I thought long and hard about writing this letter dear Sisters, because I was sure (am sure) that at least one person will hopelessly misunderstand my comments and turn this into the very thing I am trying to avoid.
Sometime in October, as I prepped for my weekly trip to the salon, I decided to cut my hair. Yup, I would cut it, do a BC and start from scratch. In 4 years, I would have a healthy, fabulous fro as well as a new look. Pleased with my decision, I called my mother. Her answer was simple “Go ahead and cut it dear; just don’t come home till it’s the length it was when you left” My sister announced that her blood pressure was spiking and my younger brother who never calls me, called to ask why I wanted to spoil the family name. Upset with their reactions, I decided to hold on till the 31st of December and if I felt the same way, I would cut it.
Some weeks later, a guest came to our office; it was one of those days when I had let my hair out to play. As he came up to my desk, he went “is this your hair?” and before I could ask “why do you want to know?” He proceeded to put his hands inside my hair and play with it. In the middle of this surreal experience, all I could think was “I’m so glad I didn’t cut it”
Sisters, my hair is full, long, very very healthy…and relaxed. There is no day I wear it out that I don’t get comments on how healthy it is. But I had stopped seeing it, because somewhere in my head, I had started to gain the notion that my hair could not be healthy if it wasn’t natural. I had stopped seeing its length or health and was totally consumed by my edges, my tips, how many strands were falling out and whether I shouldn’t just go natural…I had stopped enjoying my hair.
I’m becoming a little worried Sisters about how natural versus relaxed hair has moved from a statement of personal taste to an indication of one’s “Africanness”/health/self esteem. I’m beginning to feel personally attacked by what seem like veiled hints (and not so veiled in some cases) that relaxed sisters are careless about their health and are all slowly poisoning themselves with relaxers.
In the last year, I have gone on a healthy hair journey and it’s because of you dear Sisters; your attention to protective styling and hair type and oils and deep conditioners. I stopped thinking my hair growth was best left to itself and realised I could do so much more for my hair. It was a shock to realise that I could buy my hair care products and wash my hair at home all the times I had neither money nor time to go to the salon. I enjoyed seeing what effect black soap/apple cider vinegar/a tea rinse would have on my hair. I enjoyed discovering what the different oils did for my hair and what deep conditioning I needed for different effects. On a trip to the salon once, as the stylist watched me bring out an avocado, some honey, some olive oil and hair mayonnaise from my bag; he laughed and said that my hair probably ate better than most people did. I realised that when I air dry my hair, it explodes into this puffy cloud that is “50% of me” as a friend put it. When I roll it; it is this glossy silky mass on my head. Sisters, all this is because of the fact that you’ve turned our attention to our hair.
And I learn every day, just the other day, contemplating a weird line where my hair was much shorter than the hair an inch above and below it, I suddenly realised that my silk hair wrap crisscrossed at that point and was rubbing my hair off…I’m still learning; there is still more to learn.
I was having a conversation with a locked sister and our conversation came to hair. I was taken aback when her next statement was along the lines of “But you’re poisoning yourself with those relaxers in your hair; I couldn’t expose myself to that”. I was taken aback because I don’t know when it became ok for us to criticise other people’s choices in the way we now do with the hair issue. Sisters, I am learning to eat healthy – there is almost no processed food in my diet, my lotions and cosmetics are as natural and as skin and environmentally friendly as I can make them, I work out and supplement my diet with multivitamins, but because I relax my hair I am suddenly heading towards a body overrun with toxins? Haba mana, give me a break!
It seems to me like this hair issue is heading to the same lines of lepa versus orobo, darkskin versus lightskin; in other words, one more dividing line for women everywhere; one more avenue for women to beat each other down. And it’s working. I have met many natural sisters who are struggling with their choice to go natural, but who will not relax their hair because it looks like selling out. They twist out and wrap and protective style with grim determination…and no pleasure. Where is this pressure coming from? Where does the vitriol in the comment sections of hair articles and the back and forth debate stem from? Why can’t we just accept that some sisters like the texture and volume of natural hair and some others like the silkiness and sleekness of relaxed hair? Why can’t we respect other people’s choices, even if they are not the choices we would make?
Yes Sisters, I agree that African women are having an image crisis – with our 6 bundles of Peruvian, our “mixed cream” skin and our coloured contacts; it is obvious that no more than now do we need a re-identification with our heritage. I agree…but perhaps we have crossed the line from establishing our identity to marking yet another line of division.
Personally, I put a relaxer in my hair because I like to run my fingers through my hair and feel silk. I love the fact that I can make a ponytail in 20 seconds and go, I like the bounce and feel of my hair after a DC and wash and set…these are my choices sisters.
I celebrate your choice to want something else for your hair; I think that your afro looks beautiful and bouncy and shows off your beautiful features. I love the creative styling, the twist outs, the TWAs. They are beautiful, and you are beautiful. I do not want your hair though; I’m quite happy with mine…just the way it is…and that does not mean I love my hair…or myself, any less than you do.
Photo Credit: examiner.com