Throughout my life I have spent a substantial amount of time and money on HAIR.
As a younger person, my focus was mostly on grooming it, removing it, colouring it, straightening it and otherwise manipulating it on a quest to ‘look nice’.
Although I do still spend time on hair today, my focus has shifted in that I spend a bit less time manipulating it and more time reflecting on its social and political implications.
All other forms of hair aside (that would require innumerous more posts!), the variety that grows from our scalps is what I’m focusing on here - an intensely personal as well as politicized subject.
This is a multi-part blog post. This first section aims to share some of my personal experiences with my hair. The next one is co-authored with a friend and will be posted later this week to consider some societal and political implications of hair.
When I was a little girl I wanted nothing more than to have long, straight hair just like all the ‘beautiful’ women I saw on TV and in fashion magazines. I considered my own naturally curly hair unsightly and after much begging I finally convinced my mother to straighten it.
Seeing my hair straight and flowing for the first time in my life, I honestly believed that I looked like a Disney princess, particularly my favourite one, Ariel from the little mermaid, save for the difference in colour.
After that first experience, the twelve years that followed were a menagerie of chemicalisation, texturisation, wrestling, wrangling and taming my hair just to get it looking ‘fabulous’ or at the very least, get it looking as though it sat atop the head of a civilised human being and not a ‘primitive bush person’.
Buckets and buckets of money and tears alike went into this quest to achieve ultimate beauty and with each success hair story, I surprisingly felt a small part of me die. With each battle won against the kink in my hair the less I recognised myself and for some reason I felt the opposite of what I expected the resultant straight hair to make me feel. Of course I felt beautiful, if for only a moment, there’s no denying that, but I also felt like a fraud.
I was always complimented for ‘my’ long, flowy, straight hair and I was the envy of other girls at school. I was told that I had ‘good’ hair and that I was very lucky that it ‘behaved’ so well when I made the effort to ‘fix’ it. Everyone always oohed and aahed and people always wanted to touch it. All this attention always made me feel special but never proud. It was hard to feel proud of something that wasn’t authentically yours. Something that you should have loved and cared for the way it naturally was but instead you resented and relentlessly abused time and time again with strong chemicals and harsh heat, yanking and pulling at it, ultimately weakening and destroying it.
I never realised back then that the way I viewed and treated my hair was an extension of how I viewed and treated myself. I always thought myself confident and comfortable in my own skin and yet the truth is I wasn’t. My confidence and high self esteem were only ever truly there when I received validation from other people and they were, and in some ways still are, inextricably linked to my relationship with my hair.
Upon realising this, I awoke one Saturday morning, four years ago and cut it all off much to the dismay of everyone around me. I realised that it wasn’t enough to just stop with the constant nuking I was conducting on my hair and just let it grow out; I actually had to purge and get a fresh start and reacquaint myself with my hair and by extension with my true self.
Four years on, I am glad to say I have mended my relationship with my hair and I am for the first time madly and unconditionally in love with it, knots and all. I am learning to take better care of it and I let it tell me what it needs and what it is comfortable with wish is usually just a wash and go; no combs or brushes required. Suffice it to say, this new found love for my hair, my natural hair, has also had a positive impact on my relationship with myself as a whole.