Image of a woman with afro hair taken from behind with hands up against the wall.
Photo by Jacob Prose from Pexels

I am not my hair.

A profound statement, isn’t it?

A statement of liberation. A reminder that you’re not defined by your hair or by any feature of your physical appearance.

Yet, we tend to forget as we live each day, falling in step with someone else’s standard of beauty. I know I do.

Or at least, I did. Especially when it came to my hair.

For centuries, society has perceived a woman’s hair to be her “crowning glory”. Many have judged her overall appearance by the state of her hair.

This presents a dilemma for the black woman. Many have been dealt with hair that defies the widely held beauty standard. You won’t find any straight, silky tresses growing out of my scalp!

When wearing our hair in its most natural state, we get the looks. Looks of disdain, fascination, shock, repulsion and amusement. On the odd occasion, a look of desire or attraction.

We take it in our stride, with our heads held high. Why? Because it’s the only way. How? Because we face it every day.

We also like to change things up, keep you on your toes. For a black woman, her hair is more than something to make her look or feel beautiful. It’s a statement. It’s a personal preference. It’s a matter of convenience.

Still not getting it? Let me take you on the journey I’ve walked with my hair through what I call “The Afro Hair Diaries”.

Photo by Zen Chung from Pexels

Dear diary,

2 December 1995 [Feelin’ myself]

Mummy just braided my hair for the first time! She made it short, like a bob. I think I look cute in my new hairstyle and I can’t wait to show my friends! It feels tight and my head hurts but I don’t care because I look so pretty. I’m going to go now and take photos of me with my braids.

4 January 2003 [New hair, who dis?]

My hair is straight! I never thought the day would come. I’ve been begging mummy for almost two years and it’s finally relaxed! I now have straight hair just like my friends. I can now put my hair in different styles all by myself. Maybe it’ll behave a lot more now and do what I tell it to do.

The only thing is, the relaxer made my scalp burn and I noticed a bit of hair go down the drain as it was rinsed out. That’s ok, it’s so worth it!

5 December 2005 [Wearing someone else’s crown]

I’m so excited! I’m in Nigeria for my cousin’s wedding and I get to be a bridesmaid! So that all the bridesmaids are wearing the same hairstyle, I got a weave done to match the others. It wouldn’t be my first choice (my scalp can hardly breathe!) but it’s nice to have more “hair” to play with. Plus, I look amazing in photos ;)

18 November 2008 [Never again]

My school formal is coming up in a few days. I bought the dress and shoes (the easy part) and finally had to figure out my hair (the hard part). I decided to get a weave done for the second time in my life and now I regret it.

Firstly, I chose the hair in a shade of brown that isn’t my colour (black always wins). Secondly, I opted for a fringe. A fringe! It’s not the worst look but it’s too manufactured for my taste. Most importantly, it’s itchy. I know nobody around me wants to see me scratch my head like I have an infestation of lice up there.

The day after the formal, I’m taking this weave out so my scalp can taste freedom again!

15 March 2013 […and we’re blending…]

So I’ve been in my corporate job for over a year now and I’ve developed a noticeable pattern in my go-to hairstyles: braids, relaxed hair in a bun, braids, relaxed hair in a bun, braids…you see where I’m going. There’s no variety! Why? Because I feel there’s no room for it in the corporate world.

People still view braids as a foreign concept, finding them “fascinating” or calling them “dreads”. They couldn’t handle a shake-up like cornrows. It’d probably be labeled as being too “thug-like” for the office.

My braids have been in for almost two months now, it’s about time I took them out. I wonder what style I should do next? I know, say it with me — relaxed hair in a bun. That’s it.

23 December 2018 [Symptoms say hello]

I think my hairline is receding. I’m not even kidding. I’m not a 50-year-old man with a genetic predisposition to a receding hairline, so why is this happening?! What’s more, the hair all over my head seems to be wasting away, becoming wafer-thin. What was once a ponytail as thick as my fist is now thinner than my wrist.

I don’t understand, I’m not stressed (no more than usual), I eat well (somewhat), and I take care of my tresses (most of the time). On second thought, maybe this has something to do with that diagnosis…

30 April 2020 [Stepping into my own]

I’m going natural! I’ve been told that my environment plus what I consume can contribute to my healing journey. This includes what I put in my hair. So guess what I’m doing for the first time in 17 years? I’m saying goodbye to the relaxer! And the hair dye. No harsh chemicals will touch these tresses, indefinitely.

And so begins my journey towards embracing my natural hair. No big chop here though (I’m not brave enough), I’ll transition my hair by growing it out.

22 September 2020 [Goodbyes are hard]

Remember when I decided not to do the big chop? Well, as it turns out, that decision was out of my hands. This disease decided for me. Today, after a routine wash, I said goodbye to most of my hair. My doctor told me this would happen but I thought “surely not me”. I was wrong.

I’m still processing it, may take me a while to accept this change. Excuse me as I retreat to my bedroom to shed a few more tears. I need to grieve this loss…

6 November 2020 [Putting on a new crown]

I feel like a new me! After weeks of endless scrolling through Pinspiration (to clarify, I mean Pinterest) to help me embrace my new hair length, I got it professionally cut. Granted, there wasn’t much to cut, but I took that next step. I’m so proud of myself!

So here I am, with my pixie tapered cut. Curls and all. I promise to wear it proudly. To welcome this change as I step into something new.

Thanks for holding my thoughts,

Oyelola

Freelance Writer — Phrased with Purpose I write to share my story, your story, our stories, with the world. Website: phrasedwithpurpose.com.au

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