My 18-year-old brother convinced me to get an Instagram account a few years back, and it did not take me too long before I was hooked. I could show off the fierce henna tattoo my coworker hand-drew and get tips on style and natural hair care. As a long time champion of #TeamNatural, Instagram became a source of validation, inspiration, and excitement. I started finding and following my favorite naturalistas, carefully emulating their style essentials.
I felt empowered, inspired, and sassy! Yet after a month or so of getting my daily dose of IG natural styles, I realized that I was changing. I found myself constantly comparing my hair texture to the women on the screen, and this was something that I had never done before. (Yes, I do mean never.) I'd started hashtagging my new hair styles with rigor, hoping someone would acknowledge the hours I'd spent detangling, combing, co-washing, and putting just about everything in my refrigerator and cabinets in my head as a “treatment.”
I have had a long journey with my hair, and Instagram was only one part of it. I was raised with a mother who did not allow me to get a perm or any type of chemical processing. Of course, I was a young girl in inner-city Philadelphia, and almost all of my friends had perms, while I was wearing double strand twists and barrettes for far longer than I care to admit.
In my teenage years, I came to embrace my hair because I saw its versatility. I was obsessed with the way I could flat iron it one day and wear it in a voluminous ‘fro the next day. I woke up hours early to line up all my hair products in the bathroom and style away. This was my daily ritual.
When I got to college, my hair fell out by the handful due to stress, harsh well water from the region, and consistent flat ironing (3-4 times a week). Although I started college with locks reaching well past my shoulders, I eventually had to chop it off into a shoulder length bob. I found that the less I did with my hair, the healthier it was. For years, I did the bare minimum—wash, dry, moisturize—and the health came back into my tresses. I’ve kept up this routine ever since.
… Well, Instagram, that is.
It began when I searched for a Youtube vlogger and natural hair care stylist that I absolutely love. Shortly after, I was down the rabbit hole, following any and everyone that had a style I wished to emulate. I followed companies who launched natural hair care products, in hopes of winning something. I spent hours on end watching short IG tutorials. I bought hundreds of dollars in new products. Gone were the days of wash, dry, and moisturize. I had upgraded to the LOC (liquid, oil, cream) method… and then the LOCO (liquid, oil, cream, sealing oil) method… and eventually my process began to feel like the ABCDEFGHIJ method. All of those things were pretty harmless, but after about two months, I realized that I was changing more than just my routine. I was changing internally and had developed a bad case of curl envy… in the literal sense.
I wanted my curls to be the same texture as so-and-so’s. I wanted to figure out how to make them more voluminous like so-and-so. Why wouldn’t my hair grow like so-and-so’s? As my students were taking pictures of the various styles I sported each day, I would remind them never to compare themselves to anyone… in any way. However, I was doing a poor job following my own advice.
I knew for sure that it was time to go when I took a trip back home to Philadelphia. I was chatting with my brother about how much I absolutely loved Instagram. However, I finally admitted that I was feeling “some type of way” that none of my hairstyles had been featured on any IG platforms. I was using the hashtags. I was executing some quality technique. I had bought the products and chronicled their effects on my hair. And… nothing.
I showed him my page so that he could see the styles I worked on. He took one look at my Instagram profile and immediately started belly-laughing. Through spurts of laughter he explained, “Jade, your profile is private! Don’t you know that they can’t see ANY of your pictures or hashtags when your profile is private?!”
I was embarrassed, to say the least. I was embarrassed that I had waited for so long for a stranger to validate me (even if she was a fellow #TeamNatural sista). I was embarrassed that I had gotten so caught up in styles, textures, and products. I was embarrassed because all my hair truly needs is water, a silk drying scarf, and some kind of moisturizing/sealing agent; and yet, I was piling my shopping cart with countless products, trying to achieve some recognition.
It is still somewhat strange to say that I have “left” Instagram. My profile is still technically up. The pictures of what was are still hanging out somewhere in cyberspace… tags and all. I haven’t unfriended or unfollowed too many of the familiar faces that I once saw every day on the interwebs. I just kind of… disengaged. I took the app off of my phone. I stopped posting as frequently, living vicariously through the pictures that my partner puts up. I stopped following… in the literal sense.
I realize that not everyone on #TeamNatural gets overtaken by the “matrix.” I realize that the decision to engage is exponentially empowering for some of my natural sisters, and I respect that. However, that conversation with my brother did not just uncover my status as somewhat technologically challenged—it uncovered a bent toward people-pleasing. It uncovered a hunger for validation and affirmation of my own natural beauty. It uncovered the fact that I was waiting for others to do the work that was mine alone to do. For those reasons, I had to say goodbye… and it was the best decision I’d made in a while.
Jade Perry is a regular contributor at For Harriet.