“How did you get your hair like that?”
Maybe you’ve asked this question before. Or maybe you’ve been on the receiving end of this question and many others that you’ve become all too familiar with.
I see my African sisters nodding. The struggle is real.
On top of living our lives just like the next person, we’re endlessly inundated with questions about our hair, skin and all the things that are normal to us but unfamiliar to the world that surrounds us.
Some days, it’s like sitting in a darkened interrogation room with an unforgiving fluorescent light in your face and no way to escape. Other times, it’s like being swarmed with a flurry of journalists on the very day you don’t want to be seen.
It’s not all bad. I’ll admit, as a writer, I’m taking creative licence to invite you into the exaggerated responses that exist in my mind. After all, you’re still reading, right?
As much as I appreciate your interest in the journey that is my hair, I want you to understand this:
You’re not the first person to ask me that question and you won’t be the last.
So, to save you having to ask and me having to answer, I’ve compiled frequently asked questions I’ve received over the years.
To all my dark-skinned female friends — I see you and I hear you, you can thank me later.
Some may make you chuckle quietly to yourself, others…not so much. I’m here to tell the truth and nothing but the truth.
Stick with it and I assure you it’ll be worth it. I even did you a favour by sorting the questions into categories…
“How do you get the braids in? Is it your own hair? How long does it take?”
Ah! So many consecutive questions. What introvert doesn’t love to be flooded with an inquisition? Not this one! Please, give me some space (physical and mental) to give you the answers you need.
To answer your 3-in-1 question:
a) They’re fastened from the root of my hair using a twist or tie method
b) No, extensions are added to my hair
c) It varies (3–5 hours) depending on the number of braids, length and the braider
A bonus tip, pretty please don’t mistake my braids for dreads!
“How does your hair stay where you put it and not fall out?”
While your hair might be straight, smooth and silky, my hair is anything but. It’s a beautiful blend of curl, frizz, dryness and high density. These glorious characteristics create the perfect conditions to style and stay. That hair is not going anywhere unless I wet it or sleep on it!
“Why don’t you wear your hair in a ‘fro all the time?”
My curious friend, the ‘fro doesn’t come as easy as it seems. These are no dreads — it’s not a set and forget style. The ‘fro requires work! Between weekly deep conditioning, daily moisturising and nightly twisting, this look takes at least 6 hours a week to pull off well! A black woman doesn’t mess around when it comes to her hair.
I won’t even get started on the limited acceptance of the ‘fro in the workplace, especially in a corporate environment where there’s an expectation to look a certain way.
“Why does your hairstyle change so often?”
See my previous point. Not only does afro hair need to be nurtured, it also needs to be protected. To protect my fragile hair from breakage, I put it up into what we call protective hairstyles. This includes things like braids, cornrows, twists, wigs and weaves.
Why switch between these styles so often? Because it gets messy and needs to be done. No black woman wants to walk around with her hair looking unkempt if she has the power to do something about it!
“Can I touch it?”
No. Just no.
It’s hard enough not to constantly touch my own hair to preserve its length, let alone having to slap your hand away, too.
“How is your skin so smooth?”
My mama raised me to moisturise daily from head to toe because “nobody wants to see my ashy skin”. Almost every black person will give you this same reason. Moisturizing is a way of life for us.
To let you in on the lingo, “ashy” is what us dark-skinned folk call dry skin because it looks so flaky and uncharacteristically white. Why “ashy” when ashes are black in colour? I don’t know the origin of the slang. Please, stop asking me so many questions.
“Do you get sunburnt?”
Can I? Yes. Do I? No. I would probably have to spend 5 times as long in the sun than my fellow white friend to get sunburnt. But you won’t catch me doing that. You know why? Read my answer to the next question to find out.
“You’re so lucky you have dark skin and don’t need to tan. Wait, do you tan?”
Why yes, I do tan. And it seems to happen at the speed of light. Watch me walk to the mailbox out the front of my house and catch a tan on the way back. I’m not exaggerating! Ok, maybe a little.
The bottom line is, I tan and FAST. So, I generally like to minimise my time in the sun. If I’m at the beach, you can find me under a very large umbrella, seeking refuge in its shade.
“Can you wear the colour ‘nude’?”
Why yes, I can my friend. Because nude isn’t (and shouldn’t be) identified as a single shade. Nude comes in a spectrum of shades. For as many skin colours there are in this world, there are the same number of shades of “nude”.
Real talk, one thing I’ve found disappointing is the limited (or lack of) availability when it comes to basics such as underwear and stockings that match my skin colour. I can only speak from my experience in Australia but it’s pleasing to see that this is beginning to change.
That’s it. At least, for now.
Why did I just share all this with you? Well, partly due to selfish motive (y’all know that speaking doesn’t appear on my list of favourite things).
Less selfishly, I also do this to enrich the relationship with the black women in your life. Whether she’s a co-worker, business partner, lover or acquaintance, reading this means you’ll be on the receiving end of fewer eye-rolls and death stares.
That’s right, the last 4 minutes of your life were a worthwhile investment. I hope you yield a fruitful ROI.