With the lockdown preventing me from visiting a hair salon, I’ve had to reflect on the significance my hair has in my life as a black woman.
This infamous question is ringing through many girls’ minds as we sit in the fourth week of lockdown: What am I going to do with my hair?
Last week after undoing my braids, I stared at myself in the mirror, my combed-out knots sitting in a bundle on my dresser. With my hair still dripping wet, it dawned on me that I don’t have anyone to tame the mess for me.
The growth was thick on my scalp and getting a comb through my hair was a tear-jerking exercise. I felt myself slip into slight hysteria because I realised that I needed to take care of my own hair by myself – something that shouldn’t scare me but does.
Curious to see if I was the only one going through salon withdrawal, I did a mini-survey on Instagram, asked what others were doing with their hair during the lockdown with salons closed and no access to a hairdresser.
The responses showed that there’s a sort of mild panic mixed with heavy exasperation among black women as we all ponder this question. This got me wondering: why do we care so much?
There are numerous reasons why black women feel better when their hair is done. Society invariably pressures black women to constantly look their best to be better accepted. Be it the way black hair is politically governed in academic or professional spaces or the proliferation of straight-haired black women all over media, there is a silent expectation to match Western notions of beauty or else you will always fall short.
A quote from an American research article, ‘Politics of Black Women’s Hair’ by Vanessa King and Dienyaba Niabaly says, “Black women have undergone many pressures that shaped their hair choices in various ways.” This pressure and need to maintain ‘decorum’ is inherited from our colonised past and the polity whirling around black hair.
After years of indoctrination, black women believed that the only way they could be accepted and even desired (beyond a fetish) was to conform and neglect their natural, God-given hair. Some of us can attest to getting our hair chemically straightened before the age of 10, to make it more ‘manageable’ and prettier, perpetuating the belief that straight hair is better.
Miss Universe Zozibini Tunzi, being dark-skinned with a natural short afro, has broken through multiple glass ceilings to be where she is today. She put it beautifully when she said, “I grew up in a world where a woman who looks like me – with my kind of skin and my kind of hair – was never considered to be beautiful. I think it is time that that stops today. I want children to look at me and see my face and I want them to see their faces reflected in mine.” Her call to embrace and celebrate the black girl-child, affirming her unique beauty and letting her know she is more than enough.
As a darker-skinned woman, I had to come to terms with the colourism debate and the fact that I might be overlooked as soon as I step into a room, so I concluded that the key was to maximize on everything else – my body, my clothes, my skin and my hair.
In hindsight, my attachment to my hair is hugely linked to the way I view myself and the way I want the world to view me – fresh, elegant, artistic, eye-catching. The inability to reaffirm myself the way I’m used to is leaving me feeling a bit bleak and awkward during the lockdown.
The truth is, our hair is capable of a lot. The rise of natural hair influencers, hair tutorials and DIY hair-care remedies are all symbolic of the new standard that has been set, which is: your hair is yours and it can look good. My beauty isn’t found in hair salons, hairdressers, extensions or in Western magazines feeding me lies.
Whatever your hair type, whatever your current hairstyle and whatever head space you’re in during this pandemic, I hope in the middle of the chaos you see a woman who is worthy, beautiful and all-round mesmerising.