When people meet me for the first time, one of the things we generally end up talking about is my hair. This is because I live in Nigeria and have a different hair texture than most. And the fact that I am dark skinned adds to the confusion, if I were light skinned, it would be assumed I am mixed race and that would be the end of it.
I mean all kinds of people have inquired about my hair: black, white, mixed race, you name it. My experience has been quite varied.
An example is the day two white girls came to me looking apprehensive but with some kind of determination in their eyes. I was suddenly wary because I wasn’t sure I wanted to part of any quest that required both apprehension and determination. It had been a lovely evening. After apologizing profusely for the possible offense they would inflict on me, they asked if my hair was mine, I said yes. Then they apologized again before asking if it was natural, I said yes. The relief and joy on their face was really amusing. One of them went on to say “You have just made my day, my week as a matter of fact, I am just so sick of seeing these wigs and it is so refreshing to see this, keep it up”. I just said will do because really what else could I say. When I was heading out that evening, I didn’t stand in front of the mirror, point to my hair and say, “Hey you! Be inspiring today.”
The truth is, personally, the hair discussions I have had with people has told me more about them than any other discussion we’ve had. Like a mixed race girl who seemed a bit unnecessarily upset that her hair is, as she said ‘ like iron sponge’ while mine is really soft. This told me more about her than any other thing she could have said.
The whole world is obsessed with hair and unfortunately we have been given a prototype: long, full bodied and silky. The one thing we underplay or under show(I guess) is the need white women also have to live up to this standard. I know this not only because of the clip on’s and tracks occasionally showing on Britney Spears head but because after the compliments, after the ‘can I touch’ requests, what follows is the white women saying to me, “I wish my hair could be this full”. We really are all in this together.
It doesn’t help that for centuries hair has been used to define and validate people especially women. It almost seems as if with a head of full long hair, you are assumed to have been touched by something special. Like you don’t have the same struggles as everybody else. It is even all over the bible, you read stories and see how sacred and important hair was and is, especially long hair. From Esau to Samson, Mary Magdalene and when reading some of the descriptions of the people of those times. In 1st Corinthians 11:15, it says, “But if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her for her hair was given to her as a covering”. So yeah…
I have accepted the effect of the importance of hair. However, we need to know, accept and understand that in the greater scheme of things, it is not the most important.
Growing up, I didn’t care too much for my hair. It felt like an Alien who sat on my head whose language I would never learn to speak. It grew in a strange way, it didn’t do anything I wanted it to do (which by the way was lie down flat) and it brought a lot of unwanted attention. The attention was partly admiration, partly animosity but I was mostly called a liar.
“You are lying. You are must be mixed with something. Indian?”
“You are lying. Let me check your hair, Its either a wig or weavon.”
“You are lying. Where is your Father from? And your Mother?”
“You are lying. What brand of relaxer do you use?”
And these are not the most annoying statements but I can proudly say I’ve never lost my patience. This is because intrinsically I understand the obsession with hair and just bear with it.
Somehow having a different hair texture wasn’t top priority at home. In my house, we all have different hair textures, so you just knew someone’s hair was curlier, silkier, one never grew straight, one couldn’t be combed easily and the list goes on. And in primary school, kids didn’t know the difference so no one questioned me. My first experience that fully brought the awareness of my texture was my first week in secondary school. I was called to the principal’s office and she had a pair of scissors in her hand.
The principal was furious with my mom and I couldn’t understand why. She was yelling about us not reading the school’s guidelines and my mom’s audacity in relaxing my hair knowing fully well it was unacceptable. She asked me why I relaxed my hair before resuming and I tearfully told her I didn’t know what she was talking about. Lucky for me, before the scissors descended on my already low cut hair (one of the school’s criteria) a neighbor from my street that was a senior in the school, arrived and defended me. She wasn’t fully able to convince the principal but struck a deal which was to let my hair grow for a month and if a different texture appeared, undergrowth as we call it, then I could be suspended or given the appropriate punishment.
Undergrowth checks was also one of the annoyances I endured, especially during University from people that believed I was lying about my hair. The history of the University experience is too long and not for this particular post but I may touch on it some other time.
This post is about the fact that people think I am lucky to have ‘Non-African’ hair texture or ‘Oyibo’ hair as we call it here but this is what you do not know.
Taking care of this hair daily is akin to waking up every morning and being forced to solve a freaking quadratic equation. Did I tell you I have four. yes the number 4, different hair textures on my head? So every day to take care of my hair, I have to solve for w,x,y and z. This is because the textures do not do the same thing or react the same way to water, the weather and products and I’ve had to learn all these along the way.
Oh did I also tell you they do not grow at the same pace? The back hair grows slower, so no matter what I do, it will always appear shorter than the rest. It is also very curly and coily, so it shrinks very well and mostly appears as half of its length.
The hair at the sides grow a wee bit faster than the back. The hair in the middle grows a wee bit faster than the sides and the hair front and center grows twice as fast as the back. No matter how I cut it or shape it to look even, give it a month and voila! it is back to being uneven.
I have also learnt to apply product differently because one part of the hair absorbs well and the other doesn’t. If I do not do this then parts of my head will look soaking wet while some other parts will look extremely dry.
People always tell me to be grateful that I do not have to deal with relaxers but I personally feel what I have to deal with is its own challenge. I am however grateful not because I fell specially endowed but because I see my entire life as a gift. My heritage, my nationality, my physical appearance, my mental health, my creative abilities, my perspectives; all that is uniquely mine is uniquely mine and I refuse to have it any other way.
As for my hair, I am learning daily to work with it and make it… almost do what I want.
For example when I want it to look short and shrunken, I do not put any product at all.
When I want it a little bit longer and the curls to loosen up, I know just the right amount of product to put.
But most times I just braid it up because I do not want to deal with it for a while; even mathematicians need a holiday.
Other times when I am bored and feeling some Aaliyah vibes, I use it to play around.
Its hair, it shouldn’t be so serious but God forbid I should tell you how to feel about yours.
Who else has more then one texture? Let me know, for I am sure we are many; just stop paying attention to the prototype, study your own hair and you may just be pleasantly surprised.