“I think about cutting all my 4C hair off every wash day,” reads an anonymous post from one Reddit user who identifies as a Black woman with ADHD. “I’ve pretty much learned how to do my own box braids so I don’t have to deal with my hair all the time…” she explains. “I have 4C hair and I felt like such a failure for hating doing it and not having the energy to make it look nice,” reads another anonymous admission. In the same thread, there are many comments by Black women with ADHD who all expressed a unique struggle with caring for their natural hair. They admit that some of the debilitating symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder — such as restlessness, anxiety, impulsivity and difficulties with organisation and time management — make the often time-consuming demands of wash days, detangling and styling particularly difficult, leading to feelings of shame and frustration.
Taylor Morrison, the founder of the self-care platform Inner Workout, understands these feelings all too well. Morrison was diagnosed with ADHD last summer and like many Black women, her symptoms were only recognised in adulthood. Morrison says the diagnosis helped her finally understand her complicated relationship with her natural hair.
“What you're seeing right now is like my one main hairstyle,” she shares with a smile.
Speaking to Unbothered UK from New York over Zoom, she’s wearing her beautiful coils back in two neat twists. It's a style she says is understated, and most importantly easy for her to maintain on a day-to-day basis. “I went natural in college as my hair was permed my whole childhood and I wanted to reconnect with my hair. I think part of me also thought it would be somewhat easier to be natural, which it was not,” she says.
Unless driven by the urgency of a fancy event or on the occasions when hair becomes the focus of her latest hyper-fixation, Taylor admits she finds caring for her hair hard — so much so she found herself doing nothing. “I will have this desire to try something [new] like a twist out, but it feels like it takes so much time and there are so many steps, or having sit there and watch a whole video [tutorial] feels like you're in your hair for so long. And it's really, really hard. Everything feels like it takes so long to do with my hair…”
Taylor says she tends to avoid complicated or long-winded hair care routines despite wanting to experiment. “I think it’s a very ADHD thing to want something [to be] easy but also wanting options. And sometimes I end up just doing nothing. So this has been more or less how I wear my hair for many years,” she shares.
"ADHD can make it difficult to stay present, enjoy the experience and stay focused during hair care routines and, as a result, leads to neglect of hair health and hygiene.”
Caroline brown, Integrated therapist
Many Black women, including myself, are coming to terms with how ADHD uniquely impacts their lives — including their self-image. For many, protective hairstyles that allow weeks or months without needing to tend to their natural hair (box braids, cornrows, weaves or locs) are the only styles that can seem manageable (and thankfully, look great). On TikTok, the hashtag #BlackWomenWithADHD sees hundreds of videos by Black women detailing how their ADHD has meant a reliance on hair relaxers (or the “creamy crack”) for ease, or not being able to sit through eight hours of hair braiding.
Why does ADHD make hair care such an arduous task for those with afro-textured hair?
“When you think about hair and the sensory experience of hair styling — the process of washing and detangling curly hair — at times it can be super uncomfortable, and if you’re [someone with ADHD] dealing with emotional dysregulation, it can be additionally challenging,” says Caroline Brown, a London-based integrated therapist and life coach, with specialities in ADHD, neurodiversity and racial trauma.
"[ADHD] can make it difficult to stay present, enjoy the experience and stay focused during hair care routines and as a result, leads to neglect of hair health and hygiene,” she explains to Unbothered. “I’m a Black woman and know full well that hair maintenance is time-consuming, and takes a lot of planning. Black hair care is also very expensive and requires financial budgeting — all things that can be challenging for someone with ADHD. It can be both a financial and emotional burden.”
"There's this whole culture of adornment and being able to do incredible things with your hair that I am not able to participate in..."
@theeekatthomas I can’t do it, I can’t do it 😂 #hairstyle #blackgirltiktok #braids #cornrows #adhd ♬ Чупки в кръста - Fiki
Struggles with hair care are just some of the ways ADHD can uniquely present itself in Black women — along with masking, inattentiveness, impulsivity, hyper-sensitivity, difficulties with finances, risks in relationships, and many of the other traits commonly associated with all women with ADHD.
More than 2.6 million people have been diagnosed with ADHD in the UK; it’s primarily associated with and identified in young, hyperactive white boys. Racial and gender medical biases have meant Black women and girls with ADHD have remained largely undiagnosed until well into adulthood. As Refinery29 UK reported last year, hundreds of thousands more women are being assessed for ADHD than ever before, especially Black women. According to data from 2014, 19.3% of Black British women had been recently diagnosed with ADHD, compared to 9.4% of white British women.
Brown explains how women with ADHD often struggle with perfectionism and living up to societal expectations — whether in work, relationships, or most definitely, body image. For Black women and other minorities, it can further exacerbate feelings of low self-esteem and shame when also faced with racial and gender-based injustices.
“[For women with ADHD] we're not well wired for demands that are put on us by society,” Brown shares. “And so women begin to mask and they find it challenging. There are additional difficulties for women of colour who find their role in life can feel quite isolating.”
Brown adds: “As an adult when you have a tendency to procrastinate and avoid tasks that require sustained attention, it is going to induce feelings of guilt and shame. And this again can lower your self-esteem.”
As a Black woman with ADHD who adores beauty, I feel trapped by the need to only do what’s safe... I can admit that the pressures of Black hair, and some of the criticism it attracts, warrant my reliance on protective hair styling.
Hair is a particularly vulnerable topic for Black women with ADHD. Between the natural hair movement and messaging within Black communities, there is an expectation that Black women are *supposed* to like doing their hair. The pressure to be polished is exacerbated by Black women and influencers showcasing a range of colours, lengths and hair textures they’ve tried throughout the year. Some even boast about being “chameleons”. I, on the other hand, stick to what works. As a Black woman with ADHD who adores beauty, I feel trapped by the need to only do what’s safe. With my natural hair, I don’t want to be seen without it looking good — so I don’t show it, only feeling secure with protective styles. In my vulnerability, I can admit that the pressures of Black hair, and some of the criticism it attracts, warrant my reliance on protective hair styling.
Taylor relates. “I sometimes assume that other Black women are looking at me and are thinking 'she doesn't look that good'. And I see the other Black women in my life who have beautiful hair and try all of these different styles, and it’s just not something I feel able to do at this point.”
To our surprise, both Taylor and I get emotional during the conversation. Neurodiversity and Black hair care is a relatively unexplored topic and it’s rare to speak candidly about challenges that others may not quite relate to.
“It was such a big decision for me to go natural, to do the big chop and to embrace my hair the way that it grows out of its head. Yet [when it comes to natural hair] there's this whole other culture of adornment and being able to do incredible things with your hair that I am not able to participate in. So it feels like there's a piece of connection to culture that is missing.”
For now, Taylor is contemplating getting locs and is focusing on enjoying the process of doing what she can with her hair care, instead of what she can't — starting with romanticising her wash days.
“I will deep condition my hair, and really get into my scalp and allow that to feel good. I will have these great moments when I have my hair products, and they smell so good, the shower is hot and it feels good for me to scrub my scalp. I know there can still be such a moment of connection to myself and appreciation for my hair even while acknowledging that I'm not going to be doing a TikTok tutorial.”
“I am the only person obsessed with my little twists and that’s good enough."