Written by Ava Welsing-Kitcher
Off the back of skin tone filters and banning weight-loss ads, Pinterest is carving its way towards a friendlier digital space.
For as long as Pinterest has been around, I’ve often had to sift through endless images of beach waves and balayage on straight hair to get to examples that represent my own curly texture. When on the quest for coilier type 4 textures, the results are even fewer and further in between. And while we’ve learned the ‘shortcut’ of adding “afro hair” or “Black model” to our search terms, it’s just another unnecessary and time-consuming step we shouldn’t have to take.
Pinterest heard our calls for a more inclusive space and has unveiled a new feature called Hair Pattern, which allows users to filter search results based on hair texture. Choose along the scale from protective, coily, curly, wavy, straight, and bald – and just the fact that it starts with the most textured type is something we’re sadly not used to seeing, as is also the case with foundation shades always spanning from lightest to darkest.
The Hair Pattern feature is the latest instalment of the platform’s endeavours to make itself more user-friendly; in 2018, four skin tone filters were introduced so Pinners could choose to only see results for paler, olive, medium to deep skin tones if they chose, and this July saw the banning of all weight-loss advertising. In a press announcement, Pinterest detailed that the Hair Pattern was created specifically for Black, Brown, and LatinX users. With more than 200 million searches for hair and five billion Pins, 17% are specific to texture, such as “festival afro hairstyles” or “goddess box braids”.
“This new tool will mark a much-needed milestone for racial equity in the world of coding – just the simple idea that I don’t have to work twice as hard to find a hairstyle because of my hair type is a game-changer,” says Naeemah LaFond, celebrity hairstylist to the likes of Yara Shahidi and Gossip Girl’s Whitney Peak, and one of the hair experts consulted on by Pinterest’s Inclusive Product team – headed up by Annie Ta. Together, they worked on overall user experience, inclusive language, and ensuring there were enough voices at the drawing board to have a diverse enough range of perspectives.
“Our mission on the Inclusive Product team is to help everyone feel like Pinterest is a place for them,” explains Ta. “As a visual discovery platform, we have an opportunity and responsibility to do a better job of increasing representation in the products we build. That’s why we built Hair Pattern search using computer vision technology to help identify hair patterns in images. By doing this, we hope we’re able to use technology for good and make it easier for people, no matter who they are, to find hair inspiration for them on Pinterest.”
So, how does it hold up in real time? It’s not perfect, but it’s a great leap forward. As soon as I search for “wedding hairstyles”, a banner pops up walking me through the new feature, explaining how AI is used to detect hair patterns in images, and offers a guide to each of the hair textures with beautiful visuals. Flicking through each of the categories brings up diverse and mostly accurate picture results – there are a couple of rogue images of white models with brushed out barrel curls in the coily category, and wavy wigs and straight-haired braids in the curly category, but hopefully with more use and time the AI will sharpen its senses.
Hair Pattern is available now in the UK, Ireland, US, Australia, and New Zealand on desktop, iOS and Android, and will be rolled out internationally over the next few months.
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