When I started wearing my natural Afro there were few of us around. I did it out of necessity. I had just started university and there was little money or time to be throwing at hair. So I started wearing my hair in its natural state. It was no big deal. It wasn’t a statement or a movement. It was practical and I liked it. And yes, it saved me a lot of money!
Fast forward 15 years later and there are more black women wearing their natural hair. This is a good thing. This is important. It is a good thing because I think the media often portray one idea of beauty, which isn’t always inclusive.
The truth is Afro hair rarely features in mainstream magazines, and when it does, it is often a caricature of the bizarrely big or outrageous funky type. I subscribe to a few magazines myself, and I always avoid the hair and beauty section because it’s never going to include tips on how to style my hair in 3 easy steps. It’s not going to show me the latest afro trends. And no, I don’t want to seek out specialist black hair magazines.
But there is another awkward truth. How can we expect mainstream media to showcase what we ourselves constantly hide? It is up to us black women to showcase our own hair in its diverse variety. And this is where I’m conflicted – I’m a weave loving mama. I completely enjoy the freedom to experiment and change my hairstyle. It is fun. It is fashion. It is options. But I do find it concerning that some black women think natural black hair is less attractive. Or rather strangely, that they have to apply all manner of concoction to make it ‘manageable’. I hate that word ‘manageable’. The truth is we are losing the natural skills to deal with our hair and adopting skills to manage Caucasian hair which in my view is not easier to manage – although they can Wash and Go!! And bloody hell I often wish I could Wash and Go!
I don’t belong to the camps that frown on weaves. In fact I went shopping the other day and this black gentleman kept saying to me ‘Yes this is how black women should wear their hair, I love your hair, I love your daughter’s hair –this is how to keep it real, gwan sis’. I was offended. I was offended because he patently thought weave wearers where selling out. If he saw me 3 months ago he would have thought differently of me then, in my weave. However, I was with my daughter and her face lit up at the compliments, what does she care about undertones. This confirmed something I already knew. Even though I am a badass confident chick, love my hair, love my body (not on days I’m bloated) type of chick, I need to instil this confidence in my own daughter. And this must include her seeing me wearing my hair in its natural state more often.
Is it possible to instil self-acceptance and confidence in my daughter if I put my hair in weaves more often than I let my natural hair out?. Am I sending a subtle message that mama only looks cute in long straight hair? I decided I couldn’t take a risk, so instead of alternating between weaves and my natural hair, I am leaving my hair out more often than fixing weaves. And I see other black women doing the same, and they may do it for different reasons, but it’s great! But some of them are getting silly, calling it a movement, some of them are rather fanatical, attacking weave wearers and acting as if natural hair makes them somewhat mystical, deep, more black, more enlightened, more in touch. It does not. I know a lot of dread wearing arse-wipes who have no clue. These people have been irritating the heck out of me with stupid-ness like coding different hair texture, promoting not using shampoo and touting all manner of concoctions. Listen, I’m not going to hate the players. If people want to turn natural hair into a lucrative business, fine and great!! But don’t do it under the pretext of a movement. It is a business. You have something to sell. It is marketing.
Up to a year ago, I used to use the phrase ‘it’s just hair’, but deep down I have always known that black women’s hair is more than just hair. I got a rude reminder a few months ago when a stakeholder told me that my hairstyle was rather severe, she said it was intimidating. I was shocked. I had my hair in what I considered a simple up-do. I was so stunned I couldn’t respond. I was upset. This is my hair, as natural as it can be, and when I was styling it that morning, it was just hair I was putting up, not a weapon. In that moment I realised that I couldn’t kid myself any longer. Afro hair isn’t just hair. There are deep seated politics of race, beauty and stereotypes attached to Afro hair and if we as black women want our hair to be perceived as just that, hair, then we need to show it more, in its natural state. But don’t let the business people pedalling their wares hijack it with all their mumbo jumbo.