(Hair)

I’m Tired Of Being Held Hostage By My Natural Hair — And I’m Not Alone

Lot’s of other Black women feel this way, too.

VISUALSPECTRUM/Stocksy

I always wonder what my hair would look like if my grandmother hadn’t permed it when I was just two years old. Would it be longer, healthier, thicker? I grew up frustrated thinking about the what ifs and wishing I had gotten a chance to see my natural hair at (I assumed) its fullest potential. I cut off all my permed hair about eight years ago and went natural, and since then I’ve come to understand why my grandmother did it. Caring for natural hair is hard. It’s a labor of love — emphasis on the labor. And frankly, I’ve hit a wall where I no longer want to put in the effort to maintain healthy natural hair — because how am I supposed to care for mine when I don’t really care about natural hair anymore?

While this may sound like a dramatic conclusion, it didn’t happen overnight. And for many Black women, becoming exhausted with their natural hair is a slow process that sneaks up on you, and often leaves many feeling guilty. Black women have developed so much pride surrounding our natural hair (and rightfully so), that when we decide to forfeit taking care of it — whether that’s chopping it off, getting a perm, or even letting heat or color damage linger — it’s met with sentiments of shame, especially from other Black women.

Annie Blay

I usually feel alone in these feelings, but recently my outlook is echoed around various parts of the internet — most notably TikTok. A few weeks ago I came across a TikTok that expressed exactly how I’ve been feeling. In the video, creator Sincerely Oghosa explains that after getting a sew-in recently, many of her followers (particular Black women) asked if she wasn’t afraid of experiencing heat damage since the front strands were left out to blend in the extensions — to which Oghosa explains “at this point, I don’t care. If the hair breaks it breaks.”

More relatable words have never been said (at least to me). After getting a damaging silk press back in October, followed by two different color treatments, and a few protective styles in between, I’m right where Oghosa is — exasperated trying to keep my hair healthy, and frankly not really seeing the point anymore.

In reading the comments of this resounding TikTok, speaking with a natural hair care expert, and even chatting with Oghosa herself along with a few other Black women who feel similarly, I’ve never felt more affirmed. While this is a complex topic even for the women dealing with it, it seems to come down to three main overarching issues that contribute to natural hair care fatigue.

Natural Hair Care Can Be Expensive & Confusing

When I first went natural after over 10 years of having a perm (a chemical relaxer that straightens hair), it seemed there was a world of opportunity for what I could do with my hair. I have thick 4C hair that has a coily rather than curly pattern; it hates to be combed, mattes easily, and doesn’t grow as quickly as I’d like it to — but all that aside, as a new natural I was excited to try all the styles, from twists outs, flexi rods, to bantu knots and wash-n-gos.

Unfortunately, most of them did not turn out how I wanted despite the hours I put in. I was even looking forward to having the robust hair care routine I’d seen so many naturalistas talk about —pre-poo, shampoo, deep conditioner, detangling, moisture mask, hot oil treatments, rice water rinses. All the fixings didn’t scare me or leave me weary at the start of my natural hair care journey, but after a while I was so over it , and today the thought of spending four plus hours washing my hair makes me want to shed a tear. I wish I could hop in the shower, shampoo and condition my hair, hop out, quickly style it, and be done, but that’s just not my reality and I resent my hair for how difficult it is to care for sometimes. My wash days involve washing my hair in sections, lots of detangling, often times deep conditioning, and a whole lot of time and energy that I simply have no to desire to exert.

On top of all that, natural hair products are an expense that not everyone can afford, or even cares to invest in — and that’s for people who forego protective styles (which are a whole other beast to tackle).

No matter what style you decide to do with your natural hair it’s going to cost you some money, and natural hair services are more expensive than ever — a reality that beauty writer and esthetician Simedar Jackson and I lamented about over the phone. “Braids right now can run you $500 dollars — that’s ridiculous,” Jackson expressed. “Getting a nice weave could run you $1000 and for your average person (especially given these rent prices) that’s just not super realistic.”

There’s An Overwhelming Amount Of Information About Natural Hair

Founder of natural hair care brand Juices & Botanics and ‘afro whisperer’ Whitney Eaddy has dedicated her life’s work to helping Black women crack the code to effective hair care — but even she admits that it can all be a bit too confusing at times. “Everybody is going to be a little different, there’s really not one [hair care routine].” Eaddy explains. During my informative conversation with the curl specialist, I realized that one of the major reasons some Black women feel overwhelmed with hair care is because there’s so much to know about our hair, and it’s hard to learn it all. And this can leave wash days feelings like a trial and error marathon with more errors than anything else.

According to Eaddy, the curl typing system is barely a starting point. Even after discovering that I had 4C hair (through a series of Youtube videos ), many products I tried still didn’t quite do the job — probably because I didn’t know my porosity, hair density, or condition of my scalp. Much like myself, the average working Black woman doesn’t really have time to take a crash course to learn all this about their hair and then formulate the best hair care routine.

While natural hair information is widely accessible on the internet, because everyone’s strands are so different, turning to the natural hair community online for knowledge can feel like a dead end. On the flip side, not everyone has access to an expert hairstylist that can aid in their hair care journey.

To top it all off, just when you thought you’ve found your perfect hair care routine, the Internet’s natural hair gurus have a new piece of ‘information’ that negates what you’ve found works for your hair.

Hairstyles That Don’t Cause Damage Are Limited

Even if you have the money to get every protective style in the book, it may come with some damage still, as the name itself is a bit misleading. “A lot of protective styles require tension,” Eaddy explains. “Things like braids [with extensions] can cause a lot more breakage than people know.” Obviously there are nuances, and proper installation can be the key to tension-free styles, but as someone who has been getting box braids since I was two, the last thing I want to hear is that my favorite style is causing my hair to break. Speaking of easy damage, don’t even get me started on heat styling.

When I first went natural I didn’t put any form of direct heat on my hair as I was warned by many that doing so would give me heat damage and result in limp, lifeless strands. I went many years wanting to get a silk press or at the very least a sew-in with a leave-out — especially coming from having had a perm for so long, I was just used to straight hair, so not being able to wear my hair that way (or thinking that I couldn’t) was a restriction that upset me. Eventually, I would tell people proudly that I had been over five years heat-free as if it were some badge of honor, despite the fact that deep down all I wanted was a sleek silk press with a middle part.

Conversations surrounding natural hair are almost always anchored in health. It’s all about keeping our hair healthy, growing it long, and not doing anything to sacrifice the integrity of our curl pattern — but all at the cost of being limited to a few hairstyles. Beauty content creator Lauren Brown gave up caring about the health of her natural hair a while ago for this very reason. Right before starting her social media career, Brown cut off all her strands that had been damaged from heat and a lack of proper care. From there Brown began experimenting with color — she began dying it two years ago and hasn’t stopped since. “I understand when people say you can keep your hair healthy and bleached...but I’m not doing the million different things that go along with that,” Brown explains. “I’ve come to terms with that once I’m done dying it all the colors I want, I’m going to cut it all off and start from scratch. I just want to do cool colors, that’s my priority right now, not it being or looking the healthiest.”

Oghosa, who like myself loves to experiment with hair, found that most of the styles she would try were difficult to pull off with natural hair. “You either have to keep washing your hair because you had to apply so much gel to keep the style in place or face heat damage of some sort if the style involves heat,” she explains. As a content creator she shares a lot of her hair styles online and is often met with Black women showing concern for the health of her hair. “I was tired of the policing and the over protectiveness of our curls. I think that sometimes holds us back from actually enjoying the versatility of our hair,” she says.

Oghosa’s sentiments made me think a bit deeper into why Black women are so protective of our hair. Come to think of it, I can’t recall a time in my life where my hair has not felt central to my identity and appearance — between my height, weight, skin, my hair always seems to hold the most importance. After talking to all these women I think this is definitely rooted in some subtly racist ideologies.

Unlearning Anti-Black Insecurities Is Hard

Historically, hair has always been such an easy way to exclude Black women because our hair literally looks and acts so different than other races. Hair is very political for us, and has never just been follicles that grow from our head. From Black women having to cover their hair during colonial times to the regulations on natural hair in the workplace, down to microaggressions about whether Black hair can actually grow naturally long, Black women have always had to somewhat restrict, prove, and advocate for ourselves in regards to our hair — and when you see it that way, it becomes very clear why we now have a hard time detaching our identity and value from our hair.

Another side effect of this othering is that many Black women can’t seem to unlearn Anti-Blackness rooted insecurities about our hair — myself included. When Jackson first went natural she admittedly ‘felt ugly’, a feeling I know all too well. Jackson and I actually share similar experiences of growing up in predominantly white neighborhoods and going to PWIs where we kept our hair straight to assimilate to our surroundings. “I was on the creamy crack for a minute,” Jacksons says jokingly. “I was getting weaves throughout college... it was just so hard for me to look at myself [being natural] after so long of chasing this particular aesthetic and feel cute.”

Soon after moving to New York to start her adulthood, Jackson decided to go natural and found that she just didn’t feel comfortable in her natural hair. “It was a struggle. I felt ugly, I did not feel pretty...I didn’t know how to do it. I watched all the videos and read all the things and there was just so much going on, it was very overwhelming,” Jackson recalls. She definitely knew that these feelings were attributed to internalized racism but acknowledging it doesn’t necessarily make it easy to deal with or reverse.

Contrastingly, Oghosa often wore her hair natural out in her youth but was made fun of at school for it by both Black and non-Black people. “It was kind of an issue for me confidence wise, and when I was 16, I decided to texturize it,” she explains. The rise of the natural hair movement a few years ago encouraged Oghosa to try going natural again, but admittedly the damage of being ridiculed at a young age for her hair is hard to undo. “I try to hold a lot of space for those who don’t fully embrace their natural hair,” Oghosa says. “Because the natural hair movement can be very toxic.”

A Different Kind Of Natural Hair Community

And in essence, that’s where I hope the natural hair community can evolve — to a place where we can hold space for those of us who struggle to love and deal with our natural hair. There are times where I feel a little shame over not liking the way my natural hair looks. I see many women online embracing their curls in a multitude of styles and I truly wish I could relate, but due to texturism, internalized racism, and insecurities, I just don’t feel comfortable in my natural hair most times. I want the general response to that to be understanding and compassionate, rather than shameful. And I don’t really want a solution-oriented response on how to grow or manage my hair.

I’m so over Black hair always having a deeper meaning — I always hear that’s ‘not just hair’, but this Black woman actually wants it to be just hair. I want Black women freed from the over politicization of our hair, freed from the restrictions of what we should and shouldn't do to it, and freed from the burden of always keeping it healthy or long, so we can do whatever we want with it — whether it’s a perm, dying it every color of the rainbow, getting lots of heat-intensive styles, wigs, weaves, braids, and whatever else.