From age 13 I started wearing my hair straight. But before that my mother always kept my hair in braids, after my wash-day the Sunday before a school week she would section, lather my hair in Luster’s Pink Moisturizing Hair Lotion, detangle and braid. I don’t remember the exact moment I decided to wear my hair straight, but I remember waking up every day at 6am to straighten out my ‘fuzzies’, if it had rained, was particularly humid or I had ran around the school playground all lunch my hair would end up ‘fuzzed out’. That’s what me and my sister would call our hair when it was returning back to its natural state.
My mother never let me chemically relax my hair and to this day I am forever grateful to her. But as a pre-teen who wanted the silky straight hair advertised on those boxes I was furious. Even though friends and family would comment on my being self-conscious about something that was an inherent part of me. I still felt frustrated with my hair, but you couldn’t explain anything o me then.
As a Muslim I already had my own issues with even showing my hair in the first place. My mother would snap cute pictures of me in a headscarf as a baby and it was a part of me to identify as a Muslim woman before I even knew my own name. Today I smile at those pictures and see how they were fun and just playing dress up for my mother. As her first daughter I had my ears pierced at 2 weeks old, more pink dresses and bonnets to match than there were days in a month. She would dress me in her jewelry and bought me a little gold necklace with my name on it before I could even walk properly. For my mother it was a way of keeping part of her culture alive. The headscarf was under the same principle.
But it wasnt just about my hair, it was about my skin, I hated how my knees, knuckles and elbows were darker than the rest of my body, I hated how my lips were darker than my face. As a person of mixed heritage I was confused and entering a dangerous place, I couldn’t stand to look at myself. My thoughts turned dark like a disease disseminating my body. I didn’t know what I wanted to look like, just not like I did. I couldn’t speak to my friends or my family about how I felt. Deep down I knew how I felt was wrong, and having younger sisters who looked up to everything I did made the feeling of guilt worse. I never wanted them to feel how I did, but knew my self-hate was infectious. And soon my sisters started showing symptoms. But people get familiar with what they subject themselves to and used to the ‘normalcy’ of it all and change is difficult.
May 2019 I decided to go natural, after my younger sister did. I could see her confidence in herself and her assertiveness with people who were distracted and overly-curious by her beautiful hair. It was inspirational, I never though I would learn such a hard lesson in self-love through her. She had mastered the art of not giving a f*ck, she never questioned herself. Everyday I still admire this about her.
5 months later, September 2019 I finally did my big chop at 3thirty Salon on Old St, Hackney. When I finally saw my hair shorter than it had ever been in my life I could have almost cried. But at a closer look I had shiny, juicy locks of hair and then I really did cry. It wasn’t the me I was used to, for years looking in the mirror I thought I knew who I was. Up until that moment… Here I was looking at myself and it was me. I felt beautiful. My nose made sense, my eyes made sense, my skin colour made sense. I wasn’t the girl I was trying to be, I was the girl I already was. Finally being confronted with her I was overwhelmed with guilt and sadness then quickly followed relief.
I am not my hair, but my hair is a part of me. I don’t believe that I could have ever felt that level of self-love without going through the natural hair journey. Walking around with natural hair with damaged straight ends for months takes a serious level of commitment!
Then enters the stumbling block of walking into white spaces as your natural self. There are many spaces that are still disappointing in their lack of diversity and representation of natural women. For example on November 2017 Lupita Nyong’o graced the covers of Grazia UK. Only to discover that the cover was issued with her hair edited and smoothed out. Lupita said this was; “…to fit a more Eurocentric notion of what beautiful hair looks like.” Ending with the hashtag #dtmh.
The photographer has since apologised. But this is the reality of what representation should look through white eyes. There are restrictions we face in what is acceptable of our own natural features daily. Every indiscretion should be called out for what it is, ironically the interferences we face have only propelled the natural hair movement even further. Every strand of natural hair has a journey and its own history, so put some respect on it! #dtmh