guest post: lessons from my natural hair / ike denloye
Black women love to change their hair and here at tfhq we’re no different. Over the past few months we’ve had different colours, new wigs, headwraps and three different kinds of braids and a taper cut. This new found freedom with my hair in a professional environment allowed me not only to experiment with my hair but also reflect on that journey. For me, hair was just something that should be done and always kept neat. Spending countless hours between my mums legs as she applied that awful smelling cream to my scalp immediately before getting my braids done. I tried every style I could think of until I looked up and there wasn’t much left. So I tried the only thing I hadn’t — going natural. The journey wasn’t a spiritual one — I didn’t ‘find myself’— but I did learn a lot.
When I first tried to save my hair I tried every cream and method, but going natural never occurred to me. It wasn’t that I hadn’t seen it, one of my close friends had gone natural, but I never connected it to me. As if the thick regrowth that ruined my hairstyles every couple of weeks wasn’t a part of me. As a Black woman I’d grown up with the notion that hair was to be straight, and you only strayed in case of tragedy, poverty or you were just a hippy. I was aware that we lived in society that celebrates European beauty but I thought I was above that, that no matter how British I was, my heritage was part of me. But no matter how much jollof I ate, pigeon I tried to speak and how ‘Nigerian’ I thought my upbringing was, my hair wasn’t part of it. In fact, the continent’s relationship with it was worse than mine. I grew up surrounded by Nigerians — both here and in Lagos — and no one I knew wore their natural hair and it was the hairdressers out there who constantly complained about it, and at six years old fixed it with relaxer. It was in Nigeria — the place that natural hair should be normalized that it was changed.
With my mind made up, I broke the news to my friends and family which brings me to my next lesson – my experience is my business. I didn’t make my announcement for validation but I didn’t expect the response I received.
“will it look professional?”
“you’ll still wear braids, right?”
“why would you do that? ”
“do you think boys will like it?”
“I could never do that.”
In every reaction the concerns were for others, my future employer or boyfriend but never really for me. Our hair has become political, and apparently everyone else’s business. Whether it’s a woman not getting a job because of her braids or school in South Africa getting punished for wearing their natural hair, it’s apparent that the world sees our hair — and us — as something to be controlled. Our bodies have a history of being used as a spectacle, with audiences ready to critique. My hair doesn’t make me a better employee or girlfriend but we are forced to consider how our experience may offend others. Our bodies are seen vessels to provide a service — constantly giving — so society feels offended when we express ourselves in the way we see fit. And it can be close to home; most of my life I did my hair the way my mum told me to partly because she was paying but also, as Black women we’re raised to seek permission and this was the start of my saying no more. I joined many Black women who were living freely, not just through their hair, but living for themselves not how people want them to.
Like many people do when they need advice I took to YouTube — the home of the tutorial. I entered the world of curl patterns, twist outs, protective hairstyles and deep conditioners, there was so much information I didn’t know what to do with it all. But I did notice a common thread — perfection. Women would transform their kinky 4b/c hair into sleek spirals bouncing past their shoulders or their puff would stand perfectly and the comment section was filled with women striving for the same thing. I’m always here for putting your best foot forward but I rarely saw a hair out of place. The most successful Youtubers constantly looked like they live in the salon and we’re expected to keep up. Even within our own spaces, Black women are held to a specific standard when it comes to appearance. Not in a #blackexcellence type of way but in a blackness-makes-you-inherently-unattractive-so-everything-else- has-to-be-perfect sort of way. This doesn’t stop at hair, we’re expected to be the perfect hourglass with glistening even skin and always have the ‘sass’ to match, even in supposed safe spaces. We’re rarely allowed to just be human, scroll through twitter and you can see us being ridiculed – usually about something we can’t control. This starts from childhood, take Blue Ivy for example, people had so many expectations of what should look and when she didn’t meet them, and she was made fun of and when expressing her opinion she was accused of being a bully — she’s a toddler. I, along with many other beautiful Black, I am not going to allow this to affect me living my best life, I will walk proud with my edges unslicked and my imperfections on show.”