Dealing with kinky hair is not easy. Least of all when you
have the media bombarding you with subliminal indoctrination that claims that beautiful hair is ‘fine’ hair; beautiful hair is ‘blonde’ hair, frizz-less hair, STRAIGHT hair. But despite the subliminal messages permeated by the media, kinky hair can be so beautiful because it’s so versatile, it’s thick and it has volume-yes it’s loud, yes it’s time-consuming – but it has a life which brings character and gives you beauty.
As a young black girl living in England, I believed for a long time that my natural hair was a curse. It was difficult to deal with, it hurt to comb through, it was time-consuming, and above all else, I believed it was ugly. To make matters worse, when I was little, there were a few shops in London which sold black hair care products at all -but the fact that my hair was mixed didn’t really make it any better because it has always been more frizz than curl, but it wouldn’t straighten itself out.
But, like a lot of black children, I spent twelve years sitting to get my hair braided by my mum every two weeks and eventually, I said enough was enough. I was unhappy, and on the cusp of puberty, I had an identity crisis and I wanted to be beautiful like every other fair skinned female in the media.
My mother didn’t agree that it was a good idea – but when your thirteen-year-old daughter is crying because she thinks she looks ugly because of what God’s given her what can you do? So she gave in and lo and behold I made probably the biggest mistake I could have ever made with my own hair. I relaxed it. With all of the hype in the media and on social networks around going natural, or going for more Afrocentric styles, like braids and twists, it can be hard for some younger women and girls in London to imagine that there was ever such a hate or embarrassment for natural and Black hair. But for anyone else who grew up with that constant reminder that black was not ‘normal’, passed down from centuries of colonial and oppression and rule in Africa, the Carribean and the States, hair hate was a real and very serious thing.
I suppose it’s for this reason that the issue of recent Shea Moisture ad campaign is such a big thing now. Shea Moisture was one of the brands that helped black women be ok with their natural hair and help them transform it into manageable natural beauty. That being said, it was black hair that created Shea Moisture, founded it and helped it grow. So for a brand that was such a pioneer in the natural/black beauty game, to come out and not pay respect to the people and the hair type that built them, is a slap in the face to everyone who’s confidence grew because of their products. It’s Shea Moisture saying, “now we’re here at the top, we want to look more ‘beautiful’, (i.e white) so, thanks for helping us on the come up, but we don’t want that look for ourselves anymore”.
The Protective Styles
I had my hair relaxed for a good four years before I was convinced by my aunt to let it grow out, and even then I was only convinced because my hair started to break. It broke so badly that it looked like a child had gone to my head with a pair of scissors. Bits were an inch long whilst others were down to my shoulders. It was bad. But it wasn’t the breakage that made relaxing the worst thing I ever did to my hair, it was the effect it had on my sense of identification and self-esteem.
Having black features, like curly hair and shapely thighs is all good in the media now, but, when I was growing up, it wasn’t, and my hair was just one more part of me that I wanted to erase in order to lose that part of me that screamed-“you’re a black woman”.
In the end, my relaxed hair, like that false image I had created for myself, began to die and break and I was left with only with what strands of myself I could still salvage.
So then I went for braids, to let my hair grow out and gain in volume, and it did. It grew, long luscious and healthy. And I enjoyed having my braids. I could do anything with them and my hair remained unharmed. And best of all, I looked like a black girl again and I was beginning to love that look on me. I didn’t look like I was trying too hard, or like I was uncomfortable. I was growing into a skin that I had always owned, which, for years had been stowed away beneath the layers of years of self-loathing. And I was loving the way this new skin fit me.
But two years into braiding I came to another realisation- that I had to sooner or later deal with my natural hair. I know for a lot of black women, protective styles are an everyday thing; they put in weave for a few months, then braids for another few, then they’ll be wearing one of their many beautiful wigs for the rest of the year, with their natural hair being let out only at short intervals between styles, and for some, that is perfectly normal and it works for them. But I have always felt comfortable with protective styles only special occasions or short periods of time. I had never intended to make it a permanent thing, no matter how much I loved it.
So I took my braids out and attempted to start from scratch-de-tangling, combing, brushing, moisturising, curling, blow drying.
In my defence, I’d never done this before – either my mum had always done it for me, or my hair was in a style which didn’t require all of this. I’m not even lying when I tell you I was almost brought to tears because I couldn’t cope with it. But In the end, I said o myself, “this you, and I will never be able to get away from it so you need to accept yourself for who you are and try cope”.
In the end, I think my problem with my natural hair was that it required patience, which I don’t have. Patience to separate it, moisturise every partition and plait it before bed. Patience to comb it out in the morning and de-tangle it every day. My friends and family manage it perfectly, but I just couldn’t. The one tip I would give is, get into the habit of doing your own natural hair early, and avoid putting in extensions of relaxers to early, especially on children. The more of a habit doing their natural hair becomes and the more they are encouraged to keep their natural hair our for long periods of time, the more likely it is that girls will find the experience fun and easy.
I tried so many products from the Shea Moisture curl defining range to the Cantu curl defining moisturiser, Pure castor and coconut oil, and the DoGro range. The Do Gro range remains my favourite for softening my hair, it literally makes my hair feel like silk. I know some people with thicker hair find a more defined curl pattern find that this range doesn’t work for them , but for me with my hair that was always been more frizz than actual curl the doGro has always worked amazingly and their condition was the only conditioner that made my hair manageable enough to comb through, so I would really recommend it.
Another range that I really liked was the Shea moisture Jamaican castor oil range. My hair had been through a lot since I’d relaxed it and it needed strength. Jamaican Castor oil is famous for aiding growth. So I used the ranged edge gel, to help my edge regain their volume after two years of braiding and pulling, nightly, the shampoo once a week and when it came to it, the locking butter which works wonders with my locks.
I decided to lock it because, in the end, it was easier, and it was always something I had wanted to do since I was little, but was never 100% sure. After the ordeal of trying to handle my natural hair on my own and remembering how much I liked the look of braids on me, I decided to go for it. No one was going to see it during the transitioning stages anyway since I wear a headscarf most if the time.
Murrays’s Bee’s wax range, and the Jamaican Mango and Lime range have been my best friends since I started the locking and the whole experience of sitting to lock it, watching it grow has been such a personal awakening. Every new growth of natural afro hair gets locked and preserved as my hair grows and all the power and strength of my heritage grows with it.
Afro hair is not considered the ‘norm’ in the way that caucasian and fine hair in general is. It is because of this, outward difference that keeping your hair natural, or in black cultured styles is such a social statement, because it’s not just a preference, it saying, I’m embracing my culture and birthright, regardless of whether that birthright is considered ‘normal’ because I was born this way, and I was born beautiful”. So for anyone who thinks discussing hair journey’s or hair hate is trivial, they need a serious awakening.
Your hair is one of your most defining features. How you choose to dress it, keep it, love it, hate it or even cover it is a statement of your personality and how you think and feel about yourself. So it’s not an identity marker that should ever be dictated by anyone else, least of all by a society that has pushed ‘the other’ to the fringes what is widely considered to be the acceptable standards of beauty.