HAIR is simply keratinized proteins hanging from our skull.
But to women it’s an accessory, a beauty routine, a part of who we are.
Women have a strange and special relationship with their hair and for African women, that relationship is even more complex. One day it’s shaved, the next long and straight. From braids to weaves, relaxers to wigs, it’s a plethora of wild options that all offer completely new looks.
I was born in Nigeria where varied hair styles (just like bold colourful head-dresses) are a source of pride for most women. Our family moved to Canada when I was two years old and to Winnipeg when I was four years.
My hair is naturally very curly, but I remember loving all the straight hair here when I was young and eventually gave in and began relaxing my hair (a chemical process to make curly hair straight which is anything BUT relaxing!). For years I relaxed it every four to six weeks and suffered the scalp burns, brittle ends and styling products it took to get hair that would move in the wind … even if the hair all moved as a unit and not all flowy like on Pantene commercials!
Just over a year ago I decided to grow my natural hair again and it was the best hair decision I’ve made. Before you start the pats on the back, let me admit that the real reason for my hair change was less an expression of my heritage and more of vanity.
I noticed grey hair and gave myself an ultimatum: learn to love greying straight hair or stop relaxing it so your natural curls can eventually be dyed. I chose the latter and am still anticipating my very first hair dye job!
The journey from straight to curly hair forced me to seriously think about who I am. That may sound melodramatic, but it’s true. Growing out relaxer was an experiment in ugly!
There were four distinct stages for me:
Stage 1: Afro in Disguise
This is when the new growth (curly hair growing in at the roots) is not being chemically treated, but is still short enough for me to disguise it with a blow dryer and flat iron. My hair had more "body" at this stage but still generally looked straight.
Comments: "Aisha, I never noticed how tall you were."
Stage 2: Washed Up ’80s Rocker
This is when the new growth has turned into a mini under-fro and is impossible to disguise any longer. I stopped blow-drying it because it was impossible to get through the underbrush!
I had definite curls but the ends were droopy, dried up relaxed bits that had seen their prime months ago.
Comments: "You’re growing out your hair? Hang in there giiiirl."
Stage 3: The Wild Afro
This stage is when most of the hair is curly but there are some wild straight bits on the end. They are too short to fit in so they stick straight out all over the place in strange directions.
Comments: "It must take so long for you to straighten JUST the ends of your hair like that."
Stage 4: A Glorious Fro!
This is the stage I’m in right now.
All the previously relaxed bits have been cut off, the curls are defined and wonderful. I no longer have a need for a brush and only comb it in the shower.
Comments: "I love your hair! Can I touch it?"
So here’s the story: this fro was a journey, a process, a labour of love!
Although growing it out was not hard work in itself, enduring the stages surely was! My fro is out-of-this-world fantastic but it’s also a part of me (as in it’s still attached to me, people!) When you see me in the streets do not mistake its awesomeness as an invitation to give it a grope! I’ve worked long and hard on this fro, so please don’t mess with it! Admire it, tell me how much you love it, ask about it, but do not (I repeat DO NOT) walk up behind me and randomly touch my hair unless you want to test your ninja abilities.
See video below.