Hair is but a bunch of dead cells and yet as Black women we are policed on what is the “right” way to wear our hair and what is not.
Our natural kinky hair is often seen as “unkempt” and “ugly”, whereas wigs and weaves are seen as “professional” and “beautiful”. When we wear our natural hair out we are told it looks “messy” but when we have extensions we look “polished”.
photo cred: @starpuppy_ via Instagram
When we wear hairstyles that celebrate our heritage and culture— be it dreadlocks, afros, bantu knots or braids, we get sent home from school or work. We are told to “fix” our hair, but when women from other races do it, it is praised and seen as trendy.
The war on our hair dates back centuries.
Before colonization and slavery, our ancestors had extravagant hair styles which celebrated and glorified our hair with all its tight curls. In the Buganda Kingdom (present day Uganda) shaved heads were seen as more attractive because they displayed the beauty of one’s neck.
photo cred: Entertainment Weekly
White supremacy and imperialism brought about a change in these societal standards. Long straight hair became acceptable, our coily hair was not. We were told to cover it or straighten it, and years later, this message still rings true.
Hair relaxers are a huge industry in Tanzania. Even though the chemicals have been scientifically proven to be toxic and dangerous; and are linked to chemical burns and an increased risk of cancer.
I was barely a teenager when I started relaxing my hair. After a few months, the relaxer would damage my hair and it would break off, and then I would cut it, grow it out again, and relax it again. It was an endless cycle of destruction, I was constantly striving for long, straight hair.
photo cred: Dark and Lovely (africa.darkandlovely.com)
I first decided to go natural in my mid-teens. I did the “big chop”(cutting off my relaxed hair) but I didn’t really know how to take care of my hair in its natural state. Because of this, my hair was not thriving.
Once I got to university, I wanted my natural hair to look more like the natural hair I was seeing represented on TV, Film and Music Videos, which was almost always loose long curls. My hair was tight and coily, so I tried to texturize it hoping that would make it more “acceptable”. The texturizer did not work and my hair became a matted mess. I waited a few years and then I tried texturizer again thinking this time it would be different, but within a year most of my hair fell out. So I did the big chop again and have been natural ever since.
I didn’t really learn how to take care of my hair in its natural state until a year ago. I spent a lot of time reading and researching my hair and how to best take care of it. I learned about what types of products and protective styling work best for my hair and what kind of routine keeps it healthy.
It was saddening to realize that even though I grew up in a majority black country, I did not have the resources to teach me how to take care of my hair the way it naturally grew out of my head. Instead, I was constantly told that my hair was “kipilipili” and so it looked better in weaves and extensions or relaxed.
I decided to teach myself to love my hair and to love how it grows out of my head. I was tired of aspiring to white standards of beauty in a world where the majority of people are not white. After years of hating my hair, I taught myself to love it.
photo cred: Natural Desire ( http://naturaldesire.co.tz/)
I refused to see my hair as unacceptable, unkempt, unprofessional, and ugly. I decided that my hair was perfect the way it is. There was a time I would not be seen outside with my hair in its natural state, but these days, it’s hands down my favorite look.
The point of this article is not to say that as Black women we should never straighten our hair, or that we should never wear weaves and wigs. The point is not even to say that we should all only rock our afros or shave our heads. Patriarchal systems police our bodies enough, we don’t need any more restrictions. We should all wear our hair however we want to wear it; after all it is versatile and it can be straight or curly, it can expand or it can shrink, our hair is basically magical.
The point is, however, to simply pose the question, why are we so quick to run to long straight hair? If it is because we can and we want to, then great. But if it is because eurocentric ideologies have told us our hair is more beautiful when it is long and straight than the way it biologically grows out of our head, then maybe it is time to change the systems in society that inhibit us from celebrating it in all its coils and glory.