The Natural Hair Community Can Be Toxic For Women With 4C Hair

Photo courtesy of Jamila-Lee.
YouTube is where many of us turn when we're in need of a tutorial. From learning how to assemble furniture to nailing a box braid, it has our back for DIYing mostly everything. It's also a place where lots of Black women with natural hair learn how to look after their texture. While it is no secret that mainstream media has failed to cater to Black women in this space, the internet allows the conversation to thrive.
Back in the late 2000s, when many Black female celebrities like Gabrielle Union, Kelly Rowland and Jamelia had yet to step away from their weaves and straight styles, the natural hair community was bubbling online, as women sought knowledge on how to embrace the texture they had been chemically altering for decades. Many were going through the same transition periods and big chops, so forums, blogs and videos were uploaded in large numbers, with techniques and recommendations shared throughout the community. Fast-forward to 2020 and the online natural hair space further boomed as the pandemic took hold. Many Black women saw closed salons as an opportunity to get to know their texture, experiment with styles and wear their quarantine curls and coils in all their glory. However, amid the experimentation and TikTok tutorials, it is increasingly hard to ignore that the natural hair space is leaving type 4 hair – specifically 4C, the tightest curl pattern of all curly hair types – in the dust.
In February, a tweet about 4C hair went viral, racking up 51.7k likes and 9k retweets. The author wrote: "A lot of y’all don’t like how 4C hair looks NATURALLY. That’s why you’re always pushing for people to drench their hair in moisturizer. That’s why I have a lot of beef with this current natural hair movement." The response was emphatic. Hundreds of Twitter users said that the lack of information on 4C hair has left them no closer to understanding the texture in its most natural form, while others were unhappy that the natural hair movement places a focus on loose curls as an ideal hair type. Many even called the natural hair space "toxic" for excluding 4C hair entirely.
The toxic culture around how type 4C hair is perceived and spoken about is nothing new but it must still be challenged. Prior to the natural hair movement, representation of any natural hair type was so infrequent that women took to representing themselves within the community. Transitioning from relaxed to natural or big chopping would have felt like an upheaval of the beauty standards they had been force-fed for years. Former editor of Blackhair magazine Keysha Davis recalls the shift: "I had countless conversations with Black female readers who expressed that although they wanted to stop chemically processing their hair and return to their natural roots, they felt that this would be inappropriate for a workplace setting or they feared that men would find them less attractive if their hair wasn’t straight." While the popularity of natural hair has increased and become commoditised (with natural hair gurus including Naptural85, NaturallyTemi and Chizi Duru growing their following enormously), you’d be stretched to name many who have the coiliest, kinkiest hair texture.
Jamila-Lee, founder of Girl Free the Fro, seconds this: "You don’t really see tutorials or videos for a 'wash and go' with 4C type hair. To me, that's when your hair is in its most natural form." Jamila-Lee adds that in the past, the information on the internet has often been overwhelming. "The influencers on YouTube focus on promoting product after product and I didn't see anyone with my hair type at the start of their hair journey." Women with type 4 hair are constantly warned how dry and porous their hair is and, according to hair experts, more prone to damage from mechanical and chemical styling. Yet trying to find a tutorial on YouTube with 4C hair that doesn’t use heat to stretch out 'shrinkage' before twisting or using a diffuser to dry it is a struggle. The results are littered across your Pinterest feed and Instagram explore page: beautiful 4C hair that looks nothing like its natural state. 

Women felt that returning to their natural roots would be inappropriate for a workplace setting or they feared that men would find them less attractive if their hair wasn't straight.

Keysha Davis
It seems that 4C hair is only adored and appreciated when it resembles other textures. Internet imagery is flooded with type 3 curls – long and bouncy – which, no matter how hard those with 4C hair plop or scrunch, will never be achievable. There is such a large focus on type 3 hair that the space in which many Black women with type 4 hair previously sought support has ended up alienating them. The wider your curl pattern, the bigger your following is likely to be. The texturism is blatantly obvious and it is pushing type 4 hair to the sidelines of the natural hair space.
This is incredibly divisive of course. Having the solidarity of a community to help and guide you can make all the difference when making decisions that affect the way you feel about yourself, especially when it's tied to something intrinsically linked to identity, like hair. Trina, half of the natural hair duo Curlture, believes brand marketing and advertising have a lot to answer for when it comes to the space being co-opted by type 3 hair and deliberately exclusionary of type 4 hair. "[Type 3 hair] has a closer proximity to European beauty standards, which is why you often get people assuming that if you have loose curls, then you must be ‘mixed’, so not fully Black," she says. Trina adds that when brands cater to type 3 hair, they think they are being inclusive and more relatable to the market. "It’s not enough," she adds. "We’ve heard time and time again that Black women spend more on hair and beauty, so why would advertising and beauty brands exclude those with type 4 hair?"

The wider your curl pattern, the bigger your following is likely to be. The texturism is blatantly obvious and it is pushing type 4 hair to the sidelines of the natural hair space.

Social media has been a saviour for lots of women when it comes to haircare but this can't be said for everyone. Danielle, 22, used social media to find out what she needed to care for her 4C hair, only to be recommended products which didn’t work for her hair type. "I used to watch a lot of natural hair influencers' videos and purchased as many products as they suggested," she says. "I thought if it worked for them, it might for me, and I hoped for the best." Danielle also noticed that most videos for 4C hair by creators with her hair type were encouraging her to stretch and manipulate her hair, suggesting type 4 hair must be altered. While Danielle does not think there is anything wrong with wanting to change her hair to achieve specific styles, she says that women with type 4 hair tend not to state how good their hair looks until it has been manipulated.
This deliberate elimination from the haircare space – not to mention the constant expectations of type 4 hair – has seen many Black women take the responsibility of representation into their own hands, and they are making a welcome impact. Lots of new brands have been launched over the years and founders are making a case for showing their products on kinky, coily hair textures. "We've seen Black women creating brands such as Afrocenchix, Nylah, Big Hair, Flora and Curl and Equi Botanics," Trina adds. "These incredible women are changing the narrative, pushing for representation, and we’re so grateful to them."

You don't really see tutorials or videos for a 'wash and go' with 4C type hair, which to me is when your hair is in its most natural form.

Natural hair content creator Chuma Soko is hoping for further change. "There is a lot more representation now than there was before, but definitely not enough," she says. "We mostly still see 4C hair when it is a specific length, for example long and mostly in stretched, blown-out looks. It would be great to see more 4C hair in its natural state – TWAs [teeny-weeny afros] and all." Happily, TikTok is slowly but surely seeing a rise in beauty content creators with type 4 hair, who are using the app to show the full spectrum of curls, coils and kinks. Take a quick scroll through the #naturalhair hashtag, which has 2.4 billion views, or the #4chair hashtag, which has 404.1 million views, and you'll be met with hundreds of videos showing TikTokers how to create styles which don’t require heat, alongside users quashing expectations and normalising Black women not having to constantly style their hair.
TikToker Berlecia Charlemagne has 26.9k followers. In a recent viral video, she asked: "Can we normalise Black girls not having to do our hair to go outside? Like, can I do a wash and blow and just walk outside, edges don’t have to laid, hair doing what it wants to. I think our hair in some of its rawest forms is so beautiful and it should be acceptable and presentable." The thousands of likes and hundreds of supportive comments are an encouraging sign that the natural hair movement is progressing.
The onus should not be on Black women to change their hair to fit into whatever gap or bracket society requests; this goes against the entire impetus of the natural hair movement. It is down to the natural hair community to make space for type 4C hair – manipulation-free and thriving within the very space which was built around it. Acceptance in the form of lifting up the voices of those with type 4C hair to truly educate and communicate the beauty of the hair type is the first step to seeing type 4 texture in all its kinky, coily glory.
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