I Am Not My Hair

I always find it weird when people go on about black women’s “obsession” with their hair. For one thing, you’d be pretty attached to something that could easily take ten hours to complete. Some people are obsessed with football and that only takes, what 90minutes per match? I often cannot leave my house because it’s Wash Day and it will take every second of my waking hours to go from short and puffy to waist length and synthetic. No one makes fun of sports fans for their rabid obsession, why do people go on about black women who, along with undertaking a fairly necessary task, are not even rioting when the outcome is less than palatable?

That being said, I’ve never cared much about my hair. In fact, I kinda wish I had a fantastic hair journey. I know it sounds a little silly, but I read a lot of black girl magic blogs and everyone seems to have had this epiphany where they realised that their natural hair is powerful and incredible and life-giving and with a majestic howl they rid their hair of the creamy crack and never looked back. This moment of self-actualisation frames a lot of narratives and I am here for it… but I’m not included in it.

I guess it’s because I’ve never really had a problem with my hair, wished for good hair, or wanted to be able to flip it. Everything I’ve done to my hair has been largely based on accessibility to skilled hairdressers and money. When I was a kid, my neighbour-aunties (because everyone older than you that loves you is your aunty or uncle, whether they’re related or not) used to do my hair. Tight cornrows that pulled my eyebrows up to my hairline and lasted a fortnight, baubles that could do some damage if repurposed as a weapon, beads that alerted people to my whereabouts like plastic cowbells… The whole shebang. But then I got older and we moved and my mother, who has been given manageable hair by Divine Intervention, had no clue what to do with my hair. And so she slathered my hair with the Creamy Crack.

This business

My hair never did look like it did on the box. In fact, the first ever “professional” hairdresser I went to who relaxed my hair used so much that my scalp burnt and the back fell out. I had to have some crazy combo of haircuts, more creamy crack and some foul smelling treatments that more than once resulted in me looking like a low-rent copy of Rihanna’s iconic hairstyles through the ages. I had the bob from Shut Up And Drive, the pixie cut from S&M, all without specifially asking for it. It was a hair assault. Good thing I actually like Rihanna.

But then I moved to the UK and no amount of treatments, masks, prayers or holy water would stop my hair from breaking. The super fantastic hairdresser I went to (Jamaican. Always find the Caribbean people to do your hair, no matter what your ethnicity is) tutted.

“Yuh wastin’ your money, chile. Either yuh shave yuh ‘ead or ya get a weave.”

I got a weave.

Pat them tracks, girl

I wore weaves constantly for a few years. It was far cheaper in the long run, and I was a broke university student with limited hairstyling ability. My flatmate did my weaves for free during term time and my mum paid for me to get a weave during the holidays (so that I could look presentable in her presence). But one day, after a particularly long stretch of not doing my hair, I took off my weave and an afro popped out. I hadn’t seen my actual hair in a decade and it jut decided to show up unannounced, soft and fluffy like unexpected snowfall, and darker than pitch. My reaction was somewhere between “Sweet!” and “HA. Copy this, Rihanna!”

Were my hair a person…

So now I’m natural. Most of the time I wear braids because they’re £4 per packet at my local hairshop and I can’t be bothered to watch ten youtube videos in order to learn a complicated new style. I cover it in oil once in a while, wrap it in a scarf and let curious non-black people touch it if they ask nicely. I love my hair, but I’ve always loved my hair no matter what it was doing. I’m not sure if it’s good hair or bad hair, but it’s on my head and I like it so who cares? When asked by Chris Rock, Maya Angelou said “I would say that hair is a woman’s glory and that you share that glory with your family. And they get to see you braiding it and they get to see you washing it. But it is not a bad thing or a good thing, it’s hair.”It is our pride, it is our heritage and our biology, and some day I’ll write about how I feel about the discussion around the cultural appropriation of hairstyles.

But today is not that day.

Today is Wash day.

See you in a few days.

2 thoughts on “I Am Not My Hair

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