My very earliest memory of my hair was around 3. My mother was in hospital about to pop out my brother. My father and I were about to leave to see them. I was nearly out the door with excitement – this was the auspicious day I got to sit in the front seat of my dad’s yellow VW beetle. This chance wasn’t going to come by again in my life. Especially now that I apparently also had a brother to contend with.
My father called me back. He had a brush in his right hand. And a tub of red Brylcreem in his left. I knew this wasn’t going to end well. I obediently sat on the floor between his knees and then it started. First he undid the bobbles and ribbons in my hair. I was sure my hair was lifting from my scalp in patches. “What have I done to deserve this?” I thought to myself, racking my brain. Then the first stroke & the brush went flying across the room. And I wish I could tell you that it ended there. When we got to the hospital I climbed onto the bed and threw my chubby little arms around my mother. And instinctively she responded, “its ok, I still love you, you’re going meet your brother soon.” And to this day, little does she know…
My 1st day at crèche (I have always and still believe there is no such thing as being overdressed!). And then later at primary school – notice I’d been well trained through the years to purse my mouth closed for pictures as I’d lost all my front teeth in true Capetonian style!
All dressed up for Eid – this was my morning dress (yes I had 2 dresses!). Two ponytails in ribbons was obviously my signature look! My (notorious) brother, my Barbie and I playing house one Saturday morning.
I spent my teen years wondering why I was the only one in my family without “good” hair. It felt like the ultimate punishment no matter which way I looked at it & no matter what anyone said.
I loathed my hair.
The strategy I adopted as a result was to keep my long, thick, unruly (and beautiful in retrospect of course) hair long. The length ensured I could keep it twisted & wrapped it up in a low bun – out of sight at least. A sad look for a teen, agreed. I would do anything and everything possible to have it look decent, to have “good” hair. And that, in my world meant straight hair.
I was only allowed to professionally chemically straighten my hair at the age of 16 – my mom took me to our neighbourhood salon, Hair Studio in Cape Town – still my favourite when I’m home. And thats how I got hooked on Ladine for the next 14 years. I was in standard 9 (that’s grade 11 if you were born in the 90’s) & it was my crown birthday gift from my mom – I was excited for weeks! It also happened to be Ramadaan and I was having a few friends from school over for boeka (i.e. to break fast or iftaar if you’re from Jhb), so while I was keen to show off my new long awaited sleek hair, my mom also reminded me that she’d only agree to this if I agreed to wear a scarf all day! *sigh*
Perhaps the only upside to this experience at 16 is that from then on I quickly understood that my hair needed special care and I couldn’t continue with the retail ranges I had been using. I really had tried everything from Pantene to Black Like Me and nothing worked – I always looked like I had a bad case of dandruff just an hour after I’d laboured to wash and dry my hair. So at 16 I started scrapping my donkies together to be able to buy Kerestase and professional salon brands and I really believe it’s the best thing I’ve ever done for my hair for the last 14+ years.
The struggle continued into my 20’s. I’m slightly embarrassed to say that I wore my hair in the same style, a bob at (though at various lengths) for the last 10 years. Once student life was over I was even more committed to whipping my hair into submission. The straighter the better. I was often complimented on my hair, but I didn’t really hear any of it. Instead, “God please don’t let it rain today” was my daily prayer. Over the years I’ve exhausted thousands of rands and I’m sure I’ve spent weeks and months of my life in a salon to date – I’d rather not do the math. In terms of styling I started off with rollers (i.e. curlers – my mom & I would do each others hair) along with a hood hair dryer (as taught by my mom) and eventually graduated to a GHD (God, I loved my GHD!). Once I started working, price really didn’t matter. Well mostly.
When you’re a Black woman, your hair is such integral part of your being. Yes, I’m Coloured but my hair, is more Black than anything else. I still recall my first attempt at a salon visit on day 2 of having moved up to Jhb from Cape Town in 2004 – my stuff hadn’t arrived yet, so I couldn’t do my own hair. I was just 21 and I lived off Rivonia road. Scared to venture too far (this was pre-GPS years), I walked into a salon at Village Walk to ask what a blow dry would cost. One look at my hair and the old White lady behind the counter replied “sorry we don’t do ethnic hair here try X salon down the road”. I didn’t hear the end of her sentence. I left shocked, speechless. And I’m still unsure what I would do if I relived that moment.
There are many things people who don’t have ethnic hair don’t understand. We don’t like having our hair touched. If it’s raining or even misty, we’re not going to volunteer to do something outdoors. We sleep with a doek (of sorts). No, its not sexy but it’s necessary so don’t stare. We never leave a salon with a bill under R1000 – and that doesn’t include anything fancy like colour or highlights. We don’t wash our hair every single day. We don’t need to & no, it’s not dirty (I’m OCD!). Our hair can take hours to do – and we plan our life around it when needed. Our men know this.
Here are some of my hair battles over the last years. I really have tried everything except a weave & braids:
I’ve always yearned to have natural curls. Once you start relaxing, I’ve eventually learnt, that’s impossible as you’ve chemically altered the makeup of your hair. Forever. I tried to do curls naturally (on my relaxed hair) and my hair would be a bit curly when wet (left pic above), but went straight (and bushy!) as soon as it dried. GHD curls were gorgeous (right pic above), but no matter how much I tried (yes I did watch the DVD) I couldn’t get this look at home and salon visits were fine for occasions but not sustainable since I wanted it as an everyday look.
I’ve done corn rows twice and quite liked the look. Learned a good lesson not to do it in Winter though. I never realised how much warmth hair gives our head, brrr! I couldn’t keep this in very long as I felt I couldn’t wash my hair properly with it in (again, OCD tendancies), so it stayed for a week max. I would definitely do this again. Also, it didn’t take too long to do, about an hour.
One of my more recent experiments – a fringe. Totally impractical if you have special-needs hair like mine. I liked it but couldn’t maintain it. Lasted a day. Literally.
I love long hair on a woman (I have a particular weakness for brunettes) and I vowed to myself that I would grow mine out for my wedding last year – I wanted a chignon bun. Obviously despite the best TLC (treatments, vitamins and reluctant trims) for almost 2 years, my hair didn’t co operate and pretty much stayed at bob length. Luckily Adiel at Hair Studio had a plan up his sleeve and gave me a piece to wear that looked really natural.
I knew I needed a drastic change in my hair for at least the last 3 years. Someone once asked me what my real hair looked like. I tried to explain but not far in I was kinda stumped. My explanation obviously wasn’t cutting it so she said I should rather show her a picture. I didn’t have one. And that really hit home for me.
So this idea started brewing at the back of my head and eventually bubbled over. I tried so many things and asked whoever’d listen for their advice (love you guys!). Over time I put all those ideas, thoughts and advice in a pot and stirred and the idea that served me most was quite simply that I needed to be kinder to my hair. And to do that sincerely and well I needed to start over.
On the 12th of February 2012 terrified, I took the leap. I walked in the first salon, which happened to be Bijan and told the hairdresser, Rocco to take it all off.
“I really wouldn’t recommend that for your hair ma’am” Rocco replied. I smiled and told him it was ok, I’d thought about it lots and I was sure.
“But have you tried a Brazilian treatment etc. etc.” he said.
I was sure, that didn’t mean I wasn’t scared. Rocco cut the front a bit longer on the one side and gave me a bit of a funky fringe. It’s alot more rock star than I am, but yes I love the look. I wasn’t sure I would. I walked out of the salon that day a different woman, reminded of all the clichés – that life is short and if you don’t try you’ll never ever, know and that is definitely worse than the risk of failing. The only regret I have now is that I didn’t do it 3 years ago.
While I’m not criticizing relaxers and GHD’s etc (after all they served me well!) I needed to look deeper into the motivation behind what I was doing. For me those tools helped me cover up what I didn’t like about myself, so that hopefully the world could see something else, something I thought would be more desirable. With every relaxer I hoped that my hair would be straighter than ever & that my regrowth would be slow. In Chris Rock’s words, for me, “it was time to get off the creamy crack!”. Maybe it’s my quarter life crises talking (I did just turn 30!) but I’m at a point where I’m ready to say “hey this is who I am, this is the real me the way God put me on earth and I’m happy with the job he did”.
No doubt I’m still growing into my hair and as it gets longer its more and more work, but it’s my hair and I’m so loving my fro!
I’d love to know which of these looks you liked best on me and what your battles have been. I know I’m not alone in this and it certainly doesn’t end here!
Be kind to your hair….
To catch on my hair’s progress to date and other hair related stories, click here.