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Curly Nikki

Natural Hair Purgatory- The ‘Tween’ Stages

By January 27th, 202142 Comments

SuburbanBushBabe, a fellow blogger, member, and long time curly friend shares her views on the ‘tween’ stages of natural hair.

Natural Hair Purgatory- The 'Tween' StagesA member started a topic about Hair Purgatory. For hypertextured 4a’s, 4b’s and beyond, that means when that pretty teeny weeny Afro (TWA) is no longer teeny enough to highlight your head shape, but not long enough to hang even partially south. It’s still too short for that but it may be flopping out in other more crazy ways. It may naturally coil. But it also may have different textures. The sides may be tighter like coffee stirrer coils. The crown may have looser coils. The front may grow more slowly than the back. One part may be coarser than another. Or one part may be shrinkier than another.

This is the time when many curlies are focused on gaining length but are still learning what products and routines work best for their hair. It is when we aspire to all those shoulder length and beyond natural looks whose photo albums we so eagerly stalk. We get so focused on our hair future because that is way easier than our hair present. And of course these SL gals never had to go through this awkward period, they just woke up one morning and were SL, right? Let’s call this Beyond the Big Chop (BC) Purgatory. It’s a tough time because depending on what you do, you can inhibit your hair’s development.

Beyond the BC hair purgatory happened to me several times over many years. It was a tough time for me — too long for the cute shape anchored by my scalp. Too short for the hang. Doing the north, east and west, but definitely no south. WTF was it doing?

  • not long enough to hang but not short enough to behave.
  • not long enough to pull back into a bun.

I was in this stage several times in my life and each time it felt like I was unanchored and could not see the far shore. No matter how much I patted it down it refused to behave like a TWA. It also refused to behave like it wanted to drop and hang. I went through several cycles of growing it to a certain length, losing hope, and BC’ing again. And it all happened before the curly hair product revolution I saw happen after Y2K.

Read On>>>

The first time I entered purgatory, I got it relaxed. My hair relaxed is limp and I really don’t know how to care for it. So I BC’d again.

The second time in purgatory, I got braid extensions. After I took them down I got my hair regularly trimmed, rollerset, hood dried and lightly blow dried/combed out at a neighborhood Hispanic hair salon. My hair was mid-short, thick, healthy and growing wonderfully, and I loved it when it was cared for this way. But I couldn’t afford frequent salon visits and didn’t have the attention span or skills to do it myself. And I was going through some emotional changes, so — BC.

The third time in purgatory, my hair got the Jhericurl. Dry, breaking, always damp with curl activator….BC!

Next time my post-BC hair became unmanageable, I got more braid extensions. After they came out, I went to a top stylist in my new town and he gave me a texlax and a shaping cut. It was a spot texlax, brushed on just like you brush on color in a technique called baliage. My hair looked very nice. I could wash and go in a short “natural” do–with curl activator. I got some growth, not much. I had to switch stylists and shops because he was so much in demand in the New York fashion industry.

My new stylist continued to texlax. I achieved a little more growth and the chemically induced, curl activator “hang”, but it never hit shoulder length. Then I started two-process blonde highlights over the texlax. Seven years later I had the damaged part cut off. It wasn’t a BC but very close. Still I continued to get the new growth texlaxed.

I texlaxed for 4 more years still trying for the artificial hang. I got it with curl activators, along with with very dry, dry, dry, dry hair. Every time I entered a hair salon it was “girl you need a deep treatment!” Enter Naturally Curly and my gradual (14 month) transition to natural.

My obstacles:

  • I did not trust my hair.
  • I kept comparing my hair to those other, better looking heads and coming up short.
  • I kept seeing my hair for what it should be, not what it was and could do in the here and now.
  • I kept wanting to tame it — work against it rather than with it.
  • At medium-short I tended to over-use styling products to get my hair to “behave”.
I kept wanting this:Natural Hair Purgatory- The 'Tween' Stages
When I could have had this with my natural hair:
Natural Hair Purgatory- The 'Tween' Stages

Natural Hair Purgatory- The 'Tween' Stages
And I would have loved it, had I known how to style for it.

But what has been done to the short 4a/4b here (let’s call her Miss Spikey High Clumps) is counter-intuitive to what we length transitioners want to do with our hair. We want it to lay down at medium-short. We want it to “curl” — boing-boing curls we can measure with implements of various widths such as pencils, straws, large markers, small flashlights. We want “swang”. Miss Spikey High Clumps’ hair does none of that. But it sure looks good, at least to me.

How did Miss Spikey High Clumps get her hair that way, anyway? My best guess:

  • She got it continually trimmed and cut in places for shape – note the short sides and back and the longer top.
  • She had product put into it and then dried in a hood dryer and then the stylist used pomade or texture paste to finger pick it and twirl it for height and clump. Or maybe they did large twists, dried, untwisted and finger picked and texture pasted.

Here is what finally helped me; maybe it can help you.

Constant photo taking;
There’s a psychological reason I have a photographic hair journal. It really helps me to see my hair for what it is not what I think it is or should be. I definitely had/have some mental/visual hair distortion going on.

Shape corrections;
Trimming seems to be a no-no to length transitioners because –hey you are growing it and need every single centimeter, right? Wrong! Don’t rely on product to shape your hair if you want to wear it out. Get it regularly trimmed and shaped. Regular for me is 2 or 3 times a year. Last March of 2008, I was in a hair growth challenge and was almost shoulder length. I ended it by getting a cut because my ends were jacked and my hair was draggy, straggly and shapeless. After the cut, my hair was no longer close to shoulder length but the shape was fabulous. I’ve had 2 conservative trims since then, the last one in March. My next small trim? Probably end of June/July.

A good haircut by a professional who knows curly hair will take all your various textures and shrinkage into account. I am not a fan of amateur or self-cutting and don’t recommend it. That’s not to say that there aren’t some great heads out there who cut their own hair. But if someone cannot see their hair as it truly is and appreciate it, how are they going to effectively trim and shape it?

Love and exploit your crown height now;
Hair purgatory dwellers, this is one advantage you have over longer haired sisters, but only as long as you don’t grow a mullet and wide sides. You will lose it as your hair gets longer. I see so many length transitioners trying to flatten down their hair by their face, forehead and crown or “lay down their edges”. If you have the right shape your crown height will give you an elegant, fashionable look like Miss Spikey High Clumps up there. And her edges aren’t laying down for anyone. The longer hair gets, the tougher crown height is to achieve.

You want hang?
Twist, braid, Twist-n-Curl, rod set, roller set, or shingle. If you wash and go, rake product through your wet hair and sit under a hood dryer to dry. When it’s completely dry, scrunch it and stretch it out by pulling your hair back for a couple of minutes, then fluffing. Don’t be afraid of losing the texture. C’mon! It’s 4a hair.

Look at how long haired 4b’s care for their hair rather than what 3’s do.
Have you noticed how many 3b’s and below are using products formerly only used by we tighter-textured curlies? This approach works!

At first I looked at conventionally curly heads, 3b Botticellis and 3c’s with their tighter but still silky curls. My curls are not and never will be silky. My hair is cottony. I started to look at those long haired 4a’s and 4b’s because long hair of that texture is a true achievement and is incredibly versatile, not to mention gorgeous. I also looked at all 3c’s and above who had successfully length transitioned.

Never, ever measure hair when “stretched.”
My hair is shoulder length when wet, but when dry still shrinks to my chin. Goes with the territory. Why on earth would I measure it stretched when it’s curly?

After I started to really see my hair, I realized it would grow longer more like this:

Natural Hair Purgatory- The 'Tween' Stages

And that was such a gift, because I love her hair. I won’t even get my Fotki avatar’s hair. And even though texture-wise Zezi Ifore is my twin…..

Natural Hair Purgatory- The 'Tween' Stages

I don’t delude myself that I will ever have her length because I have too many issues with length retention. I’m pretty happy with what I do have. I use less styling products now and condition a lot more.

Miss Spikey High Clump’s photo gave me the confidence to know that if I were to BC today, I could transition to longer hair without chemicals. Also, looking at successful 4 and4b length transitioners did it too, because if you saw my hair short, it’s closer to 4b than to 4a, as would Zezi’s hair also be. Check out Teri at She is not a 4b, but a wonderful example of how hair can grow with care. I lived her early hair.

**About SuburbanBushBabe:
Somewhat hair-obsessed middle-aged woman currently recalibrating my personal GPS to live and breathe what I value. I’m interested in how the hair we let grow naturally out of our scalps affects the space just beneath it. I love to explore the effects of natural hair on self-esteem, emotional and financial well-being, personal truth, authenticity, and loving relationships. My deep and personal value is to be a conduit for and reflection of love. My mission statement is – I am the wind that clears a path to your heart. And I’m intensely curious about my next step, the next beginning.

Check out my blog at
Check out my hair porn at
Send me your questions and comments


  • Anonymous says:

    loved the post!! specifically i love that you mentioned measuring hair 'stretched' i have never measured my hair stretched (or otherwise bt thats a diff post!) because i'm a curly girl and unless its straightened my hair will remain always slightly shrunken coz it goes with the territory

  • Bird says:

    I LOVE THIS POST! I chopped after a year of transitioning so I'm in this stage and its so blaaahhhhh sometimes. I have an "Inbetweeny Afro". Better believe I'm going to rock the crap out of it before my top flops =)

  • Anonymous says:

    Love this!

  • Asia says:

    Nikki, this article was exactly what I needed and wanted to read! Thanks so much for the info. You truly listen and take your reader's suggestions into consideration and it's much appreciated!

  • Anonymous says:

    this is how I am feeling now…thanks for the re-post…I have been getting depressed behind this…just gotta embrace where i am and enjoy it while it last :)

  • Onebydesign says:

    I am so glad that I come to this site everyday and several times a day because this is EXACTLY where I am right now; I was so frustrated with my hair last week that I was ready to chop it all off and stay short! My hair is well past the twa stage but not long enough to do updos without a million bobbypins LOL and has no hangtime at all which is fine with me, but it is longer than I have ever worn it in YEARS and I just got fed up with the time & maintenance that I was like bump this Im done.

    When the time came to cut it however I couldnt do it so to see someone write so eloquently about how I am feeling right now is a beautiful thing. I will definitely go and check out this sister's blog because she is definitely speaking to me!

  • IcyLillies says:

    That stage is evil!! Pure evil!! I wish I had discovered this stage months ago. However, thank God it was the summer so I wore a curly afro most of the time. Great article.

  • Anonymous says:

    On the flop side, some of us 3a naturals wish our hair could be like 4 textured hair. I think they can do so much more with their hair. Bottom line is to embrace and love what God has blessed you with.

  • Toybox Playground says:

    Funny and informative. Thanks! I'm going to get my hair trimmed soon (hopefully this weekend). I found two natural salons in Sarasota and am hoping that one works for me. I'm a little past the TWA, it's not short enough to look right and I am sooo frustrated but determined to keep going.

  • Anonymous says:

    Thank you for this! I was feeling the same type of way about my length recently. But this encourages me. :)

  • luvmylocs says:

    SuburbanBushBabe is one of the best natural hair teachers around!!! she's helped me many times. a wise naturalista!!

  • Anonymous says:

    Great repost! It was awesome when I first read it and awesome now! Thx!

  • Anonymous says:

    What a great post. It came at just the right time. Thank you for the 4a/b support!

  • NaturallyNay says:

    I'm a recent addition to CN so I missed this post back in October. I really needed to read these words today! I've been natural for 10 years and have worn a very short fade for the last 6 years. My first BC was in January 2000 and I let my hair grow from less than an inch to about 14 inches in a little over 2 years. I was in college at the time so all of the awkward phases of hair purgatory didn't bother me as much. I fell victim to hair boredom at 14 inches and relaxed it…I hated it! 6 months later, I shaved it off and I have had the hardest time escaping hair purgatory ever since. I know I will never relax again, so every time I get to the awkward phase I shave it off again. I've probably BC'd like 7 times in the last 6 years! I love my hair short, I really do, but I miss the options I had with longer hair. I'm making another run at growth and I just hit hair purgatory in the last few weeks. I desperately need my curly fro shaped, but I'm so afraid that I will cut it off again so I avoid the barber chair. What's worse is that I have a very public/high profile position and lately I have felt that I don't look professional enough. This post has given me some courage to continue the journey and not chicken out like in year's past. Thanks for the encouragement!

  • Nickye says:

    Ok, she blurted my secret! :) I'm a 3c who lurks on 4 sites to find out what they're using….I just use it lightly and it does wonders for my corkscrews!!!

  • Anonymous says:

    This is excellent, and so true. The emphasis is as it should be – ENJOY your hair at every single stage. It's good to have hair goals, but better to be able to live in the moment and love the feel and look of your hair day by day rather than spending your life protective styling!

    Josephine Bea

  • Derdie B says:


  • Anonymous says:

    Thanks for this well written article! I BC about once a year and wear my hair natural for a couple a months (usually March-August) and have the same problem! I have gone longer natural but get frustrated at no hang that I end up getting a relaxer. When my hair is natural…it's a little fro that grows out (slightly) but not down. When I perm it, it will reach down to my shoulders! AAAAAH! This article has made me realize that I should embrace the 'purgatory stage' and work it…not work against it!

  • InTransition_RN says:

    Great article SBB (friend in my head, ala Wendy Williams). Reading this truly makes me see and finally ACCEPT my hair for its potential and not what I want it to look like. Well done!

  • B. Reed says:

    LMAO at this post!!!
    My hair is Definitely in hair purgatory right now. it looks crazy at times but when it gets like I just rock the trusty "puff" and keep it moving. At least I can rely on that, right? And you are so right, losing texture is just what you come to expect with 4a/4b hair. It is what it is…still beautiful though. U just have to rock what you got. 4a/4b naturals—UNITE. (no disrespect to the 3a, 3b sistas)

  • Angel says:

    talk about a post being right on time! Thank you for this!

  • Moni says:

    Great post! I wish I had taken more advantage of crown height. I didn't realize I was in the purgatory stage until I was past it, so I missed out on the cool high styles like frohawks and mini updos. Ladies, embrace the fun higher styles that you can do at this stage!

  • nellboogie says:

    Where you talking about me, specifically? Awesome post Queen!

  • MღRLz says:

    This post is GREAT! I feel like I am in this same predicament. It feels like she was in my head when she wrote this. LOL

    Was thinking about perming my hair again but I decided to braid my hair for 2 months. I hope I don't feel the same way when I take the braids out.

  • Anonymous says:

    oh wow, I really needed to read this post.

  • Justme says:

    Lovely post! I totally stalk your blog for your thoughtful, funny and beautifully worded posts! And poetry!

  • Anonymous says:

    THANK YOU SO MUCH! I finally met someone who understands my hair battle. I also wanted the hair that falls and retains better moisture.length, and curly texture. GOD blessed me with 4a/b hair that I struggled with for amost two years. I couldn't mantain the growth because of horrible knots. I tried everything, but my hair would just knot up! it was horrible. What saved my hair and made it grow longer was regular saw in, I hate to be weave queen, but that's what help me mantain my growth. I also tell people to find hair role models that look more like their hair! I finally found mine on some chicks Fotki page.

  • Anonymous says:

    I used to want 3 hair when I first BC'ed but now I love my hair. I'm a 4a/b but I guess I'm mostly 4b. The way 4 hair looks and grows to me is so beautiful.

  • Cygnet says:

    This post is where my hair meets current reality. I consider myself well past the TWA phase, but as big as my hair is getting, it's too short to do with it what I really want to do. It's very encouraging to have helpful information the between time, while I'm learning to keep the length I grow out. Immediately after reading I went to the blogsite, read some more, and added it to my own blogroll.

  • LBell says:

    Nikki, this may be one of your best posts yet. Thank you so much for this…and thank YOU, SuburbanBushBabe, for telling it like it is.

    I'm in hair purgatory RIGHT NOW but not in the way described. My hair's actually longer than it's ever been BUT the differing textures and shrinkage levels have had me wearing puffs and updos more and more. (My hair's thinning also, which means twists do not look good on me. And I don't do fake hair of any kind.)

    All I'm looking for right now is a way to wear my hair LOOSE (no puffs, no twists, no updos) and have it look somewhat decent. To that end I've been getting away from twistouts/braidouts and trying to get closer to my natural texture(s). I've been calling myself "4b/CNapp" for a long time but lately, given the kind of curls I've been seeing, I'm starting to wonder if I might be at least a little bit 4a in spots. Still, that would make me 4a/4b/4c…aka crazy!

    I'm realistic enough not to search for "hang time" or to completely eliminate shrinkage (it ain't happening without heat). I would LOVE to find a professional who could help me with a decent shape.

  • Sheena LaShay says:

    Very intriguing post. I love that she has tried every type of thing experimenting and figuring things out. Sometimes it was hard for her, but she kept trying things and I like that.

  • Queenofthe4s says:

    From one type 4 to another, your word's couldn't ring more true. Last night I had a bout of natural hair remorse, but this has lifted my spirits today.

  • Anonymous says:

    Very well said Suburbanbushbabe! I read your post and shed a tear of happiness. Transitioning has been such a gloriously spiritual, emotional, and psychological journey. I'm nearly at my one year anniversary from relaxers and have never felt so empowered. My thanks to you, Nikki, and all the other women who share your stories with us. You inspire me on a daily basis.

  • Afrikan Latina says:

    "This is the time when many curlies are focused on gaining length but are still learning what products and routines work best for their hair. It is when we aspire to all those shoulder length and beyond natural looks whose photo albums we so eagerly stalk. We get so focused on our hair future because that is way easier than our hair present."


    I think so many of us 4a/b chicas can relate to this. I admit that I have looked at fotki upon fotki thinking,"dang I wish my hair would hang/curl/__(fill in the blank)___ like that." In my short time being natural(I bc'd February of this year) I have accepted that my hair just isn't meant to do what the next curlies hair can do. I love my mane now and am still learning what she loves and what she can do.

  • Hemlines and Haute Spots says:

    Thank you sooo much for this post! I was just watching Lexi with the curls on you tube and she said the same thing. I must admit when I came across curl nikki's blog I said "wow" I have to have hair like hers! The reality is I probably will never. I'm a long transitioner 15 months. I've learned so much from this blog, as this is my second time going natural. All I can do is learn to accept my curls for what they are. I'm actually in the stage you just wrote about. My fro looks like my baby picture, it does have a shape becuase I get trims every 3 months. The shape is just round! Not quite long enough yet, especially in the front. Right now I'm rocking cornrows (protective style) so that possibly my front will grow more. I will start taking more pics as you suggested; this way I will see my progress and more importantly love my hair for what it is! Thanks a bunch:)

  • karibbee says:

    thank you for this article – I feel like it was written about my exact hair type (useless when relaxed; cottony and fine when natural; difficult to retain length) at my exact stage of hair purgatory and vague hair envy of SL women. :)

  • BrownLady says:

    Thanks soooo sooo much for this post. I do believe this has been the most informational post for me thus far. I loved every word that suburbanbushbabe wrote. As I enter hair purgatory, I have been secretly wondering what the heck is happening to my hair. My TWA has not been behaving and my hair seems dryer. I'm so glad to know that I'm not alone. This was informative and inspiring. Thanks again!

  • mothereartha says:

    Ooh I love this post! This is excellent info and oh so true.. Thanks sbb & cn. Well done!

  • Ifrah says:

    Thank you for such a helpful post. Quick q for you: who is the girl in the last pic? I need to stalk her her hair is soooooooo beautiful!

  • Anonymous says:

    I sooooo enjoyed this post. I nodded in agreement and chuckled out loud in several places. Thanks for sharing, SBB!

  • b. says:

    That was one awesome article!!!! Thanks a million for posting this, Nikki.

  • Unknown says:

    I JUST read this post on Starry Eleven Twins yesterday. All the hair purgatory info was very well presented and it's been making me think differently about what I want from my hair as it will be getting to that stage in a few months.

    Love the description, Spikey High Clumps too! :)

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