The Mixed-Race Experience’s Naomi & Natalie Evans On Texturism, Beauty, & Belonging

The sisters and founders of @everydayracism reflect on how the internet changed the relationship they have with their hair for the better.

'The Mixed-Race Experience's Naomi & Natalie Evans On Texturism, Beauty, & Belonging
Naomi & Natalie Evans

“The sense that you are ‘other’, haven’t found your community, or feel rejected is incredibly destabilising,” Naomi and Natalie Evans, authors of The Mixed-Race Experience tell me. Their reflections turned into a celebrated anti-racism Instagram account in 2020, @everydayracism, and now the first-time authors are sharing their personal experience of growing up in Britain to illuminate the nuances of racial identity.

According to the census, over 1.2 million British people identify as mixed race. And despite that population set to rise another 30% by the end of the century, finding a sense of self within a polarised society remains challenging and isolating for many. Enter the Evans’ book, which was been described as “essential reading” by Jaspreet Kaur, “current, informative, thought-provoking” by Bernardine Evaristo, and “a welcome resource” by Ruby Rare. The Evans sisters just wanted to write a book they wish they had had when they were younger; to help them navigate life within a predominantly white community where their brown skin and natural curls made them curiosities.

Alongside chapters with titles that anyone who has felt othered will relate to, like “What are you?”, “No, but where are you really from?”, “I’ve always wanted a mixed-race baby”, and “Oh my god, can I touch your hair?” The book delves into the complexities of having a hair type which ticks multiple boxes and means you’re often bombarded with a stream of confusing mixed messages from your family, community, and the media.

Here, Naomi and Natalie Evans talk about texturism, the way beauty intersects with race, and finding identity through community.

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Take me back, when did you first realise that your hair made you different?

Naomi: I was five or six years old and one of only a handful of mixed-race children at my primary school. Living in Margate meant there were very few people who looked like me, and the dinner ladies were obsessed with my mass of natural curls which they would stroke whilst comparing it to candy floss. It was the beginning of a lifetime of having my hair compared to inanimate objects and being touched without my permission.

Natalie: I can remember my white mum trying to delicately detangle my hair as a child and my dad, who was visiting from Jamaica, looking on with confusion. He explained that Black hair needed brushing harder to “toughen my scalp.” It was agony as she pulled through my hair without holding the roots and it was an early example of how, despite their best efforts, my hair was different from anything they, or anyone else around me, knew.

How do you deal with the fascination surrounding your mixed-race hair?

Natalie: My hair has been fetishised throughout my life. Texturism means my looser, softer curls are often deemed more desirable than tighter hair patterns because of their proximity to whiteness. People would be drawn to me like a magnet in the street, commenting on how amazing it was; comparing it to animals, and touching it without my permission, like I was some sort of attraction. It felt so violating and the unwanted attention caused me to hate my hair and start straightening it to keep people away.

Naomi: Sometimes, when people consider you as “different” it creates a sense of entitlement. They think it’s okay to invade your personal space and ask inappropriate questions. If Black people walked around grabbing white people’s hair it would seem shocking, but if it’s the other way around it’s considered acceptable, which comes down to the power dynamic at play.

Change is happening though, there’s organisations like The Halo Code, campaigning to stop discrimination against natural hair within schools and businesses; the hairdressing industry has finally made it compulsory for students to learn how to work with afro and textured hair, and finally being able to buy brands such as Afrocenchix, Charlotte Mensah and Boucleme almost everywhere. These are all important ways of dismantling the system which has positioned whiteness as the norm and negatively impacted some people’s experience of their own bodies.

Speaking of products for different textures, what were your earliest experiences with hair products like?

Naomi: Living in a predominantly white area meant options were limited. When our grandmother visited America she would bring back creams and lotions. Often, their thick formulas were designed with a limited hair type in mind, and did nothing for our texture other than weigh it down. As we got older, like most teenagers, we didn’t want to stand out which meant conforming to white beauty standards and spending the best part of ten or fifteen years burning our hair into submission with DIY chemical relaxers and straighteners and experimenting with extensions and hair glue. Of course, they wrecked our hair.

Natalie: The information and expertise just wasn’t out there for us. Black and white hairdressers both struggled with our hair texture and we didn’t see anybody who looked like us on the pages of magazines, so we worked with what was available to us and experimented with new products monthly. I was lucky because I had Naomi, who is older than me, to teach me how to use straighteners and to never ever go blonde. At least not with a home colouring kit.

What impact did the natural hair community have on your relationship with your curl pattern?

Naomi: I didn’t grow up seeing people who looked like me, which was isolating and lead to insecurities and a real lack of confidence. Building friendships online has been a massive part of my hair journey; meeting other people, even those with different hair types, and sharing recommendations about products, stylists and techniques has been absolutely invaluable. I finally understand that my hair doesn’t make me strange and undesirable.

Natalie: The internet changed the relationship I have with my hair; from the way I felt about it, to the way I looked after it. Youtube taught me about sleeping with a silk pillowcase; drying my curls with a T-shirt; staying away from sulphates, and conditioning more than shampooing. Thanks to content creators such as Simone Powderly and Nia The Light documenting their hair routines, wash day with my Dizziak Deep Condtioner has gone from a traumatising experience to something pleasurable. I still learn a lot online; Instagram and TikTok were the first places I looked to when working out how to maintain my braids.

The Mixed-Race Experience, published by Penguin Books, is out now