02 Jan Why I’m going natural
I’ve always had a love / hate relationship with my hair. I think most kids can attest to the fact that their parents did nothing to help their street cred when it came to their hair, beauty and fashion choices.
I had thick, ugly braids sprouting up all over my head – just like medusa I learned, when we did a class in Greek mythology.
Plus, even from a very young age, there was always a kind of fear and panic around my hair, passed on by others. Don’t touch it too much, don’t brush it too much, don’t unravel those awful braids.
At the age of eight my school friends wanted to see what it looked like out of the braids. So I took it out. My mother wasn’t best pleased. Not angry, just a little dismayed at how wild my hair was. There was always a sense that it was too wild. That it needed to be tamed. That setting it free was the worst thing you could do, that it wasn’t very appropriate.
Now, I find myself thinking the same thing about my daughter’s hair, with her golden brown, mixed race curls. She’s only four, but already has a whole set of Mixed Chicks hair products designed to tame her curls, and make them less wild.
When I set off on a retreat and left my husband in charge, my parting words were: “please look after her hair – don’t send her to kindergarten looking wild”.
Realising that poker straight hair isn't the answer
So this is it. Due to the fear of not being, looking, feeling or appearing wild, many of us have put ourselves in a straightjacket. For years I thought that poker straight hair was the answer. In fact, for more than 20 years I religiously straightened my hair with relaxers. I considered any sign of frizz to be a travesty. I just wanted to be silky smooth and soft, so I could feel great, look great, and be successful.
So what happened? Well, it started a few years ago. As my long-time hairdresser liked to tell me, my hair is African. It’s thick, super-coiled, coarse, and grows upwards not downwards. Plus, it never relaxes completely straight. My hairdresser understood me and treated me, and my hair, with respect. But it wasn’t always practical or cost-effective to visit his expensive London salon – especially after moving abroad.
I began to get disheartened when hairdressers always moaned that my hair was too thick and too difficult to handle. Some would even suck their teeth, sigh, complain that their arms were hurting and demand that I pay extra, sometimes double what everyone else paid.
Well, they were only used to dealing with soft, light, relaxed hair – hair that had been relaxed every 8-10 weeks so that only a hint of afro was ever left. They would complain that me leaving mine for 12-16 weeks was unacceptable. It made their life too difficult.
I did not relax my hair at all when I was pregnant in 2012, and after that I began to wonder why I was using harsh chemicals on my hair several times a year.
For most of my life, I’ve gotten the message from society that my frizzy, natural hair just wasn’t appropriate. And for a good chunk of my life, my self-esteem was partly bound up in my hair. So, it didn’t help when every few years throughout my 20s and early 30s, something would happen to damage it, causing me to have to cut off a good chunk.
Things like: too much sun and straightening irons, pregnancy, stress, and plain old not giving it enough TLC. But now my hair is just my hair and I would rather it were curly and coiled.
I think we’re at the start of a new movement. Natural hair is becoming a trend, and I think that eventually it will become the norm for black women. Some people still say it’s not professional for the workplace. But the world of work is changing and there is less and less need to leave your true self at home.
So, here is my action plan
I’m taking the very non-scientific approach of just not relaxing my hair and seeing what happens. I do know, however, that at some point I will have to do ‘the big chop’.
I have signed up to a myriad of Instagram accounts (mostly American), of women and companies who support natural hair. I’ve marvelled at the size and shape of their afros, which are truly amazing I have to say.
I’ve visited London’s excellent Afrotherapy hair salon for a consultation and was heartened when the owner described the liberation she felt when she chopped her hair off and went natural.
My first step was to twist my hybrid hair into bantu knots, leaving them in overnight, and twisting them out into curls in the morning. After that I let my natural hair grow underneath a weave. At the moment, I have box braids. But after that, who knows?
In going natural, I’m not making any political statements and not saying that, across the board, natural is better. But for me, it represents a coming home. Wanting to truly be myself. Wanting to love my hair for what it is, and not try to coax it and change it, and damage it and hate it. I’ve had a lifetime of doing that and I don’t want to do that anymore.
I’m not saying I will never embrace straight hair again. I may even decide in the future that I want to go back to relaxing. But for now, I’m going au naturel. Wish me luck!