What Happened to Your Hair? The Battle with Shrinkage

The other day I caught myself ‘complimenting’ a work friend on her hair: “You have good shrinkage”. She had come to the office with freshly washed and air dried hair without manipulating it by twisting or stretching of any kind. It wasn’t matted or squashed and you could even see the little ringlets of curly strands making cameos. We laughed after I said it but I quickly called myself out on it. What exactly did I mean?

It made me wonder if society and I had replaced the all too often said and heard sentiment of “you have good hair”. And it dawned on me, this shrinkage thing for most of us naturals is real. Especially us with kinky, 4C, whatever you wanna call it hair. Is this the new version of you have better hair than I do? Or that only certain people can go natural? I never thought shrinkage was a problem up until I came across a comment a reader of mine left on my Facebook page:

“Your hair looks very soft and easy to work with, especially on the edges. It also keeps stretched out length beautifully”

As soon as I read that, I had a montage of flashbacks to when I’d rock up to work or a social gathering with my shrunken, unstyled fro and how people would look at me quizzically and ask (in silence or aloud) “What happened to your hair?”, “Did you cut it?”, “I thought you had soft hair”,”You look…different”. It’s these questions, comments and general reactions that validated my insecurities of wearing my hair unstretched. Hang on, doesn’t that defeat the whole accepting your hair as it grows naturally thing?

Up until last year, I very rarely left the house with my hair in its shrunken state. For the first few years of being natural, I thought the only way to look cute and funky is when my hair was stretched then ‘curlified’ by twist or braid out or similar. But with my timetable last year not really permitting me to spend the previous 10 minutes in the evening prepping and 15 minutes in the morning styling, I began to leave my house more with a shrunken yet nicely moisturised fro. Knowing my fro much better now, I know it needs a drink everyday – twice a day – to be happy. And the odd times I let sleep win the evening battle and I don’t prep my hair properly before, that results in shrinkage. Shrinkage I used to hate for a couple reasons:

  • I wanted to show off the full length of my hair. It’s taken me years to get to this length and it hasn’t been smooth sailing. So I wanted to show the fruits of my labour. Otherwise, what’s the point right? I love big hair and if my hair is big – whether manipulated to get there or not – I wanted everyone to see it.
  • I felt cooler/funkier/more beautiful with my hair stretched. My thoughts were validated every time I rocked up to work or other social gatherings with my hair shrunken. Even on my Instragram account, my more popular styles are those that are fluffy and longer looking.

Then when I finally got over it and began accepting that this was how my hair would always be, I began to appreciate shrinkage. I mean, how many people can style their hair in a way that made them look like they’re rocking a new cut? Then BOOM next day it’s long again. Natural hair is incredibly versatile. Maybe shrinkage isn’t supposed to be something we work against, but embrace, at least for the right reasons. Because I know wearing my hair shrunken these days just means tangles and breakage and that’s now the only reason why I stretch it. But the odd times I want to look like my hair has more volume or a kinkier look to match my outfit, I can. And easily. Isn’t that kinda… awesome?

How do you deal with shrinkage? Is it an issue for you? Or do you just accept it as part of being natural?




  1. February 2, 2017 / 6:17 am

    What is the best way to combat shrinkage when you spritz it and then it fizzles up? How do (did you rather) you maintain the length even when your has been spritzed ?

    • Aisha O
      February 3, 2017 / 9:54 am

      Hi Puleng, I would spritz my hair first, then undo my twists or braids or whatever stretched style I slept in. I would only undo once my hair was 80-100% dry. Undoing whilst damp would result in shrinkage 😉

  2. June 3, 2015 / 1:54 pm

    Wore my 4c shrinkage out for two days, I felt like poo. I didn't strut as normally as I did, I felt worse than I do on my WORST hair days.

    I have tried embracing the shrunken look, I just can't. I feel poor looking.

    • July 3, 2015 / 1:44 pm

      Sorry you felt that way, and this is why I've written about a couple topics that has touched on this. Can you elaborate on why you felt "poor looking"? I'm really interested in finding out why we have a negative view on our shrunken hair so that we can overcome it.

  3. June 3, 2015 / 7:01 am

    Truthfully, a lot of times, I don't like shrinkage – like you, because it means a lot of tangles for me, and thinking about the work involved to detangle, it discourages me to even take good care of the hair. Because I don't stretch my hair that often, a lot of people (myself included) think my hair is short. When I do stretch it though, I get lots of compliments – even though it's the same hair I had in a shrunken state the day before.

    • July 3, 2015 / 1:41 pm

      Isn't that funny though? Why does it get more compliments than when it's shrunken? Aesthetically, what's wrong with shrunken hair and why do we aspire and praise women with more stretched looking hair?

  4. June 2, 2015 / 1:02 pm

    I have learned to embrace my shrinkage since my 2010 BC. It's a part of my hair's personality. I have also learned the hard way that my hair needs to be stretched at some points during the week so I don't have tangles,but, my twists are definitely chunky.

  5. June 2, 2015 / 6:50 am

    I always encourage new naturalz to embrace their shrinkage. it kills me to see the comb out their TWAs just so they can look acceptable, however the office place gets used to it. once i started wearing my fro 'shrunken' for a few days i noticed that nobody complained. they get used to it. You know and they know that when u want to, you can stretch it out n look fierce, but a small looking fro is just as fierce. EMBRACE THE SHRINKAGE #superNaturalz

    • July 3, 2015 / 1:40 pm

      Thanks for weighing in. It also kills me to know that so many women regularly damage their hair in order to look "acceptable". I think as long as you're confident and affirm your decision to wear your hair a certain way, other people will see they can't express their negative opinions and are more likely to keep it to themselves.

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