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!