4 Essential Messages Black Folks with Natural Hair Don’t Get Nearly Enough

A person has their arms folded across their chest as they smile at the camera.

A person has their arms folded across their chest as they smile at the camera.

Filled with frustration in my inability to rake through and put my short, 4C hair into a simple afro puff, I ran into the kitchen, grabbed the scissors from the cabinet, and snipped off a chunk of my poorly styled hairdo.

Immediately, I regretted it.

It didn’t seem like a big deal to my family and friends because I’d chopped my hair off five years previous and worn a buzz cut for about three years. But I was having a Next Top Model Makeover Meltdown and sobbed as I switched from scissors to electric clippers, shaving my head to a nearly-bald state.

Though I was previously working on learning to style and take proper care of my hair, frustration got the best of me.

For five days, I avoided mirrors – partially because I didn’t like the way it looked and partially because I couldn’t believe I’d gotten that upset about not being able to style my hair.

Also, I knew that shaving it for the second time meant I was once again waving the white flag on my quest for the perfect afro. I had been two years deep in the regrowth process and my hair had grown rapidly in that time. I was nearly bald, again.

Now, a few weeks out, I’ve started growing it out again. And I’m starting to love all the things my hair can do, even in its super short state.

As naturals, we know that black hair can be a fun, sensitive, and complicated issue.

Some of us spend hours in the mirror or at the salon/barbershop to get some of the coolest, gravity-defying, head-turning, stylish looks.

Others have had countless debates on natural vs. not-natural hair. Others have had tireless (and often fruitless) discussions with our non-black associates on why it is not okay for white celebrities, fashion designers, and beauty magazines to appropriate our styles.

Despite the vast information on the internet on why our hair is both personal and political, we seem to be in a constant battle with people and institutions that feel the need to insert their opinions, stating that our hair is not tame enough or professional enough for their liking. 

For this reason, we sometimes need a few reminders of just how cool our hair is.

Try out these four affirmations on the days when you’re not feeling great about your hair.

1. All Textures Are ‘Good’ Textures

I am among the many black women who have woken up, unraveled their hair and discovered that their twist-out didn’t come out looking like Tracee Ellis Ross from Black-ish.

She is often given the honor of #HairGoals by many naturals who aspire to have the perfect curly hairdo.

I’ve seen plenty of memes on the internet that read something along the lines of “this is natural hair” with a picture of someone with Tracee Ellis ross or actor Corbin Bleu-like hair textures. Next to that photo is another person with a Black Panther-like fro with the caption, “this is just nappy.”

Tracee Ellis Ross’ and Corbin Bleu’s textures are often considered “good hair” while 4A-C textures are expected to be manipulated until they can be tamed into a “pretty enough” style.

Many people don’t realize that any texture hierarchy that side-eyes tighter curls and kinky hair is rooted in white supremacy.

If black folks only respect looser curl patterns, they are essentially celebrating hair that is closer to Eurocentric beauty standards.

As naturals, we’ve already decided, for one reason or another, to go against the grain. We’ve chosen to wear our hair in ways that mainstream society may not always accept. And that’s awesome.

So we also have to accept that our textures vary and that there is more than one way to be natural.

When growing my hair after the first cut, I had to accept my 4C hair. Sure, I cursed every time I had to run a comb through it (being bald for 3 years made me tender-headed). Sure, there are still days when I wish I had much looser curls.

But as my hair grows out again, I have to remind myself that any disdain for my texture is due to internalized anti-black sentiments about my hair. I have to remind myself that my hair is beautiful, just the way it is.

If being natural means wearing our hair unprocessed, the way it grows out of our heads, then it means accepting the way it grows out of our heads.

No one texture is “good hair.” All hair is good hair.

2. All Lengths Are Good Lengths

I’ve also noticed that the #HairGoals I see online seem to reach a certain length.

I remember when I was a kid, girls whose hair didn’t meet the length requirement were sometimes made fun of and called “chickenheads.”

At the same time, the guys in school were required by the dress code to keep their hair very short in order to look “professional.” This became problematic for those who wanted to wear locs, braided styles, or afros.

Similar to the idea that our hair must curl a certain way, the idea about only a certain length being acceptable is another standard we need to do away with in order to fully learn to love our hair.

Societal standards that decide what is acceptable, professional, or beautiful were never set up to include natural black hair.

Nor were they set up for anyone who falls outside of the white cis-het parameters (hence the problems with most dress codes). So we should not feel the need to follow a standard that was established to exclude us.

Hair of all lengths is awesome hair.

The first time I cut my hair, my best friend’s mother told me I reminded her of Grace Jones. I’ll admit that I had to Google her (forgive me, I’m young).

Not everyone particularly likes Grace Jones’ look, as it is far from traditional beauty standards – dark skin, short, often kinky hair. But dig it. She became my favorite style icon.

When I’m wishing my hair were longer, I remind myself that I’m fabulous like Grace Jones and that my hair looks great at every length.

3. It’s Okay to Have a Bad Hair Day

Every time someone criticizes Gabby Douglas’ or Serena Williams’ edges, I let out a giant sigh. These women work hard to accomplish great things. Can we not let them excel?

Our hair doesn’t always have to be perfect.

Maybe your bonnet or wave cap came off in the middle of the night. Maybe the natural hair gods didn’t bless your afro with the shine it usually has. Maybe it’s been awhile since you’ve retooled your locs or went in for a line-up.

So what?

We’re not required to look or best every time we leave the house. We’re human. And most of us don’t have our own personal stylist who can do our hair as soon as we summon them. We all can’t get a fresh haircut every day like Kanye West.

We’re not going to be perfect all of the time. It’s exhausting to try – and it can take a toll on your sense of self-worth if you never give yourself permission to simply wear your hair as is, without going through a long process to meet someone else’s idea of “presentable.”

If we’re always feeling this pressure to have the perfect hair, we might need to be a little gentler with ourselves.

A little self-love can go a long way.

4. My Opinion of My Hair Is the Only One That Matters

You know, random people love inserting themselves and their opinions where they aren’t always welcome.

They do things like create petitions for Beyoncé to comb Blue Ivy’s hair, comment that Zendaya her faux locs make her look like she smells like patchouli or weed, create memes about Odell Beckham Junior’s bright curls, or ask The Weeknd how often he washes his freeform locs.

I’ve had people dislike my faux locs while others thought they were cool. Some people prefer my long hair to my buzz cut. Others prefer when it’s dyed.

If I tried to please everyone, I’d be walking out the house with ten styles, colors, and lengths on different sections of my head – looking an absolute mess.

It sounds a bit cheesy, but at the end of the day, I’m the only one that has to like my hair.

***

So I’m using these affirmations to manage my feelings about my natural hair through its different phases. Whether it’s short, dyed, braided, or under a hat to hide a bad hair day, I will remember to love and take care of my hair.

Breaking free from the rigid beauty standards and expectations our society has set up can be a process, especially when many of us are taught from childhood that our natural hair is unacceptable. It might take a little more effort to love the hair we were born with.

We don’t hear these affirmations enough – and that’s part of the reason why we sometimes don’t like what we see on the top of our heads. Because we do not receive enough validation from our society, it’s up to us to remind ourselves of these truths when we look in the mirror.

The truth is, natural hair of all textures, lengths, and styles are awesome.

So for everyone on the natural hair journey, I pray that your edges thrive and that your bonnet stays in place!

And that you find love for the radiance of your natural, no matter what state it’s in.

Shae Collins is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism. She enjoys educating and uplifting by aiming a black feminist lens at pop culture on her blog, awomynsworth.com. She’s been published in Ms. Magazine, For Harriet, and Blavity. Laugh with her on Twitter @awomynsworth.