I have a toxic relationship with my hair. My 4C, tightly curled beautiful hair. I don’t always feel like it’s beautiful. I think it is partly because 4C hair is only praised when it’s long, and only on social media.
The Covid-19 pandemic, lockdowns and all, forced me to sit with my unbraided hair for months as I couldn’t leave my house to go to my braiding lady at Kenyatta Market, tied to the fact that I also do not know how to braid my own hair. Isn’t it sad that I mostly feel beautiful in my braids or cornrows? Only occasionally do I enjoy wearing out my afro.
Growing up, I had long, black, permed hair. Like most girls my age, my mum took care of my hair, making sure it was always blow-dried and kept in pretty and colorful rubber bands and bows. It made me feel so pretty, just like every other girl who had long, black bouncing permed hair.
And then when I was ten years old, for no apparent reason, she suddenly stopped. My growth came in and suddenly, I wasn’t the beautiful princess I always thought I was. I didn’t feel as pretty as the other little girls; no one told me I was pretty anymore. I remember telling some boys in school that I was mixed race and they said “with that hair?” It hurt. It hurt because I thought that if I was mixed and had bouncing curls I would be prettier. I sometimes wish I had all the positive media that’s around today. Maybe, just maybe I would have thought otherwise about calling my hair ugly.
In class six I decided to perm my hair by myself. Back then there were no YouTube videos to guide me, so I was literally ‘thuggin’ it.
I wanted to look like the girl on the ‘Dark and Lovely’ perm box. She had long, straight, black, silky hair. Every girl wanted to look just like her. This girl was in every home, every bathroom, every salon. I put the perm in my hair without even checking the instructions on the box and as I’m sure you can guess, it went horribly wrong. My hair started burning and I got a beating from my mum. Shortly after, my hair started falling out and my mum told my aunt to take me to the barber and get a shave.
I already had insecurities and cared too much about what people thought of me. Being bald would make getting through primary school significantly harder. I cried until we got there. In the end, I managed to convince them not to cut everything but it was still obvious that I’d cut my hair. Even so, the heat damage from the perm persisted all through high school. It didn’t help that the principal only allowed two hairstyles: straight blow-dried hair or cornrows, or if their cornrows didn’t look good anymore, to blow dry their hair.
My hair was a mess through high school. Once, I tried a style called ‘rugged hair’ which was loc wax and I went to school with it. Now that I think about it, it was incredibly bold of me. I thought it looked great—I even got a trim. But I was told to remove the wax immediately I got to school.
How did they think that was possible? They forced me to comb out every coil and loc on my head. It took me five hours. It was the most painful feeling ever, both physically and emotionally.
When I finished high school, I discovered the natural hair community on YouTube. Then on 14 December 2016 I did my big chop. I didn’t take pictures and I certainly did not get out of the house without a turban. Around April 2017, I decided to dye my hair blonde and that’s what I had till 2018. I don’t think I got too much damage and when the color faded away with my growing hair, I dyed it back to black. In 2019 I tried to dye it red by myself because I saw Rihanna and Zendaya looking amazing with the color, but unfortunately it backfired. I also considered locs but couldn’t go through with it as I was scared of the awkward phase.
As you can see, I’ve done every single thing to my hair. I try to look for natural haired girls with my type of texture on YouTube but most of what comes is loose curled queens. And they look beautiful, but sometimes I think, am I beautiful? Is my hair beautiful? I don’t see people praising 4C queens, or if it’s a video a person puts up as 4C and it’s not actually 4C and I try it out but it doesn’t come out like that person I wonder if I am the problem.
Now, at 24, I’ve finally successfully dyed my hair red. I encountered terrible heat damage, but managed to save my hair and it’s healthier now.
I don’t necessarily feel like the 10-year-old girl I was but I certainly still have the same insecurities. I keep reminding myself that I am beautiful, I am not my hair, I am not my looks, and I am not anyone’s expectation—shout out to India Arie. If a young beautiful girl stumbles across my article and reads this and feels the same way, please remember you are beautiful. Your short, medium or long 4C hair is beautiful.
Don’t change who you are for others.
PS. I still appreciate the hair I have, I love me, I will never not love myself. Open hair, braids or a bussdown wig, I am and will always be beautiful because God gave me this hair.