As a child, I’d spend Sunday evenings slumped on the floor in-between my mother’s legs as she would cornrow my hair.
Although I hated the process and would often flinch and sigh every time the comb parted through my hair – I loved the outcome. She would cornrow different patterns and then part it into different styles.
When I got my hair washed, I would wrap the towel around my head and imagine that it was my hair. I would laugh with my mum in the mirror and flick the towel around my neck.
Although this was just innocent at the time, as an adult, I realise that this resulted from me wanting to have hair that resembled all the women I saw in the media.
I remember going through the pages of magazines and never seeing someone with the same skin shade as me, let alone with the same hair type. All the beauty tricks and tips were created solely for white or fair skin complexions and straight and wavy hair types.
But it didn’t stop at magazines. As I got older, I started to notice that all the girls I saw in the TV shows, films and music videos had been either white women with long, flowy hair or Black women who wore weaves and wigs.
Seeing Black women with natural afro hair on TV was almost impossible when I was growing up.
Around age 11, I slowly started to believe that my natural hair wasn’t desirable. If it was, I thought, then why were all the Black women keeping theirs hidden?
My family were the only people who complimented my natural afro hair. But what they said didn’t matter to me at the time because when I switched on the TV or picked up a magazine, I was bombarded with images that made me feel like my hair in its natural state was unappealing.
Most of the women in my family wear their hair natural. Although, they did relax their hair during their younger years. I used to experiment with my hair, trying multiple styles from fringes, to quiffs, to various cornrow styles.
At 13 years old, I discovered hot combing – a process where heat is applied to a metal comb, and then this comb is used to straighten hair, creating a smoother hair texture. For my Holy Communion, I convinced my mum to allow me to hot comb my hair.
I remember excitedly sitting in the chair while the hairdresser asked me to hold my ears so she could make sure no hair strand was left untouched. My face lit up when I saw my reflection in the mirror. I remember receiving compliments on how long my hair was and how pretty I looked.
This was one of the first times I had heard positive feedback about my hair from anyone outside my family. Looking back, I can honestly say this was the first time in my life that I’d felt pretty.
After this, I managed to convince my mum to straighten and hot comb my hair for special occasions.
After a couple of years, I got tired of having to persuade my mum so, at 16, I decided to take the big step and chemically straighten my hair, more commonly referred to as ‘relaxing your hair’.
Every two months, like clockwork, I would go to the hairdressers and get my hair relaxed. This whole process would cost me £30, which is quite expensive considering that I didn’t have a job. I enjoyed how silky and straight my hair looked, so for me at the time it was worth it.
Even the slightest sign that I needed a relaxer touch-up would send me into a mini breakdown – I felt restless until I had my next appointment booked.
My obsession with relaxing my hair lasted about four years. I then experimented with various hairstyles, from weaves to wigs to short relaxed pixie cuts to braids.
I wasn’t solely trying to hide my natural hair. I loved to experiment with it, so I was always willing to try new styles.
But I couldn’t be bothered to deal with my natural hair underneath the wigs and weaves. Once when I had a weave, I noticed the part of my natural hair that I leave out to blend into the extensions wasn’t blending well so I took it upon myself to buy a mini tub of relaxer and do it myself.
I had a good run with this routine until one day I decided to relax my hair, a week after dyeing it – and within seconds, a clump of my hair fell out. I cried at first, but even while looking directly at this semi-bald patch, I still continued to relax my hair.
As I’ve got older, I’ve realised that my obsession with keeping my hair straight stemmed from me trying to relive that ‘I feel pretty’ moment back in the hairdresser’s chair with the hot comb. I was addicted to the feeling that came with having straight, flowy hair. I truly believed I was at my prettiest when my natural hair was hidden.
A few years ago, the natural hair movement became really popular. I admired the women who were brave enough to chop all their relaxed hair off and start again, but at the time I didn’t have the confidence to do it.
But I started contemplating starting my natural hair journey after a conversation with a friend made me realise that the lack of images of Black women wearing their natural hair contributed to our obsession with straightening and relaxing our hair.
Seeing more images of Black women embracing their natural hair has allowed me to see the beauty in our unique textures and various curl patterns.
From Instagram to beauty adverts we’re now seeing more and more women with their natural hair.
Due to hairdressing salons being closed during the first lockdown, I noticed online that many Black women I followed started their natural hair journey. The first step was always to cut off the brittle ends of their hair. Once this was done they’d be left with a full and thick head of hair.
At this point, I decided I wanted to join them – my hair was in a critical state, my ends were brittle, and my scalp was extremely tender.
Just like I did when I was a child, at age 26 I assumed my position slumped on the floor between my mum’s knees and asked her to help me do the big chop, which consisted of cutting off the unhealthy strands of hair.
The first snip of scissors made me nervous, but I almost instantly started liking the results. I was left with a small afro, and for the first time in years, I saw my natural curl pattern.
I loved it instantly, and honestly I wish I had done it a lot sooner. My family and friends all loved it but were surprised as they hadn’t seen me with an afro since I was a child.
I now have the confidence to strut around wearing my afro proudly and no longer panic if I can’t get a hair appointment to get my braids done. Learning to manage my natural hair is time-consuming, but I now see it as more of an investment rather than a burden.
Yes, I still do get my hair braided regularly; I love to experiment with my hair. I might decide to go back to doing wigs, weaves or even temporarily straightening my hair. But the difference now is that I’m not trying to hide my natural hair.
As a Black woman, if I have a girl child, I see it as my duty to make sure that she cherishes her natural hair.
With more images of Black women embracing their natural hair in mainstream media, I hope that young Black girls won’t spend their childhood resenting their hair like I did, but rather embracing it.
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