4C FILES: Pattern Power | Essence

Larry Stansbury

I remember the day I started middle school—walking through the hallways feeling confident with my fresh haircut. Later, I noticed another student with curly hair similar to mine. As I approached him, a group of classmates began teasing him about his hair.  

After that disturbing experience, I promised myself I would not grow out my hair, even though my mom encouraged me to do so. I decided to get a haircut every two weeks to avoid being teased. I had already been bullied for having full lips; adding curly hair to the mix would have made me an even bigger target.  

I did my best to fit in with the crowd. In Beyoncé’s words, I was a “people pleaser,” doing anything to avoid mistreatment. I ignored any offensive comments made by others, and I was able to blend in with so many groups that sometimes my friends “forgot” that I was Black. But this only caused me to become even more estranged from my identity.  

I began to rediscover and embrace my Blackness when I was 16 years old. I hung out with diverse friend groups during my middle school and high school years. However, in my junior year, I found a group of friends who could relate to my experiences growing up. They were there for me during all my ups and downs. I could count on them for emotional support about everything, from how I dressed to my sexuality. When I was in their presence, nobody dared to bully or tease me, because my friends had my back. 

Although I used to watch shows like The Boondocks, The Bernie Mac Show, That’s So Raven and Sister, Sister, I began to take a stronger interest in watching Black sitcoms as I approached my twenties. What I loved about shows like Moesha, Girlfriends and Insecure is that the characters fully embraced their hair, inspiring me to do the same.  

Growing out my hair led me to discover my curls, and I was motivated to adopt a curly-hair care routine. Over the years I have experimented with various hairstyles, including different types of fades: diagonal, low-maintenance skin, high-top, curly— and even a natural fade with a part. I soon realized that the fade look flatters my face shape and highlights my high cheekbones.

To complement the look, I decided to grow out my beard. This has helped me achieve a new and more stylish appearance, different from my usual “good boy” style. I sometimes opt for a high-skin fade, to keep my curls while maintaining a trendy and modern aesthetic. To maintain the health of my hair, I make sure to get a trim every time I go to the barbershop.

As a man with thick 4C curly hair, I’ve tested hundreds of products—and I have to say, there’s nothing like using brands that cater to Black needs. It feels like a true celebration of my Blackness with each and every pump.  

For my routine these days, I use TPH by Taraji Master Cleanse scalp wash to clean my scalp deeply. Next, I apply Blaq Luxury Sage & Lychee Repair and Strength Hair Masque to prep my hair before washing and conditioning it with the SheaMoisture Coconut & Hibiscus Curl & Shine Shampoo and Coconut & Hibiscus Curl & Shine Conditioner. I let the conditioner sit on my hair during my shower, then rinse it off after cleaning my whole body.

I also use the Esha Scalp & Shampoo Massager, which helps the shampoo penetrate deeply into my scalp. After showering, I let my hair dry and put on Tropic Isle Living Jamaican Black Castor Oil for extra nourishment. I finish it all with SheaMoisture Manuka Honey & Mafura Oil Ultra Moisture & Nourish Oil, which adds gloss to my curls. For special occasions, I use the Pattern Styling Cream to set my curls in place.

As I get older, I am appreciating my natural hair more and more. When we are young, we often fail to recognize how much our hair can impact our lives. I used to struggle with accepting my curls— because popular media always seemed to depict people with long, straight hair as the ideal. But I now understand that I define my own beauty standards and can accept my hair for what it is, without letting others’ opinions affect me. Additionally, having more representation in the media and a wider range of Black-owned hair products to choose from has certainly helped me love my natural texture more—and, with it, myself.  

I finally understand that my hair care routine is a part of my self-care practice. And my favorite part of this hair journey is that we get to experiment with styles that no one else can achieve. That’s true magic. 

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