My hair story… I’ve had nearly every hairstyle known to Afro hair. When it comes to hair my mother should have only had sons!
When I first started school I attended a very prestigious private school in Kensington. I was the only black girl in the lower school and there was another black girl in the upper school. I barley realised I was black (that’s another blog post in itself), I was 4 years old and I had no clue or care about my hair it was just something on my head. I was totally unaware of the hair atrocities my mother was committing 🙍🏿.
Fast forward a couple of years and the reality of paying school fees, having another baby and other issues (this post will give you a jist) I had to attend a local state school in Ladbroke Grove… this was the mid 80’s Ladbroke Grove and Nottinghill were not what they are now; there was no gentrification, no coffee shops or cool bars. Think Rag ‘n’ Bone man with a horse, traveller sites and butchers with animal tongues, eyeballs and genitals on display in the window 😐. I went from being the only one and unconscious of my appearance to one of many. I very quickly learned that my mother was doing my hair no justice AND my hair was not ‘good’. Also my skin was too dark and being African was not something I should be proud of (again another blog post). I went from not noticing my hair and being pretty much unaware of the colour of my skin, to being too black with hair that was bad (yet another blog post I guess!).
I was about 10 and pestered my mum to do something to suppress my hair as the comments (which I now know was bullying) were too much to bear. My mother and aunts had chemically treated hair so I knew I could change mine. I went on and on and my mother relented as she couldn’t manage really my hair. I had a Jerri Curl… S curl, World of curls, Care Free Curl then Wave Nouveau #getit. I also had parts of my hair fall out 🙍🏿! My mum decided to cut my hair about 2 inches long so it would all grow at the same length , I can still feel my heart shattering and pride taking a massive fall. If I can find a picture I will add to this post as it was so bad it’s hilarious and I can laugh at myself now.
My dad always said I was ruining my hair and that natural is best but he left my hair to my mum as ‘dat na ooman business’.
In high school my mum let me get one side of my hair shaved off for a very sharp asymmetric cut like Salt and Pepa. Finally I was on the hair A List although the shade of my skin was a continual minus 🌚.
I grew out my wave nouveau and got a relaxer. My hair relaxed was deemed to be like ‘Cooli hair’. I was brought up to know that is a derogatory term…however I enjoyed the cachet it brought as it meant my former bad hair was now behaving.
In college it was a short hair cut I was Pam from Total. My hair cut was criss (I was told that many times and old pics can testify 🙌🏿). My hair was so bountiful I had to get my short hair cuts thinned so the cut wasn’t too heavy. My relaxed hair was shiny, blew in the wind and the comb went straight through. It was hair heaven, apart from frequent trips to the hairdresser!
Fast forward a few years, my bountiful hair started to look ‘scalpy’ in certain styles and my hair line was getting nyam out from years of abuse. I ignored it and continued with short hair and tried not to stress my scalp. I loved the look of unprocessed natural hair on others but convinced myself that it wouldn’t suit me… imagine! My hair as it grows out of my head the way nature intended would not suit me?! How many messages had I internalised ? (LOADS).
Then I had a daughter who wanted to look just like me, which was and is beautiful until she became aware of overt and covert messages from the world outside our front door and television. Disney also has a lot to answer for. I spent ages telling my daughter that she didn’t (doesn’t) need hair like Barbie, Ariel, Pocahontas, Belle etc. I told her that whatever grew from her head was beautiful in as many was and as many times that I could. The constant message was that she should love what she has naturally because it’s hers, meanwhile I had a relaxed tapered cut which was totally at odds with the mantra I was promoting. I’m not about the ‘do as I say, not as I do’ school of parenting but hadn’t thought about my own hair as concealing it had become my norm.
My daughter has what some Black people refer to as ‘good hair’ (it’s just hair, no such thing as bad hair… oh except Halle Berry at this year’s Oscars WTF 😳) yet she went to school and wanted hair that shakes (hers shakes), hair she could leave down (her curls can’t do that they turn into a matted mess and the hair lost in the battle with the wide tooth comb is criminal), a fringe – curls look like a ledge… and various other things that said she wanted hair like her Asian and European friends.
I knew I couldn’t continue to tell her her hair was beautiful in its natural state whilst I was suppressing mine. In order to be a positive role model I had to lead by example… however anyone that has transitioned knows that’s not easy… I had attempted it previously but never lasted more than 6 months. This time I had a real purpose, my daughter and her sense of self. I often think ‘it’s only hair’ but when you are black or mixed with black it is not a single story our collective histories have made our hair become a statement. Hair is identity. I donned weaves and braids for 18 months… my hair line suffered but I made it… or so I thought.
I thought I knew how to manage my hair… I did when it was chemically processed but not in its natural state. I could not accept that I simply didn’t know how to care for my hair in my 30’s… how could I get to 30 and not understand my hair? Then I realised that I and many before me had not been taught how to care for our hair. We were taught how to manipulate it until it became something else because Eurocentric is the ideal. My hair story was like learning a foreign language, forgetting your mother tongue and having to learn it all over again.
My first attempts at styling my hair looked like something off a jam jar and I hated it 😩/ 😂. Then I turned to YouTube, what a melanated revelation! I learned about the LOC method and how to do an effective twist/ braid/ Bantu knot out 💁🏿 from Kinky Curly Coily Me.
I learned how to get head full of curls with water, coconut oil, leave in and 4 twists (partly because my hair is fine AF now 😩, partly cos technique). I found out that my hair has to be twisted etc as I looses too much hair combing out shrinkage. I learned so much about Afro hair, my hair and also my daughters… who knew that porosity was more of a factor than texture?? I care for my daughter’s 3 whatever hair the same way I care for my 4c hair and have great results… I would do better if I could implement a routine and stop being so lazy, that said our hair is cool and I’d much rather spend more time practicing handstands tbh.
The diversity of Afro hair is beautiful and amazing. My Afro hair is beautiful and amazing even when wind and rain show me no love.
My quest to promote a deep sense of self love and embracing every kink and curl is ongoing, for my daughter and I… we are humans after all … I won’t mention the time my daughter was exceptionally quiet for 30mins, not even singing… only for me to find that she had taken hair straighteners from my room and straightened her hair. I was so mad!! They weren’t even my straighteners and she’s 10 can you imagine explaining that in A&E?!! She had done a very good job though!!
In order to promote a positive sense of self we regularly talk about positive things to do with black people from hair to academics and everything in between.
I’ve always had diverse of images of black people in my home, mini me has diverse books and toys. We talk openly about everything, EVERYTHING, which may sound heavy but it doesn’t have to be and it’s important. If you don’t know yourself and love yourself from the end of your hair to the tips of your toes you’ll end up believing propaganda and that’s shit especially when you are black. There has been centuries of investment in propaganda that devalues us, so we have to consciously combat those narratives for ourselves and our children. For me this includes loving my natural hair. I am not opposed to straight hair, chemically processed hair or whatever, do you. I’m speaking my truth and experiences sharing part of my self love journey.
I was inspired to write this post (which is way longer than I thought it would be) as Leah and I have collaborated with Inspirational YOU and are hosting a Hair and Wellbeing panel on Saturday 25th March called “What Is Natural in 2017”. The line up is awesome!!!
You can read about the event here and purchase limited £5.00 tickets here. Children are free but must be supervised at all times.
Always with love,