By Claudia Cole
After months of lockdown and the temporary closure of hair salons across the nation, many women started embracing their natural hair for the first time. While being cooped up at home, hundreds of users shared a glimpse of their luscious curls on Instagram using the hashtag #quarantinecurls.
The unexpected re-emergence of the natural hair movement made me reflect on my own journey.
Two years ago, I embraced my Afro-textured hair, and it taught me the essence of self-love in ways I could have never predicted.
One weekend in 2018, I had just finished blow drying my hair, ready for styling. I was no stranger when it came to using hair extensions.
I have Type 4 hair, tightly coiled curls that are prone to shrinkage.
Before styling my hair, I took in my appearance in the mirror. I looked unrecognisable, partly because I wasn’t used to seeing my hair in its natural state. For some reason, it saddened me, and I couldn’t help but question why I felt the need to hide it any longer. Who was I doing this for? How did I develop this hatred for a natural part of myself? That night, I abandoned hair extensions for good and went on a quest for answers.
By growing up in a predominantly white area, it continually reminded me how different I was. My hair texture was the biggest reminder. I struggled to see my hair type reflected anywhere, and because of that, it was hugely damaging to self-esteem.
I felt the unbearable pressure to somewhat conform to supposed European beauty standards. However, it wasn’t necessarily straight hair that I desired. It was the length and a looser curl pattern because that the closest representation I got to my own hair.
Despite my mother’s reluctancy, she allowed me to wear synthetic hair extensions for the summer when I was 12. Unfortunately, that temporary decision turned into a decade long issue. After hiding my natural hair although secondary school, I felt the need to continue doing it. So, my natural hair remained hidden during college and my entire three years at university.
Not only was this decision further damaging my self-esteem, but it was also eating up student allowance.
The black hair industry is worth an estimated £88 million. Research shows that black women spend nine times the amount on hair care than others. These expenses often include chemical relaxers, hair extensions and requiring larger amounts of regular hair products such as conditioner.
Alongside spending excessive amounts on hair care, I became entirely reliant on my extensions for confidence. I worried I’d be ashamed on my natural hair forever.
Step 1 – Self Compassion
The first few weeks were the hardest after abandoning the hair extensions. Every ounce of confidence felt stripped away. I could feel the negative thoughts beginning to swarm inside my mind about my overall appearance.
However, rather than giving in to those thoughts and criticising my hair like I usually would, I took a fresh approach. I decided to acknowledge my feelings and empathise with myself. Unknowingly, this was the first step towards building a better relationship with myself.
Step 2 – Understanding
Due to years of wearing hair extensions, my hair wasn’t in the best condition. It was beyond dry, and my scalp became extremely sensitive. Why?
Most synthetic hair extensions and wigs are made from plastic fibres, usually acrylic, polyester or PVC. Not only are these poor-quality materials non-biodegradable, but they also contain harmful chemicals. It can cause scalp irritation and affects hair growth.
With much research and experimenting, I came to realise what was best for my hair and what wasn’t. My hair liked moisture. Lots of it! Thankfully, we’ve seen a surge in black hair products in recent years. There are many high-quality products as featured in our list of natural black beauty brands. However, there several others among the high-street, overpriced and containing toxic chemicals.
By furthering my understanding, my goal became obvious. My hair needed the best nourishment so it could flourish.
There was no going back at this point. From then onwards, I vowed to be kind to my hair and the environment. It was surprisingly doable, with some of the most beneficial ingredients already hidden in my kitchen. There’s plenty of affordable DIY beauty treatments that are just as effective and leaves zero waste.
Step 3 – Acceptance
As my confidence started to steadily rebuilding itself, I wanted to showcase my hair in whatever style felt right. However, I didn’t know where to start. Like for many black women around the world, the YouTube natural hair community became a top source of encouragement. It was there where I learned how to style my hair with step-by-step tutorials and first-hand tips.
Yet, Type 4 hair is still massively underrepresented online. YouTubers with looser curl patterns often rake in the highest views. Most tutorials featuring those with Type 4 hair are mainly focused on define curl patterns and taming baby hairs.
As helpful as the YouTube community has been, there is still the misconception that coarse hair is ‘bad’ or ‘unhealthy.’ My edges will always rebel against gels, and my healthy curls remain ‘unruly.’ It’s all a sign.
With every coil and curl is a story. Mine has taught me self-love, and because of that, I wear my natural hair with pride.