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  • Writer's picturenautia giles

I hate my natural 4C hair? An Educational Rant

Updated: May 12, 2023

Did you realize that hair trauma existed? This article details my frustrations with embracing blackness while simultaneously hating my natural kinky hair.


Can you be proud of who you are, where you come from and still dislike a personal feature or trait?

Unfortunately, I'm writing this from a place of anger and frustration. I'm annoyed that I can’t freely express my dislike for my naturally kinky hair. Can you be proud of who you are, where you come from and still dislike a personal feature or trait? Any sane person would answer "yes!" Not in the African American community apparently. If you are proud of being black, you embrace everything that comes along with the territory. That means just going through the motions. In order to truly understand my hair trauma we must look at my childhood. Yes childhood, it's that deep. From a very young age, I always disliked having my hair done. While speaking with friends recently, I realized that I wasn’t the only black girl who felt that way (side note: do non-black girls experience this also?). It wasn't that I was a tomboy. It wasn’t that I didn't like to look kempt and/or polished. Having my hair manipulated in any way was painful. This was painful mostly because of the texture of my hair, I have 4C hair. It is very coarse, kinky, thick, and dry.


There is a popular hair scale that is used to describe our curl patterns. This scale ranges from 3A-4C, 3A being the loosest curl pattern and 4C being the kinkiest and tightest. This texture means that it took more time, maintenance and products in order for my hair to look "styled". Detangling was and still is the most time-consuming and frustrating aspect of it all. As a very young child, I spent lots of time having my hair done by my mom, family members and hairstylists. Depending on what hairstyle I got, it could take up to 6 hours. Hours that other kids would spend with their friends playing, doing homework, or exploring outside. Imagine me at 4 years old sitting still for hours at a time just for a hairstyle, a hairstyle that I personally didn’t care about. Obviously, this situation was something I couldn't understand but it was becoming a problem for all parties involved. This long process would include washing my hair, detangling, drying it, moisturizing it, styling it and protecting it before bed. You get the picture, it's all-consuming and frustrating.

 


I guess my mom felt the same way because at age 5 I had what is known in the black community as a "relaxer". A relaxer is a chemical treatment that contains lye. A relaxer or “perm” straightens the natural curl pattern of your hair so that it is easier to manage and looks more polished, sleek and “white-passing”. This process needs to be repeated every eight weeks to retain the straight look. I was 5 years old so obviously I was stoked about several things. One, I was relieved that I didn't have to sit in pain for hours anymore! I was also excited that I could look like my white school friends who had long straight hair. Although my hair was also long, severe shrinkage, which is common for kinky hair, caused it to look as if my hair was only 3 inches. After the relaxer, it was fun having straight hair like everyone else. The excitement lasted until I had to get a “touch-up” treatment.

A “touch-up” simply means that I had to do the exact same relaxing process again because the roots of my hair started growing out and curling back up. I remember my caregivers telling me not to scratch my scalp in the days leading up to the time I was to have the relaxer done. “Why?” I asked. Apparently, if I scratch my scalp, it “opens my pores”. With open pores, the lye and chemicals will literally burn my scalp. Obviously as a 5-year-old, I didn’t listen. Refraining from scratching my itching scalp seemed absolutely ridiculous to me. Did I mention that the relaxer has to sit on my head for a specific amount of time before it can be rinsed out? So here I am with lye burning my scalp and no relief in sight. If the relaxer is washed out before the specified amount of time, it is possible that the process “won’t take” and I’d be left with my natural curls. Even though I am in pain, I’m still sitting, waiting and trying not to complain. Once the relaxer is rinsed out, I notice immediate relief until I feel the sores and burns on my scalp from the chemical process. "They will heal," I think to myself. Now is the time to have it blown dry. The heat and comb from the hairdryer cause continuous pain but I know this is something I have to get through. The final step was having my hair brushed and wrapped around my head in a circle. A headscarf or bonnet then covers my head and completes the tedious process. The scarf is used to protect my hair from damage. It took me years to realize that not everyone has to "protect" their hair before going to bed or even laying on a bed. Our hair is delicate and if rubbed against another material (ie. a cotton pillow), breakage and damage can and will occur.

 

The "wet hair syndrome" is partially the reason I didn't learn how to swim until 2019 but that's an entirely separate article.

I was taught from a very young age to protect my hair at all costs, even if that means not getting a good night's sleep because the scarf is too tight, even if that means not getting in the pool or ocean with my friends because I couldn't get my hair wet. Maybe if I had grown up in a predominantly black area, not being able to get my hair wet would have been less stigmatizing due to everyone having the same culture and abiding by the same rules? The "wet hair syndrome" is partially the reason I didn't learn how to swim until 2019 but that's an entirely separate article. These experiences are also the reason I've shaved my head multiple times throughout my life.

 


Easter always stands out to me when I think about black hair rituals and practices.

For many southern Baptist African American families, Easter is a huge holiday. We do so much to prepare for it. We get extravagant pastel Easter outfits and hats, we pick and practice an Easter speech and many women and children have their hair straightened with a hot comb. A hot comb is exactly what it sounds like, a metal comb that you put on the stove to heat. I don't know where this hot comb tradition started but in my opinion, it's terrible to subject children to. I can remember having my ears, neck and face burnt often and being fussed at and told it was my fault for not keeping still. Luckily for me, the hot comb was only used for special occasions.

 

Not only is this process painful but it can take anywhere between 2-12 hours depending on the style.

Having my hair braided was done more consistently. You think having braids would be less pain than a hot comb but honestly, it's still painful. The pain would last days after until the braids “loosened up”. Your natural hair is pulled very tightly into the braid, which causes immediate pain, lasting pain and a lifetime of damage. The follicles of the hair being pulled too tightly consistently leads to loss of hair and damage to the scalp, sometimes resulting in alopecia. Not only is this process painful but it can take anywhere between 2-12 hours depending on the style. There are still parts of my scalp today that haven't fully recovered, the hair is scarce and tender in some spots.

 

Shrinkage shown along with the tedious twisting process


Pros: now that all the cons are out of the way, I can express my gratitude. Yes, my hair is a pain in my ass and it has been since childhood but it is also absolutely magical. It's thick, rich in color, deeply coiled and most importantly versatile. There was a 3-5 five year period during college when I enjoyed my hair the most. It was long, healthy and much less maintenance than it is now. I would do so many different styles. I'd wear my hair in twists, twist-outs, afro puffs, afros, high ponytails, low ponytails and braids. Any style you can think of, I had it. My hair was beautiful and I received compliments non-stop but did that make it worth all of the literal blood, sweat & tears? Absolutely not! The reason I keep my hair in braids and other protective styles is because caring for it daily is like having a 2nd full-time job. Let me tell you about this job. It starts with Co-washing (using conditioner instead of shampoo so as to not strip the hair moisture) once a week, deep conditioning overnight, detangling, air drying and twisting my hair into tiny sections. If my hair is not twisted before bed, the second I lay my head down, my hair shrinks back to my scalp creating the “no hair” look. Also, twisting my hair before bed gives me the desired style for the next day. Imagine moisturizing, detangling and twisting every single night regardless of how you are feeling. It is a huge commitment, one that I'm not willing to make at this point in my life.


 


There is a 2019 book titled Boonoonoonous Hair by Olive Senior that teaches young girls to love their difficult to manage hair. After reading the first few pages briefly, I immediately thought to myself, "I wish I had something like this to relate to growing up". I quickly checked in with myself again and thought, "no, along with self-help books, we also need styles that are pain-free and products available that make our hair more manageable." Not many people talk about these issues obviously because it is a taboo topic but I know there are women out there who feel similar. Let me also go on record saying that my mom and caregivers did the absolute best they could with the resources and information they had available, but the culture completely failed us as black women and that's no one person's fault. Everything has pros and cons, My 4C hair has more cons.

Do I hate my hair? Yes. Do I love it? Also yes.


* 2022 Update: I now have microlocs and it is the best thing that has happened to my hair since age five. There is very little maintenance, very little pain and I can even swim daily!


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