In a series exploring the complicated relationships we, as women, hold with our hair throughout our lives, All the Pretty Birds introduces ‘Our Hair, Don’t Care’, an installment series of women we love sharing their personal beauty journeys.
I still vividly remember the day I went natural. In the spur of the moment, one day in college, I grabbed scissors from my desk, went to the bathroom, and cut off all the relaxed bits of my hair. I was inspired to do so after watching black women on Youtube speak about how embracing their natural hair made them more confident. Struggling with my self-esteem at the time, I desperately wanted to feel that level of self-assurance. Plus, going natural seemed like a great financial move as a freshman in college with limited funds; I’d no longer have to worry about my monthly relaxers and upkeep — I could just do my 4c natural hair on my own.
Before the big chop, I envisioned myself having a head full of springy, loose curls à la Yara Shahidi. After all, that’s the hair texture the woman I watched on YouTube had. But when my hair began to grow out, my 4c natural hair texture couldn’t have looked any different from Yara’s or my favorite YouTube natural hair gurus. I remember when I finally had a bonafide ‘fro, I didn’t have defined soft curls anywhere on my head — it was just a fluffy, undefined halo. “My relaxer must have changed my texture,” I’d tell myself. Delusion had kicked in. “Soon enough, my real curl pattern will come through,” I insisted.
I had 4c hair, which means that without any product or manipulation, my hair doesn’t have curl definition and is prone to severe shrinkage. Of all the curly textures that exist, I had the one that’s most derided in the black community. Growing up, such kinky hair was often viewed by my peers and family members as the complete opposite of “good hair,” while looser curl textures were praised for being “pretty” and “attractive.” Naturally, I internalized those messages and stored them in my subconscious. It wasn’t until I stopped chemically straightening my natural hair did I become aware of those negative views within me.
Every time I saw my reflection, I felt like I was cursed, subjected to bad karma for a grave misdeed I didn’t remember committed. When in reality, I just didn’t know how to love having 4c hair. And barely having any representation of people with similar texture to mine in the media didn’t help.
Natural hair is finally gaining long overdue recognition and acceptance by the beauty industry and society at large. More black women than ever before are wearing their natural hair in blockbuster movies, beauty advertisements, and on the cover of legacy publications who have historically overlooked them. As a beauty writer and a black woman, witnessing this cultural shift is nothing short of exciting. Black women sporting their curly and kinky textures deserve to be included in campaigns and editorials just as much as someone with a bone straight mane. This new public opinion about natural hair is truly cause of celebration. After all, it’s about time we, collectively as a society, banish longstanding and harmful stereotypes that have painted 4c natural hair as unattractive and unkempt for centuries. There’s nothing negative about the hair sprouting from someone’s scalp — period.
There is one glaring problem with the kind of representation that’s often touted, though. Most times, the black women that are revered in popular culture and by media outlets for their natural hair tend to have loose curls — like Tracee Ellis Ross and Amandla Stenberg. Don’t get me wrong, these women are gorgeous and rightfully deserve the spotlight. But if the natural hair movement is truly based on self-acceptance, women with all types of textures, especially the ones that historically been viewed in a negative, should also be lifted up.
Thankfully, in recent years, more and more women with hair like mine — 4c — are being recognized on a mainstream level for their beauty and glorious manes like Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o and one-half of the HBO comedy series 2 Dope Queens, Jessica Williams. Every time these women, and others like them, step out on a red carpet or grace the cover of a magazine with their magnificent tightly coiled ‘fro, I can’t help but smile out of pride. They’re an incredible reflection of myself that I wish I had earlier in my natural hair journey, but I am glad to have them now.
It took some years before reaching the point where I fully love my hair in all its uniqueness and 4c-ness, but now I wouldn’t have it any other way. These days, I often rock my ‘fro without bothering to manipulate it with a twist-out or braid out that could give it some definition. And most times when I do, I’m stopped on the street by people who compliment and admire it. A sign of the changing times.
Image credits: 1) Courtesy of Shammara Lawrence, 2) Heather Hazzan, 3) Getty