First published December 2012
Braids – they wouldn’t have been my first choice for a new look but it’s for an acting role and to be fair, I’d forgotten how much I love this gorgeous and protective hair style. As it’s been a hot minute since I last had braids, it’s also made me reminisce on my hair journey, which has been quite a ride – from denial, battles and burns through important lessons, acceptance and finally to love.
Thing is, I’ve got a lot of hair. Though the strands are finer than they used to be, I’ve always had A LOT of barnet to contend with.
When I was a kid I hated it. Every style felt like a battle into submission. Hair plaiting was an evening ritual I did not relish. I’d sit on the living room floor, head buried in my mum’s skirt as she put in African threading or cornrows while I craned to watch The Muppet Show.
Aside from a little interlude where mum decided to cut my hair short and experiment with using a hot comb, this weekly battle went on well into my tweens. However, by the time I hit secondary school, the hot topic was: who was getting their hair relaxed and when?
Relaxing meant getting one’s hair permanently straightened using chemicals and therefore entering the hallowed territory of having so called ‘manageable hair’.
Such was the conditioning around European standards of beauty that it didn’t occur to any of us that our own natural locks were beautiful.
Long, silky, run-your-fingers-though hair was considered most desirable while our gravity-defying kinky, coily texture was thought of as difficult, unmanageable and weak. At that time the only way for us black girls to experience long, ‘swishy’ hair was to have artificial hair braided in as extensions.
My mum tried her hand at it, even adding a few Stevie-Wonder-inspired beads. Top marks for effort but with my wispy afro protruding out of her bumpy plaits, I looked crazy. But you know what, I loved it. Why? Because the weight of the beads made my hair “swingy” like European hair. For this, I was willing to ignore the constant clatter of beads in my ears.
But soon the day came when I, like my school friends was allowed to get my hair relaxed. I stepped into the hairdressers, 14, self-conscious and very, very nervous. I’d never been in one before.
The stylist applied the relaxing cream but within minutes the tingling began and shortly after, the pain. It felt like my brain was on fire. After ten minutes of squirming, I begged her to wash it out.
‘It hasn’t taken properly,’ she told me but I didn’t care. I was on the edge of combustion.
Monday at school and the other girls stared at my half-processed locks ‘What happened to your hair?’
‘I had it relaxed!’ I said proudly and stomped off.
No one was going to deny me my glory even if my head did look like the Australian Outback. What’s a little crispy hair between friends?
And so began the part of the journey I call, Relaxed Tension – where, every six weeks, I’d return to the scene of the crime, the hairdressers, to get my roots re-straightened. And every time it was painful, expensive and worst of all, took hours. At one point my mum and I even started relaxing each other’s hair to save a few quid.
This went on for years. But even though my hair was now ‘manageable’, it felt like I wasn’t the manager. I still struggled to style it as I wanted. All it took was a windy day or misty drizzle to undo what I’d spent hours putting together.
Things began to change however, once I was old enough to pay for my own salon trips. Furthermore, as new products, tools and styles came out, it opened up a whole world of styles for me.
Check out my Hair Today Part 2 Blog – coming up next – to read about my experiments, buzz cuts and of course, the infamous ‘badger’ look!
(Little-Andi had no idea what a hair-journey she had ahead!)