When I was a young girl, I hated getting my hair combed. It wasn’t because of the inevitable awkward cornrows that was my mother’s attempts at styling and not even because of the giant blue ribbons placed atop my head that, in true Waveney Lashley fashion matched my school uniform exactly. No- those days were a part of the glorious years of my childhood where my looks were not important and in retrospect, those efforts were a strong testament of my mother’s love.
What I hated-and yes such a strong word is justified- was the pain that was associated with that process. This unusual form of torture was facilitated by a fine tooth comb that grated mercilessly through my tight kinky curls, tearing without pause through the knots and twists that had formed, leaving me in tears. A heavy pungent grease would then be rubbed onto my scalp ‘to make it grow’
A constant accompaniment to this process was my mother ‘cheupses’- a long hard sucking of teeth that was done with a finesse that only a Guyanese could achieve and which adequately summed up her frustrations. My own frustrations would result in my fidgeting, loud protestations and crying. Said cries would only increase when I dared to touch my hair as the comb would inflict pain in another way- a sharp whack on my curious finger.
Needless to say I was thankful when my mother introduced me to Shornetta. She was a gorgeous girl who could do fantastic things to hair. I would relax in her sitting room while she styled me and think that this was the life- it was probably due to the fact that she owned a wide tooth comb, had patience and could not suck her teeth quite as impressively as my mother. This feeling of content turned to excitement upon my discovery of braids which to me simply meant me having long, straight hair that was ‘technically’ my own. A dream of sorts since despite the numerous ‘grow oils’ that were religiously applied to my hair, it constantly broke.Needless to say braids became a part of me. If I wasn’t wearing them, then I was going to get them done. Eventually I learned how to do them myself and would spend hours at a time plaiting the straight pale yaki strands into my dark, coily hair. However had braids been simply a hairstyle, things would have been fine. Unfortunately this ‘hairstyle’ began to adversely affect my self-esteem in that when I did not have braids in my hair- when my natural hair was exposed-I lacked confidence. So much so, that I would try my best to avoid being seen by peers and friends.
I began to slowly acknowledge this problem and made an effort to remedy it. I made a conscious decision to wear my hair out and to style my hair myself. This ‘journey to liberation’ is better on paper than in reality because put simply, I was my mother’s daughter and as such, could could not style-at all. I would sport the most awkward Afros, candy curls and plaits reminiscent of my childhood hairstyles. My current boyfriend claimed that one of my then infamous hairstyles almost scared him off from approaching me when he first saw me. We laugh at it now..well him more than me. However, regardless of my ‘hair tragedies’as one friend humorously put it, I began to love my hair and my trials were well worth it.
As a reader, you probably expect that this hair romance culminated itself into me have Rapunzel-esque hair and amazing knack at hair styling but unfortunately that isn’t the case. Due to a rare weak willed moment, I decided to commit the ultimate natural hair crime to please an aunt- I relaxed. To be truly honest, I didn’t like it- It was too short, too thin and too straight. I was confident that it would get better as the women on the relaxer boxes seemed to promise me a future of wavy bouncy hair. This was not the case. At first came the new growth which seemed drier than I remembered it. Then came the constant breakage, the relaxer burns, the thinning, the expense and the discoloring of my hair into what I still refer to as ‘roach brown’. However, I still persevered and made countless attempts to care for my hair but despite having an encyclopedic knowledge about the benefits of wrapping, using silk scarfs, hot oil treatments, protein treatments, pre-poos, co-washes, the ills of parabens and mineral oils, the benefits of bioting and nightly scalp massages to name but a few, my hair didn’t benefit. Putting in effort with no result to show for it is something that has always annoyed me..so…
I cut it or ‘big chopped’. Simply, it has been one of the best decisions in my life. I have never felt more gorgeous and it has been a catalyst of my full embrace of self. You could not have wiped the grin of my face as I got my hair shaped up at a barber shop. I love my hair even more so than before. 😀
In closing, due to my exposure to the African American hair debates on the internet, I feel a need to add my own ‘two cents’ on the divide between ‘Naturals’ and ‘Relaxed’. While the society I live in does not place as much emphasis on ‘Black’ hair as American society- it cannot be denied that our hair due to its unique texture does play an integral role in who we are as women and unfortunately how we are seen by different groups in different societies. However, though I love my hair and while embracing it has played a significant role in allowing me to fully embrace who I am , I believe that we should employ the teachings of India Arie’s song “Í am not my hair”. Hair is a part of us but it does not and should not define who we are-our actions, beliefs and choices do that and this follows regardless of hairstyle, gender or race.
Thanks for reading.