I wrote this post a year ago about how I overcame my 4c natural hair struggle. I was reflecting back to the time I decided to grow natural. At that time I personally knew a lot of natural women. The congregation I was apart of was all about self-love and 90% of the women wore natural styles. I also took inspiration from artist like Lauryn Hill, India Arie, Jill Scott, and Erykah Badu. Even still there were people outside my circle that had a hard time accepting my hair. Imagine that. People had a hard time accepting the way I wore my hair. So this is the story all about how I overcame my struggle with natural hair.
Challenges of being natural
My decision to go natural was very simple. I didn’t like perms so I stopped getting them. I explain all of that in this post. The decision to become natural was easy, but I faced many challenges. I battled with my self-esteem, other people’s negativity, and battled with my hair itself. Yes, you read that right I battled with my hair. One thing I learnt as a natural is you have to work with the hair because fighting it only leaves more frustrated. Don’t fight the hair – more on this in another post. As liberating as being natural can be, there are internal and external struggles that many women go through.
The Internal Struggle
When I first went natural I was in middle school. I got a lot of braids and I would get someone to do natural styles for me. Originally, I thought I had loose curly hair, what I considered “good hair” at the time. I didn’t think this randomly. My grandmother and my great aunt had looser curls. My curl patter was looser when I was younger. So I thought it was still the same. In my mind a looser curl pattern was more acceptable. I was disappointed to find that my hair is 4c. But not disappointed enough to go back to a relaxer.
Hair and Beauty
When my hair reached a certain length I cut off the relaxer. I remember plenty of times I would look in the mirror and hated what I saw. My internal struggle was hating my God given traits. I was still the same person on the inside, but I remember feeling just plain ugly because of the way my hair looked. My pre-teen logic told me that being ugly means you are worthless. I literally had to rewire my brain to change the way I thought about beauty. With the support of my family, positive role models, and positive messages I was able to learn the truth. The truth is there is a standard of beauty, but just because you don’t fit into it doesn’t mean you are worthless. You can even be called ugly, but that doesn’t mean you are worthless. This took time to learn of course.
Over time I also learned that there are different types of beauty. Even though “beauty standards” exist I see it as a trait. Just like someone can be naturally talented or athletic. I see beauty the same. Everyone can’t be the “standard”, just like everyone does not have natural music or athletic gifts. This does not take away the value of a person. While a person’s athletic or musical ability could easily be measured, the standard of beauty is relative. The standard of beauty determines what is beautiful
I had to accept my hair and skin for what it is. I had to accept that – even though I prayed for lighter skin and pretty hair – that I was never going to get that. Yes my hair is coarse, but it’s mine. Yes my skin is dark, but its mine. These things don’t determine the effect I will have on the world. Accepting myself was and still is a daily choice. It’s a combination of knowing that everyone will not accept me and being ok with that. It’s not comparing myself or wishing I can change something that I can not. It’s about taking what I have and making it work for me. I overcame my internal battle with my natural hair by changing my perception.
I had to literally look at myself in the mirror, natural hair freshly washed, and tell myself “this is me and this is good”. This is what I mean when I say rewire my mind. I think a lot of women struggle with their natural hair because they have the idea in their mind that it is bad. This notation of “good” hair and “bad” hair. I had to stop telling myself that I had “bad” hair.
The External Struggle
The internal struggle was all about what was going on in my mind, the outward struggle were the things out of my control – negativity from others. Apparently, people had a problem with the texture that grew out of my scalp. My styles were seen as unkempt or nappy. My peers and other adults, including family members, always had something to say about the way I wore my hair. The worst part is that I went through these struggles at a time when other people’s opinion about me was important. Even though I received backlash about my hair, I had a good support group and good role models. They are what kept me motivated.
Hair Horror Story
I think high school was tough because of the negative comments I received from students and adults. I felt unaccepted, but I would just tell my self the truth, their opinions do not matter. The truth didn’t make me feel better, it just helped me see past their words. I still cried at night.
One day I decided to rock my large afro to school as a social experiment. My goal was to rebel against the standard of beauty and acceptable hair. I wanted to make people as uncomfortable as I felt when I first went natural. I wanted them to come face to face with what they consider as ugly and realize “it’s not that bad”. That didn’t go well for me.
They called me Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, and the worst of all Ben Wallace, the basketball player with the crazy fro. I wanted to step outside my comfort zone and show people that I could be comfortable and feel beautiful with my natural hair. Instead, I received too much negative attention and not only from students, but from teachers as well. I was actually expecting to go unnoticed, but instead I got the opposite. I have never been one to want to be in the spotlight. So that was the first and last day I did that at school.
Motivation to Move On
Even though I got a lot of negative comments, I still got positive feedback from some of my peers. I also still had support from my core group of influence. The negativity stands out more. There was an upper class-man who approach me that day and told me don’t listen to all the negative comments. She encouraged me to be myself. There were also plenty of times I was approached by strangers who said that they wished they could be brave like me. I always encouraged them that they could, they just had to do it.
In the summer right before my sophomore year in high school, I started my locs. I remember right before I did it, I got a blowout and people started to compliment me. A boy actually said to my face “ it’s about time you did something with your hair”. Little did he know that was temporary. I didn’t keep it straighten for long because I didn’t know how to style it. I remember my mother was upset because she paid so much for it. From that experience I can relate to new naturals because they are so used to permed styles and are trying to figure out how to style their natural hair. I was comfortable styling my kinky hair that I didn’t know what to do with straight hair.
It was a war between the real me and me the world told me I should be. I didn’t want to be rejected, but I also didn’t want to go back to the breakage perms caused. I didn’t want to go back to the burning I felt when I had to get a perm. So I chose the path of the most resistance. In the end it turned out to be worth it. I overcame those obstacles by understanding that everyone was always going to have an opinion, but my opinion of myself was the only one that mattered. I learned that no one needed to accept my hair but me and once I did that, people’s negativity just rolled off me.
One flaw in the natural hair community is this idea that going natural means that you automatically accept who you are and everything will be perfect. What no one tells you is that you may feel ugly when you look at your kinky hair but you have to be smart enough to know that it is a lie. You can feel ugly, but you don’t have to tell yourself you are ugly. You don’t have to think that you’re ugly. You don’t have to tell yourself that you have “bad” hair. We go through enough struggle with our hair just trying to style it. We can make it easier on ourselves by not accepting negative ideas associated with it. Once you overcome the negative ideas associated with natural hair then your journey becomes easier.
You may still struggle with your hair, but at least you don’t have to battle your own thoughts.
We value our looks and the way you present yourself in public is important. However, it would be nice to live in a world that doesn’t see 4c natural hair as unkempt. Instead of trying to force people to accept my hair I have learned that I need to accept my hair. Once I reached the place of self-acceptance a weird thing happened. People saw how much confidence I had and accepted me for who I am. Coily hair and all.