5th September 2017
Over seven years ago, I got frustrated with my weak, lifeless, relaxed hair and told the barber to shave it all off. After a few minutes of unsolicited advice from him, he took out the shears and shaved as close to my head as possible. I was elated! I wasn’t trying to big chop or anything because back then, I had no idea what that was; I was simply trying to start a new phase in my life.
Fast forward to June 2012: I lived in weaves and box braid and I had a TWA. I felt like if I wasn’t in extensions, my natural hair made me look less than feminine. So, after having a weave in for about a month (when the head tapping became somewhat neurotic), I took it down and immediately relaxed my hair…talk about breakage. My hair resembled a cross between a squirrel and a hedgehog and, once again, I suffered disappointed from the broken promises on relaxer packaging and advertisements. Needless to say, I cut my hair again as soon as I had undergrowth and went back to being “baldilocks”.
It wasn’t until the beginning of 2013 (I was cliché and chose the 1st of January, sue me) that, inspired by my sister, I decided to grow my natural hair in all its glory. I was encouraged by her journey and began to read up on other women who were part of what was being called ‘The natural hair movement.’ Finally, I thought, the media would start showing me images that represented me, people that I could relate with, real people.
The more images I saw of natural hair, the more demoralised I became. I joined natural hair forums on Facebook in the hope that they would offer me something more but, alas, such is not the fate of the type 4 natural. I almost feel like type 4 naturals belong in images depicting unkempt, unmanageable, and undesirable natural hair. If your curls aren’t bouncy or ring like and if they don’t fall from your head effortlessly, you’re not classified as natural.
On one of the natural hair forums I’m a part of, many new additions ask questions such as: ‘how can I make my hair like Tracee Ellis Ross,’ ‘wow, how do you make your hair curl like that,’ and ‘I wish my hair could do that.’ During college, I did a study about representations of Black women in Black media in South Africa and my findings were quite scary: Out of over a hundred and ninety (190) advertisements that I analysed, only thirty-five (35) of them showed natural hair and, out of those thirty-five, five (5) were for natural hair products.
I used to think the natural hair movement was going to be the movement that finally broke down the stereotypes that have, for so long, made Black women hate their hair. Instead, now, more than before, I am more aware of the ‘otherness’ of my 4b/c hair. I am more aware that I still don’t quite fit the natural hair bill, whatever that may be. While I may get compliments from the people that I encounter from day to day, I still struggle to find acceptance within the larger natural hair community. As one natural put it: ‘The truth is, “natural” looks more socially acceptable than “nappy.” I tend to disagree.
In recent weeks, I have seen many conversations surrounding this on social media. Opinions are shifting and changing but we still have a long way to go. Don’t get me wrong, I am not negating the struggle that other women go through on a daily basis with regards to their appearance because, trust me, it’s real; I am merely relaying my own experience of being discriminated against within a group of women that I have come to know as a safe space.
I am a firm believer in the fact that “we rise by lifting others,” and, I guess what I am trying to say is we need to step outside of ourselves and recognise each other’s struggles so that we can all rise.
What are your thoughts on the so-called natural hair hierarchy? Do you believe it exists?
Beauty, Beauty Business, Big Chop, Discrimination, Hair Care, Hair Hate, Hair Hierarchy, Hair Type, Healthy Hair, Natural Hair, Natural Hair Products, South Africa