Type in “natural hair” on your favorite social media hangout and you will see a seemingly endless sea of images .
Type the same search term into Google and you’ll get a plethora of search results on what Google thinks you want to see (that ‘all-knowing’ algorithm).
But there’s one problem with all of them.
Most of the results, images or feeds do not showcase 4c hair.
I did this little experiment and noticed that, the vast majority of images I was served, were of hair types and textures very much unlike 4c hair.
The most popular accounts on Instagram featured women with loose curl types and wavy hair. Whether these women were of lighter or darker hue didn’t matter. They all had long, full, non-4c hair.
Although I received more diverse search results from Google, the images were still mostly of women with non-4c hair textures.
Where’s The 4c Love?
My intention for writing this post isn’t to take some abstract stance on 4c hair not being the standard for ‘natural hair’ representation (although I could easily write at length about that).
Or to argue whether a conspiracy exists behind the whole ‘standard of beauty’ thing we’re fed by the media (which, there is).
But rather, to dive deeper into a topic that I think doesn’t get the attention it deserves.
Where’s the 4c love?
Let’s get a little bit of history out of the way first:
For centuries, Black women were fed a narrative about their hair. In the grand scheme of life, focusing on hair seems to be trivial and unworthy of much discussion.
But, when you peel back the layers, you expose an inconvenient truth.
Our hair IS the topic of conversation, particularly our 4c hair.
And it always was.
Natural afro-textured hair has been politicized (remember the ’60s?) and/or demonized (pick any point in history and insert here).
In Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America, Temple University professor of journalism and co-author Lori Tharps, discusses how important our hair was in assigning perceived value in society at various points in history.
In Tayo Bero’s article, Tangled Roots: Decoding the history of Black Hair, Tharps is quoted:
“The hair was one of these physical attributes that was very easy to point to and say, ‘Look at their hair. It’s more like an animal than it is like our hair. That’s what makes them inferior,'”
(source: Bero, 2021,CBC.ca)
It’s not a far-fetched notion to acknowledge that our 4c hair attaches us to many ideas, feelings, and prejudices about who and what we are.
Our natural hair textures, particularly 4c hair, has been the topic of whole conversations. It has been the determining factor that made (or broke) careers, impacted socioeconomic mobility, and/or informed our relationship options.
It’s not just about hair.
It never was.
But many would say that, gone are the days that Black women would be discriminated against because of their hair texture.
But, would that be an accurate statement?
The Reality of 4c Exclusion
When I scrolled my IG feed for ‘natural hair’, it was obvious that the algorithm had a different idea of what that term meant.
I was looking for images of women with obvious 4c textured hair (I know this naming convention is hotly debated but, for the purposes of this article, I am using it for reference only).
Women who had fluffy, cottony tufts of beautiful zig-zag coils.
I quickly realized that my idea of natural hair was not the standard according to the Instagram algorithm.
Rows upon rows of 2a-c, 3a-c and even 4a hair images flooded my feed. A sprinkle or two of 4c coils were offered , but that was it.
It made me think. Is this what everyone thinks natural hair beauty is?
And, if 4c hair only gets honorable mention, what message does that send to girls who have 4c hair?
I acknowledged then (as I have many times before) that we are still being marginalized because of our hair.
When young boys and men see these images of “natural hair”, they are being conditioned to accept those images as the standard.
As these young men grow up, they take those images (and the subconscious bias that comes with them) into the world and base their decisions about who is desirable, and who isn’t.
These choices, about what they find attractive and desirable, can have real consequences for their female counterparts.
Years of biased conditioning becomes the basis for who they choose to date, marry and have children. Who they think is worthy of protection and provision.
And who isn’t.
When you consider this fact, it’s no surprise how relaxers ever became popular, why the straightening comb is still used today and why (for some) wigs and weaves are a beauty staple.
When exclusion becomes a reality for 4c girls in money, life and love, it’s not just a function of vanity that she may choose to alter that which makes her different, to improve her options.
So, what can be done to correct 4c bias?
This is not a simple task. Correcting 4c bias will involve undoing generations of conditioning and deliberate, purposeful action.
The media has done a great job of forcing a specific beauty standard onto all of us.
This conditioning is done every waking moment, in commercials, print ads, TV shows, movies. It goes on and on.
Changing your mind about what you consider beautiful or desirable requires a level of consciousness, awareness and action, that meets the opposition head to head.
It starts with what we allow our children to consume in the media.
It requires parental and social responsibility to educate younger generations against the notion that the “standard” is what they see on their social media feeds.
It involves having uncomfortable conversations with ourselves, and others, about beliefs in beauty and desirability standards that are not like us.
It requires a revolution that dismisses the ideas and visual representations of 4c hair not being ‘preferred’.
It means changing your standards.
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