Hearing the words “bad hair” can be triggering for many black women with 4C curls — bringing up distressing memories like being told by a hairdresser their hair was “unmanageable,” hearing negative comments about their texture from family members, or even being teased at school. It can be especially painful when other people of the same race, but who have looser curl patterns, are praised for having what some black folks have long deemed as “good hair.”
Although the second wave of the natural hair movement has been able to reach a global audience through social media, people with type 4 tresses still deal with texture discrimination from their own communities to this day.
But the notion that 4C hair is anything but glorious is in stark contrast to the beauty standards that were upheld in many traditional, pre-colonial African societies, in areas where this hair type was common. “With 4C hair, highly textured hair, it was actually used as more of an art form,” Dr. Afiya Mbilishaka, assistant professor of psychology and researcher at the University of the District of Columbia, tells Bustle. “Our hair was supposed to grow up towards to the heavens as a way to connect to the spiritual world.”
Today, several black women seem to be embracing the magic of their roots. People like Buzzfeed Senior Beauty Editor Essence Gant, The Weekly Reid web series host Danae Reid, stylist Chloe Lucan, along with four other women Bustle photographed, have all ditched the outdated mentalities and straightening products in exchange for their magical, fluffy Afros. And they’re more proud than ever to share not only their hair journeys, but also the joys of having beautiful, 4C coils.
Chloe Lucan, 26 — Silver Spring, MD
“I was around 19 or 20 years old — just about to graduate college —when I decided I wanted to stop perming my hair. I started reading a lot about the chemicals in perms and I thought, ‘This is not safe for me. I shouldn’t need to do this.’ On top of that, I started doing some research into Eurocentric standards of beauty, which made me question why I never learned how to take care of my own natural hair. That’s when I started transitioning out of my relaxer.
Once I did my big chop, I didn’t even know what texture I had. I wasn’t sure how to style my hair, and I was using all the wrong products that ended up making my hair look greasy. It was a challenge. But I was still always OK with it and how I looked. I just knew it would take time to learn how to do my natural hair, so I had to be patient when it came to figuring out how to work with it.
But what actually made things difficult for me was when my boyfriend at the time told me he couldn’t date a girl with natural hair. That obviously hurt in the moment, but I ended up leaving him and kept doing my hair. I just said to myself, ‘I’m gonna figure this out.’
Now that I’ve been natural for a few years and have gotten my hair routine down, the joy I find in having 4C hair is definitely the flexibility. I can pretty much do whatever I want with my hair. I can manipulate it to mimic any texture, or I can braid it, twist it. I can make it into anything I want it to be.”
Arielle Bines, 23 — Bronx, NY
“I first discovered my texture as I stepped away from perming my hair. I was over the chemical burns and the scabs that came with it. It just started to feel gross. I was also getting ready to move to college soon in Plattsburgh, NY, at the time, and I was worried that there would probably be no black hair stylists up there. So I just decided to get braids that could last until I went back home to visit my regular stylist.
One time, I ended up just taking my hair out on my own and saw my texture, kind of by accident. I never really understood how to do my own natural hair, and I didn’t realize I had to comb my hair out before I shampooed it. Long story short, my hair got completely matted, and that’s when I was like, ‘Well, I guess I’m doing the big chop today.’
But I honestly hated my hair at first — I cut it totally uneven. It was also just a pain at first, because I never thought that I could wear my natural hair out anywhere and have it be socially acceptable. My mom had always taught me that certain people aren’t going to like my hair, or it’s going to be the make-or-break factor for when I get a job. Back then, I always wanted to make sure that my hair was something that was socially digestible for people who may not be exposed to 4C kinks. But now? I’m rocking my natural hair out for job interviews.
Believe it or not, the joy of my hair is the fact that I have to put work into it. But that’s because I can do so many things with it; I can style it so many ways. It can be voluminous by just getting it wet, or it can be flat by using a blowdryer. My hair can also easily form into a bunch of different shapes, so of course it’s going to be a lot of work to take care of — that’s why I love it.”
Essence Gant, 32 — Augusta, GA
“I started transitioning in 2009 with braids and weaves. Then in 2010, when I was graduating undergrad and headed to grad school, I went to my sister, who works as a stylist, to cut off the relaxed ends. Of course, I knew what I was getting myself into, but I will say I was nervous leading up to the cut, because I didn’t know what my hair was going to look like. Natural hair was unfamiliar.
I really did like my texture a lot once I saw it, so I didn’t really have any physical or emotional struggles, personally. But I did notice a difference in the way other people treated me — mainly in my interactions with black men, or boys, really.
This one guy in particular, who I kind of talked to a little bit in high school, was like, “Why did you do that to your hair?” — as if I had committed a crime or something. I also noticed the number of black men who would try to talk to me or get my number declined significantly. I hate saying that, because I love black men and that’s my preference, but it’s my experience — it’s the truth. And the black men who tried to talk to me, for the most part, were always the super “hotep” ones, who would say things like, “What’s up my beautiful, African queen, sister girl.”
But as far as acceptance goes today, beyond just black men, I do feel like things are getting better. The natural movement has become much stronger overtime — it’s so normalized now. We even see 4C hair on shows like Insecure. It’s becoming a real part of the narrative around the standard of beauty.
In terms of joy, honestly, I’m going to be real: I just look really good. Wearing 4C hair as my crown is how I’m supposed to look. I’ve had wigs that cost more than my rent, and they still don’t look better than what’s growing out of my head. You just can’t beat it. 4C is good stuff.”
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