Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Natural Hair: The Trend That Isn’t

‘Can I touch it? ...It’s a little soft,’ the young woman concluded after a brief inspection of my hair with her fingers. The inquisitive lady, by the way, was Nigerian.

When I chose to wean my hair and scalp off relaxers and heat almost three years ago, little did I know this little afro of mine would yield a barrage of questions, some curious glances and a truckload of admiration. The questions, though varied, followed a particular sequence: How long have you kept your hair this way? How do you manage it? Isn’t it stressful? Do you comb it?

Such questions are always met with a whiff of amusement, especially when the interrogator is female and happens to share the same hair characteristic as mine. The questions stem from a constant diet of relaxers and Brazilian weaves, which is why a woman spotting an afro is something of a curio; a rare specimen that warrants a visible reaction. As it is, black women’s memory of what their natural hair feels like is spotty, and their knowledge of how to care for it has long been cast off and forgotten in the darkest recesses of her mind.

Still going strong two and half years later
Photo: Shayera
Several months after chopping off my hair, I was accused of following the natural hair trend. Natural hair trend? The comment struck me as odd. How does letting my hair grow from my scalp undisturbed qualify as a trend? If it is, then what about unpainted nails and going make-up free?

Another interesting comment I heard was something about my hair not matching my personality.  I hadn’t dyed my hair or done anything remotely gaga to warrant such a remark.  All I had done was pin the sides of my hair. My interpretation of the comment was that afros are not suitable for reserved people, but rather are the preserve of artistes, attention seekers and extroverts.

Comments like these reveal the faulty attitudes and reservations black people have about black hair, which is partly the reason natural hair is uncommon in the corporate world.

Dreadlocks and haloed afros are aggressively frowned upon and branded unprofessional and unconventional for work. Yet, images of black women swinging their bleach-blonde wigs or sitting on their 28 inch bone-straight weaves qualify as natural enough to border on being blasé in corporate settings. That necks would suffer whiplash injuries from what is natural is a sad and strange reality.

Furthermore, the paucity of pictures of natural haired women on black hair products or even in adverts feeds the narrative that straight hair is desirable and kinky isn’t. Essentially, black women are constantly told—subtly and overtly—that sleek and straight are conventional; natural hair is outré. Black hair is unruly and untidy; non-black hair is reserved and in control—and being conventional and reserved is just how they intend for us to be.

While the discomfort aroused by black hair in America, though irrational, is explainable and rooted in her history, the same can’t be said for Africa. Here, we have learned and conditioned ourselves to become uncomfortable with our hair. Can we chalk our discomfort up to colonialism or an iteration of the Stockholm syndrome? Or could it a symptom of the copy and paste disease, characterized by replicating certain foreign habits without much thought—like the jarring sight of dark-skinned lawyers donning cream-colored wigs?

Indeed, we can’t claim to be enlightened when we don’t appreciate or take pride in our natural hair, but rather treat it as a burden to be quickly rid of. The excuse that managing natural hair is onerous has become tripe and feeble, especially in light of the smorgasbord of natural hair tips and coiffures the internet has to offer. Consequently, let’s acknowledge that the surge in black women embracing their natural hair isn’t a trend, because it’s not. For the decision to go natural over the ‘comfort’ of weaves and bone straight hair is a conscious one—one that represents an intimate journey towards accepting black hair for what it is.