I’M DONE COVERING UP MY BLACK HAIR! It took me a long time to love my hair. As a child, I never considered it to be beautiful enough. When I was a child, I was a big fan of Hollywood and Bollywood movies, and all the heroines I looked up to had either long straight hair or carefully put in curls, I expected that my hair should follow the same pattern. But no matter how I tried my hair simply refused to be like the regular white or Indian woman’s hair. This was only logical because I’m black!
My hair is thick and woolly and never actually just limply hung down my shoulders as I wanted it to. It puffed around my head like a sheep’s wool despite my fervent wish that one day it would get really long and straight so I could flip it over my shoulders when I flirted with a cute guy. Just like in the movies. It never happened. It just puffed. Growing up, no beautiful heroine I saw on TV had hair that just puffed into an afro. Even the African-American and African women did something to their hair to make it look like a white woman’s hair. The logical conclusion was that black hair just wasn’t attractive.
Everyone around me only talked about relaxing the hair so it can be straight and long. I tried to relax my hair into submission but my hair was too thick and stubborn. It refused to behave. I relaxed it several times hoping for a change but even then people kept assuming it was unrelaxed. They took it for ‘Natural hair’ as they called it. I resigned myself to the fact that I would never have beautiful hair.
After a long while of wondering why my hair couldn’t look like other’s hair, I started to wonder why who I was could just not be good enough. Beautiful enough!
I noticed that my discontent came from not loving my hair just the way it is, just the way it was meant to be. Not loving myself, all of me, as I am. I realised that thinking I was ‘less than’ was just not right. I was not a white woman. I was not an Indian woman. I am African and this is the way my hair is. So what? I’d never be able to flip my natural hair like in the movies while I turn to give a dazzling smile to any guy, cute or not. That didn’t mean that I wasn’t beautiful or that my smile couldn’t dazzle anyway.
Slowly, I got on the path to self-love, hair and all. I tried to learn how to care for my hair type and make it grow healthy. I decided to spend the little money I had on good hair products and my energy on nurturing my hair.
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Then an incident at work struck me and got my brain wheels furiously churning once more. I had taken the time the day before to get my hair plaited in braids so it would be neat. My hair was growing noticeably longer and I was very proud of the progress I had made. It had taken a lot of time and patience to achieve that. I even tinted the tips of my braids to give it a little more colour and style. I was dressed as corporately as I should, was on time for work and was feeling pretty good with myself that morning. On entering the gate, I met a female co-worker who was on her way out. We jovially greeted each other and she playfully asked me when I was going to ‘do my hair’. While I do not recollect the vague answer I gave her, I do recollect the anger that crept up on me afterwards as I continued to make my way to the building.
“What do you mean, ‘When are you going to make your hair’?”, I huffed internally. This is it! I made it! It took a lot of my patience for me to sit down for them to braid it into thin strands. It took a part of my money, no matter how modest she might consider the sum to be, compared to what she spent on her hair-do. It took creativity for me to ask to have the tips tinted wine (which was a pretty uncommon hair tint at the time). I put a lot of effort into making my natural hair look nice, but she discounted it all because it was still JUST my natural hair. For me to have ‘made’ my hair, I had to have paid a much larger sum on hair attachments and added it to my hair because my own hair was just ‘not enough’. Or I had to have bought weave-ons with which I would use to cover up my own hair which would have been put into cornrows no one would see underneath.
Weave-ons, wigs and attachments. All these have prestige. Especially if you get the ones made of ‘human hair’. Which human? Definitely not Africans. Hair cut off from Indians, Chinese and Brazilian women had all the prestige. Wearing it meant you were classy and stylish. If you can’t get the original hair, well at least buy the numerous imitations of that hair that exists. We use this hair to constantly cover up our own African hair. Why? Because we don’t consider ours good enough. No matter how I style, nurture and grow my own hair, people would still see it as ‘not made’. For it to be acknowledged as made, I need to add something.
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Do Americans have to do this? Indians? Chinese? Brazilians? Nope. They sport their own hair proudly but not us Africans. Instead we consider it a good and logical thing to gather our money, even going through scrupulous lengths to get it, so we can buy other people’s hair to cover ours. So we look more like them, more like the general accepted standard of beauty that reinforces the idea that we are not good enough. We can only be attractive if we take measures to look more like the white woman.
This mentality goes way back. Relaxers were manufactured as a result of it. They were produced during a time of heavy racial discrimination to make our hair look more like the white woman’s. Because the idea of that time was that if it’s a black characteristic, it can’t be good. It’s most certainly inferior. In Africa, we also felt this inferiority as we scrambled about to imitate ‘civilisation’ as much as possible, doing away with our gods and a large part of our way of life. We are getting more enlightened now but much of the mentality still remains.
It would be absolutely awesome if we got conscious of how much we have regarded and treated our own hair as inferior. It would be wonderful for us to change that mentality.
I think it’s a wonderful thing that we Africans have found so many ways to be creative with our braids though. Braids for one is something that has always been proudly African. We did it way before we started attaching additional materials to our hair. Now that we are adding them, we are still coming up with new styles to add variety to our hairdo. That’s great. I am not saying there is anything wrong with that.
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However, feeling that just because you used attachments in your braids, you are more attractive or more classy than the person who decided to use her hair alone is wrong. Her hair is good enough. We can decide to take pride in JUST our African hair. We don’t need to add any other hair or material to make us worthy of admiration. We are African and we are good and attractive enough, just the way we are.
Blessing Akpanabasi, is a lover of literature and languages. She studied French and French education in various international institutions. She is a prolific reader and writer. She is a strong believer in society’s ability to change and evolve for the better – as it has been doing for several centuries now.