Black hair is a subject that has been covered in many articles and blogs, so why have I decided to focus on it this week within the context of African Britishness?
I just could not resist this subject as hair and all its different types and forms is part of the identity of an African British woman and black women in general.
Along with skin shade and body shape, hair has the greatest impact on our lives. And as much as this article will be focusing on hair and the African British woman, it will resonate with a host of women.
My Experience with Making Hair as a Child
My hair started to become important to me from around the age of six or seven.
I remembered my grandmother straightening the hair for special outings. It was always a painful process for me, especially when the hot comb came too close to my scalp.
I would sit as still as a statue because I knew that at the end of it, I would have straight hair that she could pack into one with colourful hairbands and ribbons. I always felt special.
At age seven, I remembered attending a primary school with a policy that meant every girl had to have a haircut. I was dismayed but as a result, my grandma took me to a popular barber known as Baba Iyabo (Iyabo’s dad) to cut have my hair cut.
It is a cultural thing to respectfully call parents by the name of their first child, or any of their children known to you. This allows you to avoid calling them by their first name, which may be too familiar, or their title and surname, which may be too formal.
Baba Iyabo set about cutting and carving my hair into shape and by the time he finished, I found to my horror that he had given me a military buzz cut. I left his shop in tears and cried for the whole week. In fact, his name became a myth within the family.
My Experimentation with Hairstyles as a Teenager
In our family, we are blessed with soft fine woolly hair that should never really be permed. As a teenager, I began to experiment with hair chemicals over many hairdressers’ grumble about my ‘scanty’ hair.
Afterwards, I started to envy and admire friends with sleek abundant hair that once chemically straightened or curled, swung in deep dark waves down their shoulders, depending on style.
However, I found out that curly perm worked well for my hair type; therefore, I adopted these for years. All I did was visit the hair salon every three months to have the roots redone. And then I just bought wave activators to continue to maintain the curly look.
The Ideal African Woman
When I look back now, I feel sad at the agony that my younger self went through. I did not fit the stereotype of what an African woman should look like. I was tall, incredibly slim and did not having a big front or behind, neither did I have the crowning glory of an abundant thick hair. Yet, I had thick hair growing in other unnameable parts of my body! I felt like an imposter in my own life!
It is shocking to find out how many women feel this way for various reasons – too fat, too dark, flat chested, fat ankles, hairy legs, etc. I will be covering On Body to discuss this in great length.
Admiration for Beautiful Mixed Heritage Hair
Back in Nigeria, if you were biracial , your naturally wavy long hair was envied by full African women. We admired and envied the African Americans for their mixed heritage that gave them lovely abundant hair. We did not realise that they too were undergoing deeper issues.
When I came to settle in England, I was initially cowed by the brusqueness of a lot of black hairdressers. They were in great demand and customer care was nil. I quickly identified kinder ones and made appointment with those.
Hair Growth Issues
When fashion changed, and straightened hair became trendy and curly perm made you look like a member of old American soul groups like the Temptations, I ran into a conundrum.
I then took a risk and changed my hair from curly to straight. That was the beginning of my hair issue as I was trying to match the trend. So aside from doing these, I would also do braids stretched so tightly that the fragile hair at the front, my edges, started to fall off.
I was lucky that after a few months, they would grow back again. Then came a time that my hair decided it had taken enough battering. So, when I lost my edges, again they did not grow back.
My solution was simple, and that was to wear weave, but it became counterproductive. Thus every few months, I would buy different kinds of hair that I got the hairdresser to weave onto my cane row.
Work colleagues became used to seeing me with different types of weave – straight, long curly, short curly, etc. It was fine for a while, especially when I could use wigs instead of hair weave, but I wanted my edges to grow, and it totally refused to do so.
While the rest of my hair grew and looked healthy, I used every nourishing oil under the sun and became an edges expert but still no hair. So last summer, on a holiday away, I decided to have the whole hair chopped!
The Liberating Hair Growth Solution
I went to a barber shop and told him to do a ‘Baba Iyabo’ cut for me. He looked puzzled and while giving him a big grin, I told him to cut it all off, close to the scalp.
I felt liberated and even asked the hairdresser to colour it later that year. I wish I could say that all this decision was made on my own, but my loving bestie in her soft, gentle voice urged me to take the plunge and I did. It was a liberating holiday.
I showered, swam and did everything with no hair or weave to worry about. My edges also did not look bad with my hair all off, and then I had a suggestion for a most unusual solution sold by a company in which I’m an affiliate.
I started using the solution and their shampoo and my edges started to slowly grow back. I still wear my wig in public but I’m looking forward to sporting my colourful Afro once my edges fully grow back.
My Reflection on African Britishness on Hair
Why did I that take you on this long journey? It is because my story reflects that of most women, especially black ones. It might not be the same story, but there would be resonance somewhere. See the article in the Guardian by Emma Dabiri
I have some friends with thick long hair who chose to cover it to ‘protect’ against the winter.
There are biracial women who wished their hair was straight and had no curls. Some might want it to be blonde.
Also, there are Asian women who wish their hair was less straight and dark and possibly maybe would love a blonde look or a different texture.
White women are not left out as some of them wish they had longer thicker hair and be blond!
And here I am, I have come full circle. All I want is a full Afro hair with all my edges intact.