Women and hair

With all the sorry stories about Nigeria lately, it is uplifting seeing women taking care of business that is theirs.

I am quite pleased to read about the work of African Hair Summit, they are working to promote beauty of African hair amongst many other worthy objectives. I like that the event was well attended last year, this is going to open up long due conversations amongst women within Nigeria. 

As a mother of two girls, I often forget that the older my girls grow, the more assertive they  become so now they ask for reasons I don’t allow them to use relaxer. The relaxer question is easy to answer because it damages hair.

My girls are in primary school. I know that kids talk and ask one another questions they are curious about during playtime, so if a 10 year old was asked why she applied relaxer to her hair, what could she say to her mates that will not translate to ‘my hair is not good enough?’

Sometimes last week, I was trying to get my daughter ready for a school trip so I asked which hairstyle she’d like to do given it is a full week away. Out of nowhere, the girl flipped, for a moment I thought the spirit of Yemoja has entered. She was upset saying nothing she did ever worked.

She loves her hair, she says. Why is the outburst if hair is not the problem?

Background – the day before, we were talking about getting hair done, so she went online to get hair style inspiration. She liked this. She thinks the girl has the coolest parents ever to allow that hair style. I think the hairstyle looks cool too but I think it is more appropriate during summer holiday.

I have just realised that while my girls seem to agree when I give reasons they are not ready for some style yet, it is only temporary, every holiday we tend to go over the same topic all over again as there is always something new in town.

I am excited for this hair summit, and really hope that as time goes on there will be more interested people across the country. My girls are always quick to remind me of friends and family who allow their kids to have hair extension, then I have to explain that each family is different, I wore low cut throughout both primary and secondary years and most importantly hair politics in Nigeria is on a whole different level from the west.

I don’t want my girls’ hair to become the only point of reference. Even their dad was amazed to read all about black hair talk that now the only thing he has not learned is to braid.

By the way, now I am learning to hear the girl out so we meet in the middle. She likes Willow’s hair so we did cornrow to match – everyone is happy. She later told me she will be careful not to get hair wet, I don’t even know where she got that from so I said she is allowed to get her hair wet everyday, if friends are dunking their head in water, go ahead and do the same because it is fun, dry it off like everyone else.

She smiled and gave a big hug.

People seem to think mixed race kids don’t have black hair wahala, I laugh at this because being mixed race is even trickier as whatever they do or don’t do get measured against which part of them they are most proud of – silly world.

I am really pleased to see that there is growing enthusiasm around opening up conversations on our hair. Adults can and will continue to do whatever they are so pleased with their hair, having said that, children need avenue where they can learn more about their choices and to embrace what they have without having to drag other race into the conversation.

There is a hair event coming up in August organised by Curly Treats, I love this, we already know our hair is a big issue, it is our job to make it easier for coming generations. 

The clip here is from Nigeria African Hair Summit last year. It is nice to seen celebrities getting involved.

Hairdo school regulations

Good gracious!

“Your hair feels like pubic hair.”

With that first line, I thought the article was going to be a good read, but I could not stop asking myself “whose pubic hair.?” One would have thought hair on our head is a good indicator of what lies ‘below’, if that is the case, why on earth is someone making this silly comparison?

Well, this is a serious matter, cultural identity issue.

I am very proud of these outspoken South Africans girls drawing attention to the school hairstyle regulations that they feel didn’t represent black girls fairly – it further shows complacency isn’t an option if we want things done differently.

I hope that the new team to work on amending the rules will include black parents and educators who can be open enough and work together for the benefit of this and generations to come.

The issue of black hairdo is a sensitive subject within black community itself because here is where we are supposed to support one another but it does not always happen that way as we all have different ideas of what makes us look and feel good.

South Africans can reference apartheid, Black Americans can reference white supremacy as the reason blacks in those countries keep their hair certain way – what is our excuse in a country like Nigeria where we are mostly black?

Time is changing, younger generation need not believe the overused excuses that we were ‘forced’ to follow certain rules in order to make our looks acceptable. The fact that the world is a lot closer today makes story such as this relatable to all blacks regardless of where we live in the world.

Adults can and will always chose what they like to wear and they owe no one explanation for their choices, however more often than not, children internalise criticisms when it is directed at things they have no power to change, here is where parents can not fold arms as it hurts those we claim to love the most.

I think school hairdo for girls is a subject that all black parents of girls should be interested in especially for those of us in diaspora. I believe parents owe it to their children to talk about issues such as this putting into considerations why certain rules were set and find ways of encouraging one another on how best to help our girls from very early age and to be involved in PTA so we can bring to lights factors that others may not necessarily be familiar with.

My girls’ school have a few points on hair policy; shoulder length,  hair band colours and hair to be away from face. Simple enough.

My kids swim three times a week (2x at school, the third time outside) this means hair style is kept in a way that they can easily keep it under swim cap, I have seeing enough drama to know I don’t want my kids to be the last one out just because she worries about her hair. I am not waiting for my girls to be upset because someone makes insensitive comment about their hair. If other kids don’t spend half a day on hairdo, we wouldn’t either – life is too beautiful than altering what should be celebrated.

Towards the end of Spring term, as they were preparing for an overnight school trip, my eldest said not to do certain hairstyle for her sister because she had trouble putting on her helmet when she went on the same trip the year before – “that was a very useful information” I told her. That was a safety issue she pointed out, so we decided on a different style and had a test run on a bike helmet.

I really do hope this will awaken our consciousness in order to broaden our knowledge about our hair. I think the rules that matter the most is the ones that we have written about our own hair.

Extension

A friend spotted the book my nine-year old daughter was reading, she pointed at it and had a giggle. It was a book for teaching children steps to do simple braids such as French braid and ribbon twists for colourful clip ons.

She shared a story of her Indian friend who was married to a Jamaican guy. Like many mixed race children, the girl’s hair was banged in the middle, neither here nor there – it takes getting used to for the mother and finding what works best to keep the hair healthy and the wearer happy.

Her friend says dealing with the girl’s hair was the most challenging part of raising her daughter, now said daughter is grown and away from home – no longer Mama’s problem.

Finding balance in dealing with black girl’s hair is as important as instilling self esteem, I think.

At the Southbank Centre the other month, there was a stall asking people to share their hair stories; black hair stories. Many people wanted to share their hair stories, most importantly about how to move from blaming society for their definition of good hair to the place where one can wear whatever ‘do’ it is that they liked and be happy with it.

While at the stall, a few of us were sharing stories, a lady who coincidently is from Nigeria blamed her years of dealing with relaxed/ hair extensions on her mother as the mother started her on the ‘path’ before she could make any decision of her own.

Five years ago she started braiding her natural hair as it makes no sense to spend so much time and limited resources on hair extensions, and the worse of it was the handiwork of relaxer ‘that thing is the most dangerous of all, strips her hair off too many times to count.”

About a year ago, my daughter talks about relaxing her hair to make it easier to manage. I looked on listening to how she would only have to do it once a year and how being mixed race makes it easier as her hair is not as coarse as mine.

This I later learnt she heard from her gymnastics teacher, who had children about Yeye’s age. The lady is very nice so I saved my breath and said “Everyone has rules in their house. In our house, I am sorry Yeye, we have different priorities, our hair is not one of it as it is just perfect. And when you grow up, you can make all that decision by yourself, for now, we are not going to relax your hair.”

That was the end of that. That was easy. 

So I thought.

December last year, Yeye and her friends decided to do a group talent show. It was four girls, one black and three Oyinbos. She was excited about the show, then 2 days before the show, she said her friends asked that she get her hair braided so as to look the part.

‘We can do single braids like we have done several times, but we are not going to put hair extension in your hair like the girl in the video. No, can’t take that hair to school, it is silly.’

Yeye broke down and it became a big deal, she left the group and show cancelled.

“Am I the bad cop here?

Living outside of Nigeria, it is a lot easier to put things in perspective and understand the importance of adjusting to the environment that one lives in to benefit fully from opportunities around.  A child that swims, cycles and skis – how on earth would you fit in bulky hair extensions under helmet and secure it in place?

Alternative action is to not wear activity cap/helmet the right way and gets upset when adult in charge makes comment about the fact that you may not be able to participate if they are not comfortable the headgear is securely fitted.

My girl’s hair at 32cm long is much longer than my hair had ever been. Why would primary school girls want to relax their hair? Peer pressure? Perhaps.

But what could be one good reason for doing so if not that their hair is not good enough? I had to explain to Yeye that she will thank me and her dad later, not now, but later when she is grown old enough and started reading all about black hair politics.

Black woman – Whose hair do you wear today?

Black women and their hair journey is personal. Each person has to eventually find a new definition for what makes a beautiful hair. As it stands today the most attractive hairstyle for many black women is what their natural hair is incapable of.

A few years ago I met up with a friend for lunch, being a joker that he is, as I approached, the first sentence he uttered after the usual greetings was “Hey, who are you wearing today?” “My Brazillian cousin.” I responded.

I am yet to see the ‘perfect’ relaxer for black hair that wouldn’t turn hair to flakes. You are meant to feel more confident when your hair is relaxed and silky but this is short-lived and leave one feeling anything but confidence after a couple of weeks – if you are lucky your scalp survive the harsh chemicals.

Black women for the last decade have gone to extreme measures in search for the perfect hair. Plastic extensions is no longer enough to give the long shiny hair we so much hope to increase confidence, this time our sisters sought for human hair that looks natural on the original owner but of course alien on black women head, we don’t really mind though as long as it is from ANY human, we’ll go for it.

It used to be Indian, Brazillian, Venezuelan and all that remotely looked Chinese. Now, here is the new twist that I think black women must pay attention to, people are spending hard-earned money buying Goat hairall in the name of searching for long long hair. Rats are pretty much easier to come by than goats, how long will it take before we started wearing rat’s hair?

Given that most of these synthetic and human hair are made for Africans by non Africans – Maybe it is time to step back and think about whose definition of beauty we are fulfilling. Does this person cared a hoot about health implications?