Why black women need to embrace their natural hair
Two weeks ago, I was turned away from a Toni & Guy hair salon.
‘None of our hair stylists are trained to do Afro hair,’ I was told.
A month ago, at a panel discussion on the lack of quality cosmetic products for black women, four out of seven ladies said they had had the same experience. There are very few quality hair salons who can look after Afro hair and turn out a decent style.
Like many women with Afro hair, I used to find it difficult to manage, even when it was permed. In between salon visits for braids or weaves, I was torn in two: if I washed the extensions, the texture would become flimsy and if I waited for the next appointment, my scalp would grow itchy and flaky. I dreaded loosening my plaits because I didn’t want to deal with my hair. This led to knots too difficult to untangle so that I would yank my hair and lose far more than was necessary. Also, I was afraid to let my own hair out at work; there would be questions,
‘Oh, what have you done to your hair? It’s much smaller.’
I wanted to avoid the shame of admitting I didn’t know what to do with my hair.
We black women equate our hair with pain and discomfort; long hours at the salon, the tugging at our scalp while the hair is being braided or relaxed and the loss of the delicate hairs at the edges from heavy-handed stylists.
Contrary to the current belief that braids and weaves are protective styles, we could be damaging our hair and scalp. The braids are often too tight, too heavy and of a rough scratchy texture. And some of us have been known to leave our braids in for more than two weeks. Once, on a Victoria Line train, one of my braids fell onto the train floor. I stood still in shock. A lady passenger burst out laughing, pointing at the lone braid on the floor. I snatched up the offending braid and leapt out of the carriage as soon as the doors opened - even though it wasn’t my stop. At the end of the braid, my own hair strands were stuck, the tip of the follicles visible.
Another time, I had the most glorious weave done by a professional hair stylist. On loosening it after about a month, the weave had been sewn too tightly so that my hair went along with the weave, leaving the scalp on my crown bald.
Those traumatic experiences started my seven year search into how to reclaim dignity in my hair. I had become so used to hiding its natural beauty. I wasn’t alone. Over dinner, a friend told me she would not walk out of her house with her hair as it was only about two inches long and her edges had disappeared. ‘It would not be a good look’, she said. She needed a wig. Positive role models like the actress Lupita Nyong’o show that natural black hair - short or long - can be stunning, so why are some black women afraid to rock their natural hair?
Historically, slave owners cut black women’s hair. Imported products from outside Africa leaned towards straightening, braiding and weaves - anything but the strands that grew out of our heads. So we lost our hair care expertise and the hair itself became despised.
We all want to feel beautiful in our skin and our own hair. I’m imagining a world where we could walk into any salon and get our hair well looked after? We would no longer need to say ‘natural’ hair because it would be the new normal. We can overcome our vulnerability, celebrate our big curls and be inspired to take back our freedom. We don’t have to wait for the world to tell us it’s time to accept our hair. As someone once rightly said, ‘a queen doesn’t need permission to wear her crown.’
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