asked me what I thought, I’ll answer your question. Do I think that kinky hair is “nappy”? No, I don’t. I think kinky hair is just that–kinky. Whether that be tinky (tiny and kinky) coils, curls, zigzags, whatever. Whenever I heard nappy growing up, and even today as a descriptor for hair, it’s more often than not followed by some kind of turned up lip or sigh of relief that said person is not “nappy.” The idea of hair being too bad to manage or nappy is not a school of thought that I personally follow.

However, I will say that there are also many kinky-haired naturals who tend to follow the train of thought that is similar in vein to “nigger” or “bitch.” They claim to use the word nappy with power and respect and have taken back the negative connotations associated with it.

Since I’m very comfortable with myself, when little snide things were said about my hair I laughed them off. I realized the person saying them was really giving the whip of verbal lashing to themselves–not me. I’m a black woman with kinky hair and if that bothers you, then that’s your problem and not mine. When someone tries to throw shade like your aunt and say my hair is nappy, I actually hear what they are really saying which is something along the lines of, “You are really black!” therefore, I usually respond with, “I know.” it often flies over their heads, but people who dish out insults usually never even understand why they are dishing the insults and that their insults are actually reflection of their twisted mindset in the first place.

Your aunt has some growing to do but remember that none of us can save the world. The best way to teach someone what you want them to learn is to show them. Be confident in your hair and skin. That’s all that really matters at the end of the day.

  • Neesha.Chérie

    This actually happens to me pretty often with my own grandmother. Whenever I let my type 4 tinky (I like that word!) curls pop up, she begs me to comb them out, but I don’t. I do what I want with my hair and she has to learn to accept that. Last night I was even showing her a white woman on the television rocking a style that I wanted to do with my hair. She said that my hair isn’t ‘soft enough’ to hang like that… :/ I told her that she was outta place because my hair isn’t hard, it’s actually very soft. I just can’t wait to do the hairstyle so I can show her some of the many things my hair can do.

  • mizzmintz

    I asked my nine year old daughter Journee would her feelings be hurt if someone called her hair nappy? Without hesitation she said no. I asked her why? She smiled at me and said, “Because it IS nappy! I’m a nappy girl!” Then we laughed and gave each other a high five. I’ve always taught my girls that a “nap” is nothing but a really tight curl. So for us, nappy is not a bad word. It’s not derogative or hurtful. As a matter of fact, it has become a very positive and empowering word. We’ve fully embraced the word and made it our own. We proudly call ourselves “Nappy Girls”. We have tshirts and everything!
    I have taught my girls to embrace the hair that God has given them. We work to find out what hairstyles and products work best for their individual hair textures. I’ve also taught them to respect each other’s differences and to try not to compare themselves to one another or anyone else.
    I want my girls to define what is beauty for themselves. I want Journee to know for herself that she is beautiful with her cocoa skin, almond eyes, and yes, nappy hair. I also want Shaia to know that she also is beautiful with her butterscotch complexion, dimples, and nappy hair. I don’t want them to stress about trying to change or overly enhance anything about themselves. I want them to be comfortable in their own skin and with their naturally, nappy hair.
    With that being said, if the term is offensive to you I completely understand. In which case I would’ve kindly told my aunt that I find that term offensive and that my hair is not nappy… kinky maybe, but not nappy. We define who we are, what we have, and what we do. HTH.

  • Joy

    I actually never had what was defined as “nappy” hair, but growing up I wished I did because I thought it would have saved me from a lot of jealous teasing. I had long soft curly hair and I didn’t like wearing it out. When I got older I was doing things to my hair to make it kinkier. I was tired of women asking me if I had a relaxer because it was so curly. Now I’m rocking a semi bald head and have noticed over time my hair texture has changed due to a lot of clipper cutting. It’s getting softer :o/ It’s hard to state whether kinky or curly hair can be defined as nappy. As it could be both as for some individuals “nappy” is a state of mind of being natural; and they embrace being nappy whether the hair texture is kinky or curly.

    One would think that being natural we can pull away from defining our hair as being kinky or nappy enough and whether or not I can belong to the nappy club because of my former curly mane. This is a deep subject because we can take this into so many different aspects. As a dark skin woman having soft curly hair texture, the assumption is that my hair has to be chemically treated. Sorry didn’t mean to be long-winded.

  • Noelle

    There are many occasions that I refer to my hair as nappy. I am aware of the negative connotations associated with the word however, it is my choice to use whichever adjective I see fit. When I say nappy I say it with a strong sense of pride and i am proud and happy to be nappy. I wouldn’t have it any other way, lol :p

  • Ebony

    I have been told my hair was nappy before (by black men) but I don’t care. It’s their problem, not mine.

  • fitgirl

    Amen to responding to shade comments like that with “I know”. So simple and so self affirming. It would have been irrelevant to go into depth about what is nappy vs. kinky vs. curly. The individual delivering the comment is not interested and just needed to assert some superiority in hair texture (yeah, weird. I know).
    Personally, whatever negative term people decide to give my hair is their problem. I love my hair in all its complexity and uniqueness.

  • Andrea

    I had a similar experience with my aunt (mom’s sis) right after I bced. I told her my hair was curly and she said those are naps. I didn’t say anything because older people tend to think young people don’t know anything. Anyway, my hair has grown long and beautiful. I whip my hair back and forth and now she’s asking me for advice because she chopped hers all off because it was so damaged. I’m 4a/3c by the way. I actually like to call my hair coily.

  • Veronique

    I don’t think nappy and curly are mutually exclusive. As someone else said, a nap is a tight curl (or coil). People associate naps as a bad thing, like some balled up piece of unmanageable hair but that’s their own ignorance showing. Again, not my problem to address. But a lot of nappy hair is indeed curly hair. In fact, the tightest curls you find in hair are found on “nappy” hair.
    I really liked this visual presentation of Curly vs Kinky. Kinky is a less socially charged adjective but I use kinky and nappy interchangeably. Kinky/ nappy hair curls; its usually just smaller and has a different follicle structure. The link below highlights the difference

  • Nix

    Yesssss older folks love to tell somebody about there hair. I have 3c/4a hair and my mom always has something to say about my hair or my routine. Especially when I BCed. When I got home from college, she was just itching to comb and straighten. Didn’t let her though :)

    Also have any you heard of the “kitchen” phrase? She likes to use that one to.

  • Becky

    I am one of the women who uses the term nappy in a positive way because it was always purposely used that way in my house. My mother (whose hair is very loosely curly) also made it a rule that we were not allowed to use the term “good hair.” Having grown up in what I like to believe was a healthy hair home, I always take time to question those who use nappy as an insult and good hair as a compliment as to how they would define each term. When it inevitably becomes difficult them to explain their use of these terms as anything other than close minded and nonsensical, I take the opportunity to let them know where I stand. If not to change their minds, at least to introduce new thoughts. I think kinky hair can be curly and nappy, but it’s more about being ok to accept it either way.

  • Jaida of Memoirs of the Chic

    I absolutely despise when people make comments like that. My personal definition of “nappy” is extremely unhealthy hair (dry, brittle, etc.), basically hair that hasn’t been taken care of properly. I had some guy call me “nappy” a few months ago on Twitter (mind you I had a flexirod set in my avatar) and I was kind of taken aback by it because that’s never happened to me before. I kinda snapped, but then I thought about it and didn’t care because I like my big, curly hair and anyone who has a problem with that will just have to deal with it. I’m comfortable with my hair and that’s the only thing that matters at the end of the day. The next time someone makes an ignorant comment like that, I’m gonna say, “I know!”, smile, fluff my curls and walk off! :)

    • susanne C

      I think the difference between nappy and curly hair is huge nappy hair is ungroomed and kinky,curly what ever you what to call it is taken care of you can defiantly see the difference

  • J

    Found this while looking for the origin of ‘Nappy’:
    The word nappy began its life innocently enough as the adjectival offspring of the word nap. Nap is a fuzzy surface layer on yarn or cloth. Nap is teased up or raised higher by brushing the cloth against a rough surface. Our common weed teasel is named because it was used long ago to tease up the nap on cloth. Nap on wool was often shaved off and used to fill pillows. A number of words were brought to England during the 14th and 15th centuries by Dutch weavers who came to Britain to ply their trade. One of these words from Middle Dutch was noppich , ‘nappy’ an adjective referring to cloth that had a fiber-thick surface layer that could be trimmed down or teased up and cut even.

    Late in the 18th century or early in the 19th century, Americans in the southern U.S. began to refer to negro slaves as nappy heads, comparing some tightly curled negroid hair to the nap on some cloth or fur. It was not a compliment. Beaver hats were said in early Victorian times to have a ‘fine, black nap.’

    Then, as happened in history with many terms of abuse, those abused, the black slaves, took to using the word among themselves with affection, partly as a method of ‘taking back the hurt’ in the insult and partly out of the sheer exuberant play of language that all people share. There are 19th century letters from black mothers to distant daughters where the mother addresses her girl as “my sweet little nappy head.”

    • Curly Queen

      Thank you for the history. Quite interesting.

  • ImmaculatelyBri

    In my opinion there are two different usages for the word “nappy.” The first is describing the current state of your hair. One can say that there hair is nappy because they need a relaxer touch-up, or it’s time to get their weave done, or they need to go to the shop, etc. It is an undesirable state of your hair, that can be altered by hair care techniques (conditioning, cutting split ends, etc). I find myself using this term for my 4 hair, when I am not properly taking care of it. The latter, and more offensive, is saying that someone’s natural hair texture is nappy. This is almost always stating inferiority to a hair texture. Most of the time if your hair doesn’t have bouncy 3 curls, you are deemed as nappy headed, although type 4 girls often have fierce coils. In my life, I have seen a clear distinction of the two and I completely disagree that anyone’s hair texture is nappy. I think it is beautiful and we as women need to stop using frivolous characteristics such as hair to separate us.

  • Shona

    I stay far away from the word “nappy”. First of all, I think that we as Black people are waaaaay to focused and preoccupied with our hair. It’s taken me well over 20-years to accept my hair as it grows from my head…and that’s not normal. My father is bi-racial – Black and South Asian – and he and his siblings all have long, loosely-curled hair. When I was born (and especially as the first grandchild on that side), people openly marveled at how “nappy” and short my hair was in comparison. However I had 3 “nappy-headed” Grandparents and only one with straight hair….so what do you expect?

    The sad thing is I felt like an outsider on that side of the family. Until I grew up and as more of my cousins were born, most of us had kinky hair. Now some of us have children….even more kinkies. So does hair really matter in the end? Nope. We should strive to define ourselves not by what’s on top of our head, but rather what’s in it. It is insane to do otherwise.

    As I grew older, I’ve grown to see Black people’s fascination with hair type as completely illogical. My boyfriend is White….and has thin, flat, wispy hair in spite of both his parents having lush full hair. No one sits around and talks about how “bad” his hair is. He also has a biracial daughter whose hair is thick and kinky. However no one on his side remarks about how “nappy” her hair is. Just that it is thick and about what a beautiful color it is (dark auburn brown).

    My sincere wish for her is that she won’t have to hear the “Why is your hair so nappy – when your Dad is White?” comments – similar to what I went through growing up. All hair types can be beautiful. People are fools for thinking otherwise!

  • BeckyT

    I get, the stink face because my hair isn’t as nappy as some would have liked! I don’t have good hair, but I do have course dry curls, big ones at the top and small ones around my sides and the lower back of my head. You can see them with no problem. They look really cute with the enhancement of gel! I get, how do you make your hair look like that, and one lady who assumed I put the curls in my head, and told me I can get the same look if I use some little rollers. I was like really, does that make you feel better if you somehow think I have created the curl pattern in my head! Like oh, her hair can’t really be curly. Crazy right, Okay, but yeah, nappy is a put down for most people. And folks want to put me down but are upset that they can’t because my hair isn’t nappy enough. It still amazes me that people can concern themselves with what grows out of my scalp. My attitude is if you like it, I love it! You just have to be confident with it and people can’t hurt you like they want to. I am sure as hell not about to start trying to prove my hair texture to folks, so be it. Be happy to be nappy!!

  • Thunderfunk

    I don’t like the terms ‘nappy’ nor ‘kinky’ to describe Afro hair because personally, they are extraneous and especially for the former term, offensive. It should be left exactly as that: Afro. True to the roots of Africa. The only exception I would tolerate is ‘curly’ for obvious reasons.

  • Amber

    Well to me nappy is someone with no coil or curl pattern and there is NOTHING AT ALL wrong with that. It is beautiful! To be honest, I think women who have kinkier hair than the 3c and above get upset when people call their hair nappy because there is STILL the perception that curly = good in the natural hair community. Think about it, how many natural hair blogs spotlight 4b/c/d hair? Not many. So women who’s hair clearly isn’t curly and more on the kinky side use the term ‘curly’ to feel better about their hair which is just sad. Yes my hair is coily/curly but I prefer to use the term nappy because at the end of the day it is in the 4 category. And you know what I love it! I don’t need to say HEY MY HAIR IS CURLY LOOK AT MY COIL and pull out a single strand of hair or wet it to prove to the world that my hair is ‘curly and not nappy’. That is just a waste of time and a form of self-hatred. So I embrace the word nappy with open arms! So here I am over 2 yrs natural and when someone says my hair is kinky I fire back with oh thanks, and its way longer than yours. They usually shut up hehe.

  • LaShon

    Don’t like the word nappy so I won’t be using it. Just because you use it a lot doesn’t mean it’s not an insult. Love the skin you’re in and appreciate what you have.

  • Ma B

    My hair is super coily, coily, super curly, tightly curled, and it used to be kinky. my ratchet wig is nappy, i need help on that one sistas.

  • Shortterm

    I am so glad you brought up this topic. Let me just say I have “nappy” and “kinky” or “curly” hair depends on what I have done or not done to it and I rock all three head held hi. If I go two to three days without washing my hair than I am most likely not going to be able to rake a comb thru it…this is my “nappy but happy look” If I am cowashing styling and moisturizing I get the “kinky hey gurl look” If I am washing my hair most days than its “curly you got good hair look” So to each its own…but for me Nappy is not offensive its all mine.

  • Mia

    I don’t usually use the word nappy, because I feel like it has too many connotations and people get overly worked up about it. I personally feel like hair is hair. God and genetics gave it to you – no point in dissing someone for something they couldn’t control. (I try to save my ire for the things you can control – like acting ugly or ignorant for no darned reason.) I’ve seen some women with fire hair styles and 4C hair, and I’ve seen some folks look a hot mess with 3C hair. Its all in how you work it :)

    • Danixa

      You are totally right. I don’t really like to discuss hair because its just that, hair. Its just something that sits on top of your hair but we do live in America, a place where we obsess over finite things like phenotypical features and how those features make you (or do not make you) black. I do not know what number I am but I am content with my dreadlocks. Because of them I do not fear the rain, don’t mind when people touch my hair, and rarely have to spend more than 1o minutes on styling.

  • Nicole

    I’m one that isn’t totally bothered by the term ‘nappy’ although I agree that it has historically been used with distain. As I’ve learned to care for my natural 4-something hair, I have learned to appreciate that it is more curly than not – although these curls are very tight and coily.

    I am not sure if I understand the difference in ‘kinky’ vs. ‘nappy’ lingo. Would you elaborate?

  • Ashley Duncan

    Well my hair is mostly 4c, but I also have 4b scattered in places and 3c on the top. When i examine my 4c hair it is still curly the curls are just smaller and closely pack together. My 4b hair has a Z shape curl pattern and my 3c hair are bigger sized curls. The more it grows out the more you can see my hair patterns so I’m still learning more about my hair and how to treat it.