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When your hair’s not 3B: unachievable natural hair goals

23 Aug 2017

There are so many things I wish I was given the heads up about before going natural five years ago. My natural hair journey began as a result of my low tolerance for pain when my mum chemically treated my hair. I wanted a pain- and alkaline-free relationship with my hair, but I also wanted it to be longer because chemical relaxers eventually took a toll on its length. Unfortunately, I don’t think I can say with total confidence that my natural hair journey was smooth sailing – I mean, whose is? It seems there was a lot of disingenuous and misleading information, which resulted in emotional disappointments.

Upon transitioning, I was bombarded with images of bouncy, curly afros which either cascaded or formed the most perfect halo. Usually these pictures were of lighter skinned women who also ticked boxes of socially acceptable black beauty. YouTube was a haven for these naturalistas who promoted their wash-day routines, wash-n-go techniques, fave products, protective styles and twist-outs. Being a lover of information, I made lists and documented routines for my hair. I went out and spent a sizeable chunk of my monthly Costa wage on hair products on the advice of these women and I sat for hours watching them style their hair.

“I was left asking why my hair didn’t bounce when I walked, why my bantu-knot outs had zero curl pattern and why it took me hours to wash and moisturise my hair”

Although this process was enjoyable, it left me feeling drained when all my efforts weren’t being rewarded with the results I had expected. I was left asking why my hair didn’t bounce when I walked, why my bantu-knot outs had zero curl pattern and why it took me hours to wash and moisturise my hair when a girl on YouTube said her routine took only 20 minute. At some point, the urge to relax my hair was strong but the smell of the relaxer was even stronger – thankfully I didn’t relapse.

Now that I’m quite old in the natural hair game, I realise just how unachievable and quite frankly ridiculous my expectations were. In the grander scheme of things it makes sense when you take into account the fact that the natural hair community, for the most part, champions those of 3a – 3c hair textures. There is very little representation of women who find themselves on the kinkier and coarser side of things, sporting 4a – 4c textured hair.

Social media platforms dedicated to natural hair are usually flooded with these images and the top natural hair YouTubers with the most subscribers often fit this description too. My 15-year-old self (who had very little understanding of natural black hair) readily accepted the idea that my hair would turn out a certain way even though this was genetically impossible.

Along with unachievable textures, there is also a length problem which often goes unaddressed. As a result of our infatuation with certain beauty standards which are remnants of anti-blackness instigated by white supremacy, there is this obsession with long natural hair. Again, these media outlets promote the false idea that long hair can be achieved overnight with minimal effort. They plaster “before and after” photos of women who have gone from shoulder length to waist length in a month, using just this one product, this dope routine or these special vitamin pills.

Although these images have provided us with funny memes, they are incredibly dangerous. They don’t take into account the fact that shrinkage is REAL particularly for kinkier textures. But most importantly it falsely equates healthy hair to long hair. So we don’t strive for a healthier mane, instead we obsess over monthly length checks. We often go to the extent of applying copious amounts of heat to our hair and damaging it for the sake of showing off our “true” lengths.

“As a result of my journey, I accidentally fell into a more immersive and life changing process of self-discovery and self-love”

I feel that I am quite fortunate in the fact that I persevered and will never look back on my decision to go natural. As a result of my journey, I accidentally fell into a more immersive and life changing process of self-discovery and self-love, in relation to my blackness – It sounds deep but that’s the honest truth. I only wish that we could do better by those embarking on a similar process, so as to make it more fulfilling for them.

I wish the natural hair community would confront this issue of explicit and implicit hair-texture bias. I wish it would allow women of darker skin tones, kinkier textures and shorter hair to shine as much as their looser textured counterparts. I wish the information available would warn new naturals of the tough journey ahead, the hours of detangling and numerous failed twist-ounints which await them. I wish comfort and finding beauty in one’s natural hair was the mantra. I just wish there was more honesty.