After months of contemplation, I have finally decided that hair relaxers and chemicals will just never be for me.

But before you sigh, “Here we go again” and stop reading, let me put in my disclaimer while I still have your attention. This will not be a story about women who tong and straighten their nappy locks being sell outs to their black identity, as many of these black-woman-contemplating-the-symbolism-of her-Afro musings usually go.

This will simply be a story about the assertion of my love of the black waterfall cascading out of my scalp; a plea for people to leave me be in my quest to keep it as it is.

Sadly, like many black women’s hair, my tresses often go into hibernation - finding comfort under the blanket of some glossy weave or wig that ensures that every day is a good hair day.

But since my first weave, back in 2006, I have had a love-hate relationship with those things. I love them because I can go from brunette short crop to jet-black shoulder-length curls in a matter of hours, thereby chopping and changing looks without having to wait the lifetimes it takes for black hair to so much as grow a centimetre longer - far too many people don’t know that most black folk’s hair usually won’t grow longer than 10-15 cm even if they delicately nurture it like a vineyard on a lush wine estate.

I love weaves too because they mean I don’t have to daily negotiate a comb going through the kinks and other traffic jams that abound with keeping natural black African hair.

But then there’s the hate that sours this relationship.

Weaves, if they are made of human hair, are some other woman’s former locks - perhaps even some man’s. You can’t miss the painful irony in a woman feeling better about her appearance from the off cuts of another person. And you certainly can’t mistake the commercial aspects of this hair industry that encourages us to buy beauty as though it’s a commodity for sale on a shop shelf. I really abhor the fact that my money spent on those products only provides more fuel for the beauty machine’s ever-thirsty engine.

But weaves are so convenient and I can’t promise to not continue to wear them.

What I can assure you, however, is that no hair straightening agent will ever pass across my hair.

Now, you are calling me a hypocrite I’m sure. But let me explain why chemical relaxers are a little different for me. Relaxing hair, at least to me, feels like permanent acceptance of something that too many black women believe; that our hair, in its natural sprawling state, is an ugly mess.

I’ve seen the way women look at me when I walk around with my natural black luscious hair, measuring over 30 cm, peeping through a scarf or all unashamedly out for some fresh air. Why is she keeping it natural? Imagine how much nicer it would look if she had it relaxed. What a waste of so much hair!

I think I am justified in saying that this world isn’t one that much appreciates many things in their natural state. From our food, bodies, faces, personalities, right up to the tip of the longest strand of hair on one’s scalp, nothing seems to pass muster anymore unless it’s modified.

One woman even had the audacity to assume that I had to still be single since I kept my hair natural.

“If you had a boyfriend or husband, there’s no way you’d keep your hair like that,” she laughed like it was derangement to take pleasure in one’s own natural hair.

What a spew of rubbish, I thought, as I laughed along with her to avoid making the moment any more uncomfortable. So I should risk getting my scalp burnt or losing my hairline for a man who can’t bare to love the kinks in my Afro? Is a man’s favour the reason why I should shovel out money for oil treatments and retouches?

I should have sat that woman down and schooled her on a few things I’ve learnt about culture, gender and patriarchy. But I know that that she’s just one of many more out and about on the streets, hence the constant piercing stares at my Afro. Keeping my hair the way it is is not about making statements to anyone anymore. I’m not 18 and don’t need to rage against the widely prescribed and generally accept definitions of black beauty.

I simply love the feel of my coarse hair rasping between my fingertips; the way it flops all over my head in a thick heedless frizz.

And if I will be marked down in the beauty sweepstakes because of this, then so be it!

But I am asking that people like me be left alone to choose how we look! It’s really none of anyone else’s business! Slowly, I am trying to wean myself off the weaves - great saviours that they tend to be – but rest assured that I will continue to pass on that magic-in-a-box that promises grease-filled bliss.

And no, I don’t mean those boxes of fried chicken that somehow always seems to make eyes at me in takeaway shops. That one is a story for another day!

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Comments

You have beautiful hair and a wonderful way with words. I always thought how nice it would be if the weather was portrayed in hair days instead of cloud days. Today, no humidity..it’s a good hair day! I have thick dark curly hair; I can’t go without highlights and my pink straightening iron. In solidarity with you, I think I will give it up...for a few days anyway! :) Great Story!

"One shoe can change a life" ~ Cinderella

Tomrorrow we expect a few kinks in the clouds that will cause a bit of tangled up weather....

!!!

from today i live out of my imagination i am more than my yesterday tomorrow i plant a new seed nothing that lies behind easy nothing that is ahead real my within is all i have today Napo Masheane

Hey,

I believe if you do as you wish, the world will get used to it and leave you alone so its just a matter of time before people get used to your Afro and start minding their business - I hope.

Mati, so true. You have to accept if first, which I have done. The rest of society can just leave me alone!

from today i live out of my imagination i am more than my yesterday tomorrow i plant a new seed nothing that lies behind easy nothing that is ahead real my within is all i have today Napo Masheane

I totally support you in your decision. I have corse, curly hair and I too have decided to let it run "free'" as it were :D Rock on sister,

-Nelly

Nelly Bassily "We must become the change we want to see in the world" (Mahatma Gandhi)

when i was younger my mom would always cut my hair short. and i will always secretly cry when its time to take a shower to wash off the small shreds of hair that were left on my nape and my clothes. i did not want to have a boy's haircut i want my hair long just like my friends who are all so pretty and dainty looking but i had no right to argue with my mom or else i will get scolded and get spanked just like that those were really sad days of my youth so with the dawn of hair straightening, highlighting and all these beauty regimen on hair, once i was emancipated i made sure i wore my hair really long not to spite my mom but to feel beautiful and happy, little did i know that as i grew older, my hair is just a minute part of who i really am i hope i did not learn too late but if my mom would ask me now what made me cry silently in our bathroom every time she gave me a boy's haircut i would honestly tell her..."Mom, its exactly what it is. I hate my hair short." or maybe i would just hug and kiss her and say nothing...past is past

i like this post that you did, because i was able to vent out that part of my childhood i know its quite lame, but i was a kid, who knows what's lame or not

...you my dear are very beautiful whatever crown you wear

take care everly

Solvitur ambulando (it is solved by walking)

I really enjoyed your post and glad I could help you vent. It's really not lame to place such an attachment on something that seems rather insignificant. Hair is a real issue. It's referred to as our crowning glory all the time. When one's hair is not quite the crown that everyone calls it, we feel like we aren't queens - more like paupers.

And this is why I am really keen to let it all out and say I don't care what anyone thinks of my hair. It is MINE!!!!

from today i live out of my imagination i am more than my yesterday tomorrow i plant a new seed nothing that lies behind easy nothing that is ahead real my within is all i have today Napo Masheane

I titally agree with u Solvitur, and thanks for bringing this hair issue, Fungai... My mom always wanted my hair long... but I had a brute as a teacher... and I needed it to be short. Just to excape the bully of the teacher who pulled my pony tail when she gets angry, usually I get cought at her the close distance. I really did not care about my hair then... but now I have it, anyway it pleases me. I never confronted my mom but get a verbal thrashing n hatefull looks after I cut is short. I was totally terrified as a kid... but that did not stop me. I am still glad I did what I did.

Have itthe way you love it, Fungai. If you love it, that is all what matters. We are all different and we should learn to learn to love and enjoy the differences.

Cheers, Amei

it took me years to accept everything about myself and i am still dealing with some but we women must really love what we are made of we will age yes but we will age beautifully because we are so beautiful inside

take care Amei

everly

Solvitur ambulando (it is solved by walking)

Couldn't agree with you more!

from today i live out of my imagination i am more than my yesterday tomorrow i plant a new seed nothing that lies behind easy nothing that is ahead real my within is all i have today Napo Masheane

Dear Fungai,

I love your post! And I love seeing women keeping things natural. I know it is a struggle for all of us. It is much easier to look from the outside and say "why is she doing that to her body?". From the outside, things women do to keep themselves "beautiful", like losing weight, perming or straightening our hair, or a myriad of other things we feel the pressure to do--just doesn't make sense from the outside. The other day, I was down at the beach and there was a little girl with a full afro, and she looked beautiful--her hair is what caught my eye! When African women or African-American women keep their hair natural (whether cropped close, in a fro or otherwise), I think it looks beautiful! As a white-American woman with extremely fine hair that I have to put product in to make it seem full, I can't understand why anyone would ever want to keep curly, frizzy, afro'd, amazing, beautiful hair under wraps! But I do understand that we all give into the pressures hegemony at times.

Keep it up, keep it natural! You are beautiful!

Rachael

"Tell me then, what will you do with your one wild, sweet, and precious life?" -Mary Oliver

To a large extent, I blame the capitalist machine for all of this.

Long ago, African women beautified their hair with ornate headwear and gorgeous cowry shells and other natural artifacts. But colonialism, and its introduction of the capitalist system changed all of that.

Not sure if you ever heard about the face cream called Ambi which black women used to use as a skin lightener in the 60s, 70s and 80s. They believed that the whiter you looked, the more beautiful you would be (pretty logical thinking when you consider that the white African leadership of that time looked at black people as second class citizens).

But years later, the effects of the cream began to manifest.

Many women's skin began to burn off and heal in black blotches. Even today one can tell the people who used that product because they still wear the scars.

It's the same with hair. We wanted to look less black so we invested in wigs and other hair products. We used ironing tongs. Hair becomes brittle and even breaks off from such overuse. Women burn their scalps with those relaxers. But hey, that's the price of beauty...

from today i live out of my imagination i am more than my yesterday tomorrow i plant a new seed nothing that lies behind easy nothing that is ahead real my within is all i have today Napo Masheane

While reading your post, the song 'I am not my hair' by India Arie played out in my mind.Your hair is beautiful and original. We can never let people dictate who we are. So if a woman down the street has a negative remark based on your hair, smile (because you stood out from the crowd) and keep on walking (to avoid confrontation).

If you'll excuse me Fungai, lovely ladies... I'm off to hone my newly found courage to 'go green' with my hair!

Warmest regards,

Nyambura.

I like that - going green with your hair!

I always listen to India Arie's song too. I think she speaks so well on the issue "Does the way I wear my hair make me a better person?" POWERFUL words!

I think that's the question we must always ask ourselves...

from today i live out of my imagination i am more than my yesterday tomorrow i plant a new seed nothing that lies behind easy nothing that is ahead real my within is all i have today Napo Masheane

by katieholmes (not verified)

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Fungai, Your hair look okay. I personally like natural stuffs. You see my hair? I mean that picture of mine? It is purely natural and I think it looks ok. Some time back I commented on women who struggle to please men. Many women "harm" their beauty thinking men will see them extra ordinary. Let's go natural!

I believe everybody has the potential to live a better life. Given the Opportunity, Education and Motivation ANYONE can become someone admirable. Nobody is a NOBODY, everybody is SOMEBODY.

Amen! I don't do makeup often and I don't like hair stuff. Natural is the best way to go. At least that way you have less layers to have to reveal to people when you want them to know the real you!

from today i live out of my imagination i am more than my yesterday tomorrow i plant a new seed nothing that lies behind easy nothing that is ahead real my within is all i have today Napo Masheane

LOL...I really enjoyed your post. I have heard every single comment and I could re-live some encounters when I was growing the fro aka my crown of glory. There's a freedom that comes in rocking the fro...almost a dare to be me...but I do enjoy the convenience of braids and weaves. Long, short, permed, nappy, curly etc...however one choses to wear their tresses it should never be tied to their identity. Like India Arie said "I am not my hair"...keep on rep the fro-nation.

Thanks for the piece :-)

One luv

Blog: Threads of Our Fabric Project

Yep. Not completely against hair products because I realise that maintaining black hair is a nightmare. But I do love to show off to everyone that I am keeping it real!

from today i live out of my imagination i am more than my yesterday tomorrow i plant a new seed nothing that lies behind easy nothing that is ahead real my within is all i have today Napo Masheane

I absolutely LOVE this piece! I have extremely curly hair and over the past 2 years or so, have just let it be. And I've fallen in love with it! Still, I had a black tie event to attend last weekend and was talked into straightening it - flat iron, blow dryer, and lots of goop.

Not only did I flat out hate it, I just didn't look like "me" ... I realized then that I am my hair ... and my body, and my skin, and my eyes, and everything that I've battled against my whole life.

Thanks for the reminder to live and cherish our own skin, hair and everything else that makes us unique!

Best,

Megan

Inspirationally,

Megan

Meg,

I am sorry to have replied this late! What does your hair look like now? I am fighting the good fight and resisting weaves and all other devices and keeping to my simple plaits. I love the natural look and feel of me right now!

from today i live out of my imagination i am more than my yesterday tomorrow i plant a new seed nothing that lies behind easy nothing that is ahead real my within is all i have today Napo Masheane