Jaynelle Nicole got her first hair relaxer when she was 12 years old. She thought it would make managing her mane easier, and perhaps stop the bullying she faced from the black kids at her school who all wore their curly hair straightened. "Being 12 years old and picked on, you just can’t stand it," says the New York City-based 4C hair influencer, who now boasts nearly 30,000 followers on her Instagram page @jaynellenicole.
Like Nicole, Memphis-based Taylor Anise, who has over 31,000 subscribers on her beauty- and hair-focused YouTube channel, also experienced texture discrimination from the black community when she was a kid — but hers took place at the salon. She remembers getting her first relaxer at 4 years old. "When I used to go to the [black] salon, they would complain about how big my roots were and how curly and coily they were, and that they couldn’t really work with it," she recalls.
Fast forward to now, and both of these women have each gone through their natural hair journeys and built social media platforms showcasing the beauty of 4C hair. But that doesn't necessarily mean that they — and others with this hair type — don't still face texture discrimination from the black community, even to this day.
The history behind why certain hair types are favored over others can be traced back to the days of black enslavement in the Americas. Research has shown that white masters would force those with kinkier, 4C coils to work in the fields. At the same time, people with softer, wavier hair were usually called to work inside homes, where they'd receive better food and clothing than those in the field, since their hair texture — and sometimes skin color — was closer to those of white people. Over time, these rules created a hair hierarchy of sorts, as well as a mentality within the black community that physical proximity to whiteness was not only the benchmark for beauty, but also a way to gain access to a better life and possibly freedom from racial oppression.
This beauty "ideal" persists today, and has led black people, especially those with kinky hair, to turn to relaxers, flat irons, and hot combs to achieve sleek styles long thought to be more "manageable" or socially acceptable compared to their natural texture.
The results of abiding by this beauty standard can even be seen in the amount of likes and positive comments on a social media post. In 2015, as part of her master's thesis at Georgia State University, Yasmin Harrell conducted a study to explore micro-aggressions in the online natural hair community. Through her research, she found that women with looser curl patterns were more likely to receive positive comments and likes on social media, compared with those who have kinkier hair. The study — which analyzed popular blogs and sites like Curly Nikki and Black Girl Long Hair, as well as the video blogs of influencers like Jouelzy and Taren Guy — suggested that these ideals came as a result of long, type 3 curls being viewed as "more desirable," since this texture is overrepresented in natural hair care product marketing.
YouTuber and 4C hair influencer Chizi Duru says she can attest to the findings of Harrell's study firsthand — particularly when two different hair types are subjected to comparison. While she typically receives positive comments from her audience on her own page, whenever her photo is reposted to a general natural hair page on Instagram — where all curly textures are showcased — negative remarks usually start pouring in. Meanwhile, she notices those with looser, type 3 hair featured on the same platforms are praised. "It's so crazy to see the contrast," she says, adding that the cold sentiments mainly come from other black people.
"Someone called my hair nappy once and I was just really offended," she remembers. "Or, [they said,] 'Her hair looks really, really dry.' I get a lot of 'dry' comments."
Anise says she has had similar experiences when her photos got reposted to a general natural hair page. And like Duru, the remarks directed at her also came from black people.
"I remember this one girl said that she just really wanted to re-do my hair for me," Anise recalls. "She got, I think, 200 likes on that one comment — so it wasn't just the fact that this one person said that, but 200 people agreed with her."
She continues: "The fact that somebody could say something like that, that’s beyond me. You’re hurting people."
Nicole has also come across similar scenarios, only the negativity wasn't directed at her. Back in 2013, she remembers coming across an offensive meme (similar to this) on her Explore page that showed two photos of women side by side, both of them wearing ponytails, one with 3B hair and the other with 4C hair. "Basically it was saying that the 4C hair just looked ugly, just looked trash," she says.
But seeing that image influenced Nicole to launch her platform that same year. "[I wanted to] show other people that 4C hair can look just as beautiful [as looser curls], we can do just as many styles, and our hair is just as versatile," she says.
While Duru, Anise, and Nicole all said that these types of remarks were hurtful, none of them are surprised that texture discrimination within the black community still exists — even in online spaces where natural hair has become so normalized.
"We were taught for so long to [wear] our hair so that it looked more like white [people's hair]," Duru notes. "There are people, generations above us, that still have the mindset that they don't like their hair, and they're teaching their grandkids that, too. I don't think they realize how much that affects us to this day."
Being aware of the history of hair discrimination, and the lack of people who were showcasing their natural 4C texture online, is what Duru says motivated her to start her YouTube channel in 2011, which now boasts nearly 350,000 subscribers. Her goal has always been to create more visibility for people with 4C hair. "It's been my mission to debunk the stereotypes and just show that the texture of our hair is just as beautiful as curly hair, or straight hair, or wavy hair," Duru explains.
"I think people are happy to see someone else with their hair type," she continues, speaking of her audience. "Anyone relates to someone else that looks like them. You need to see representation."
Over time, these rules created a hair hierarchy of sorts, as well as a mentality within the black community that physical proximity to whiteness was not only the benchmark for beauty, but also a way to gain access to a better life, and possibly freedom from racial oppression.
But outside of just the 4C community, members of the black community as a whole arguably have a moral responsibility to start embracing and celebrating all textures, rather than pitting one curl type against the next. One way to effectively move forward, according to Duru, is for black people to start being more mindful of the type of language they associate with 4C hair. Using words like "unmanageable," "bad," "knotty," "rough," and "tough" all have a negative connotation, she notes. "They just ooze negativity, and I don't appreciate it."
"It doesn't make me feel good if I go into a hair salon and the first thing a stylist says is, 'Your hair is so tough,'" Duru adds. "You're making my hair feel problematic."
Nicole agrees, and recommends replacing those types of words to describe 4C hair with more positive terms like "kinky," "coily," "beautiful," and "gorgeous." "I love my hair, and I think that we should characterize it as beautiful, defined coils," she says.
As for Anise, she suggests that it's also time to start looking at traits that are unique to 4C hair, like shrinkage, as something to embrace, rather than something to try to avoid. "My favorite thing about my hair is the fact that it can go from looking like a pixie cut with curls, to being a huge ‘fro when I do my twist-outs," she explains. "I say it’s like my superpower: Shrinkage is beautiful. It's not something to be frustrated with; it is something to welcome."
Duru also encourages others of all hair types to take the time to compliment more people with 4C hair, which is a practice she has adopted herself. "Whenever I see any young girl with this hair type, the first thing I say is, 'Your hair is so beautiful,'" Duru shares. "We need to condition ourselves to think better of our hair texture."