Crowning Glory: My Natural Hair Journey

Hey baes!

This post has been a long time coming and I’m so excited! Let’s talk all things hair! My hair is a huge part of my life and I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to get myself organised so we can talk about it.

*insert joyous cartwheel*

So. Most of you already know that in the black community, hair is life. For us, it’s not just a matter of washing your hair quickly in the morning and heading out to work. Most black women spend hours in the salon every month, preparing to slay you with a fierce new hairstyle that you just weren’t ready for. If you didn’t know, you heard it here first. For us, hair is life. The styling options for afro hair are endless, but over the years there is one issue that has continued to divide us.

Relaxed or natural?

Ooh, CHILE. You don’t know the number of heated debates I’ve sat through. The lectures! The accusations! It is NOT a game. It’s not “just hair.” Our hair, and what we choose to do with it as black women, is a source of constant discussion. Our hair is seen as a badge of honour, an expression, even a political statement. It’s hard to even know where to start. What I will say is this: you cannot make judgments on a person’s character (or lack thereof) from the way they style their hair. All the ashy Brother Hotep types, this is for you. Don’t call me a “race traitor” when I wear weaves as a protective style. Don’t assume that girls with relaxed hair are insecure and trying to conform to Western ideals. Don’t get over-excited when you see me in braids because you deem that to be an acceptable “afrocentric” hairstyle. I am an African woman. Have been since birth, and I will be until the Lawd calls me home. Therefore I don’t need you to tell me whether I am “African enough.” GET ARRA HERE MEHN. Everlasting idiot.

Great! Now that’s off my chest, let’s get into my hair history.

Afropuffs

This pic of me and my big brother cracks me up. Why am I holding his shirt like “B!tch Betta Have My Money?”

So as you can see, my afro puff game was always strong. I took after my Daddy- we both have masses of thick, coily hair. Growing up, my mum would unleash her creativity on my hair and I STAYED slaying heaux in the playground. One week I’d have beaded cornrows, the next week my mum would stretch it with black thread. The week after that, I’d be rocking a fluffy fro. Huge shout out to Mummy because the struggle was REAL! I’d spend hours sitting on the floor between her knees, squirming like a fish and shrieking at every tug of the comb.

My mum’s hair was relaxed, and I used to watch enviously as combs glided through it with ease. After a while the wrestling styling sessions became too much, and I begged to have my hair relaxed too. Finally the day came. I was thrilled. Gone were the kinky curls, replaced with shoulder length black silk. I was entranced.

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(Mega LOLz. The half-up-half-down side pony was fierce doe, so don’t hate)

In my teenage years I went to boarding school in England, and protective styling was the name of the game. Being separated from my mum was heartbreaking in so many ways, but hair was a huge part of the struggle. I didn’t know how to look after my hair myself, so I always braided my hair before leaving Nigeria, and the braids stayed in until I came home on vacation.

Braids were my default style, until my postgraduate years in London, where I got my first weave at age 22. My roommate glued in hair extensions for me (Milky Way, 14 inches, yaaaasss) and you couldn’t tell me nothing!

At this stage I was still relaxing my hair every 3 months or so, because that’s what I’d always done. It never crossed my mind that it might not be necessary. After all, I hardly ever wore it out of a protective style (braids or weaves).

I then hopped over to Australia for a few years. It was there I met someone who changed my life. I met my hairstylist Miss R (@razzyslim on Instagram) through a work colleague and she quickly became a close friend and hair twin! She had thick, long hair too. What fascinated me was that she actually only relaxed her hair a couple of times a year. This was the first time I heard of “stretching” relaxers: lengthening the time between relaxers. Hair relaxers contain powerful chemicals, so spacing out the applications gives your hair time to recover and strengthen. Over the next few years, I started relaxing my hair less. I realised that because I rarely left my hair out of braids or weaves, there was no need for the constant straightening of my coily roots to match the previously straightened ends.

By coincidence, it was around this time that my lifestyle started to change. I found the Clean Eating movement, and started being a lot more aware of what I was putting in (and on) my body. I was reading the ingredients of everything I bought, avoiding processed foods that contained things I couldn’t even pronounce. The same went for my beauty products; I no longer wanted to apply harsh chemicals to my skin and hair. I started making a lot of my own hair and beauty products using natural ingredients like aloe vera and coconut oil #JuicesandBerries

By the time I moved back to London, I was only relaxing my hair twice a year. I hear a lot of women saying relaxers ruined their hair; that the chemicals burned their scalps, weakened their hair and caused breakage. This isn’t one of those stories, y’all. My kinky/ coily hair never really relaxed as straight as other people’s, so that kept it relatively strong.

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This was taken after a fresh relaxer, where my hair had pretty much said “No thank you” and decided to stay kinky.

As I relaxed my hair less and less, it gradually hit me. Slopping the harsh relaxers on my hair and scalp no longer fit with my lifestyle. By this point I was drunk in love with kale and chia seeds, and the idea of relaxing my hair was starting to make me uncomfortable.

At the same time, another odd thing was happening. I found myself obsessively checking my curly new growth between relaxers. I was finding all these adorable crinkles, coils and ringlets that I hadn’t seen in as long as I could remember. It was like re-discovering a part of myself that I had completely forgotten.

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#TeamEdges

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Playing with shrinkage!

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And before I knew it, a 6-month stretch turned into 9 months. Then a year.

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Then it got to 17 months since my last relaxer. I didn’t even realise I’d made the decision to transition back to my natural hair texture, until someone asked me about it.

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The two photos above were taken in August. My kinky new growth was clearly visible, and if you look closely at the second picture you can see where my natural hair met the relaxed ends. But honey working with those two different textures was becoming an epic struggle. I decided that I would muster up the courage to cut off the relaxed ends at Christmas.

Then last month, I was sitting in a crowded Accra salon. It had been yet another day of struggling through life in a new country. I was frustrated and stressed out. I had just had my braids removed, and my hair was freshly washed. Without thinking, I blurted out to the hairdresser, “Cut it off.” She was as surprised as I was. A few minutes later…

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*SHRIEKS*

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It was both terrifying and freeing. When all my straight ends were gone, I looked at myself as if seeing my face for the first time. There I was as God created me, with my chubby cheeks and puff of jet-black hair. The hairdresser used thread to stretch my hair and keep it soft so it would be easy to braid the next day. I was excited to see that it was somehow still shoulder length when stretched. Now that’s what I call black girl magic.

stretch

So there you have it. I am now a fully fledged natural hair girl! I’m still learning how to look after my natural texture. From what I can see so far, it’s a mix of soft corkscrew curls and coarser kinks. I will continue making my own hair products, and keep living in braids and weaves. These protective styles will save me time and shield my hair from the elements. And also = FIERCE.

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I’m so happy to share this journey with you! Any questions for me? Comments? Words of wisdom? Holla at your girl in the comments.

P.s. A couple of years ago I wrote this abstract piece about my hair, and how it’s always been a symbol of my mother’s love for me. Enjoy!

Love,
Adjpants

Untamed

“Mummy, why come my hair isn’t soft like yours?”

I drop the comb into my lap and sigh. “It’s HOW come, baby. How come.”

She shuffles round to look up at me from her spot on the floor, and my breath catches in my throat. Every time I look at her I see her father. The same heavy-lashed brown eyes, the same coffee-rich skin, the same high forehead and full lips. The same hair. Lord, that hair. Endless thick coils that have broken most of my combs and cannot be subdued by pins or rubber bands. Every few days I chase her down, alternating between threats and bribery. Triumphant, I then ignore her squeals and hold her between my knees. She eventually gives in, and allows me to twist and braid the unruly cloud into the styles my mother once taught me.

She’s chattering away in that singsong voice but I don’t hear her because I am watching, silently committing this moment to memory. She’s five now, growing so fast that sometimes panic rises in my chest and makes me hug her tightly in a bid to slow time.

Some of the other mums are already talking about giving in to blow-drying and straightening, to save time and tears. Maybe they’re right. She’s getting so big I can only hold her captive for so long while I distract her from the pulling on her scalp. As the ceiling fan stirs the warm air around us, she asks me an endless stream of questions.

Suddenly she’s reaching up to grab a handful of my hair, tamed into silk by many years of chemical treatments. One day long ago I wanted my hair to look “more acceptable” and so I made the same choice everyone else did. I subdued it.

“Mummy can I have pretty hair like yours?” she asks again. I hold her shoulders and gently push her back down. I take hold of three coarse shining strands and layer them one over the other. I’m buying time to think of an answer.

I look up over her head and there it is. That photo on the mantelpiece. Inspiration strikes and I lift her chin towards the picture. “Sweetheart,” I say. “Do you see that?”

He stands proud and tall in a pressed suit with bell-bottomed trousers. Handsome in faded sepia, graduation cap tipped by the height of his afro. The photographer caught him moments before the smile burst onto his face. I remember how quickly our lives changed after that, the shouts of joy in the village the day his scholarship letter arrived. How delicate the clouds looked from the window during that first plane journey to our new home across the ocean.

I remember the day our daughter was born, in this new place so far from our homeland. I remember her father’s patience and the concentration on the nurse’s face as he spelled out her name for the birth certificate. He had insisted that our children would bear the traditional names of their ancestors, not the fashionable English ones that had become so commonplace. He had said to me, “Our children will travel further than we ever have, and I don’t want them to forget where they come from.”

Maybe one day my daughter will make the choice to tame her hair, and maybe she won’t. But before that day comes, I can teach her that like her name, her hair is a link to her heritage.

And so I say to her, “Your hair is beautiful and strong, just like Daddy’s.” I hold up the mirror so she can see herself. As our eyes meet in the reflection I rest my chin on her head and say, “An African woman’s hair is her crowning glory.”

She laughs. “Crowning? Like a princess?”

“Yes,” I say. “Just like a princess.”