It happened again! That thing … that moment when I stand staring at the mirror wondering what to do with my thick mane of natural kinky hair. Then I begin to hear temptation whispering (in a male voice), “relax the thing massa” or “just cut am noh.” No way! It’s been an arduous but interesting 4-year adventure.
I went natural when Chimamanda’s “Americanah” came into my life. Unlike with her other works, we clicked at once. We bonded like two Pandora creatures connecting their queues. And sometimes, I still read my favorite chapters over and over again. Ok! I’m beginning to sound like a high schooler gisting her crew about her first crush.
As I was saying, “Americanah’s plot is interwoven with the dynamics of hair and identity which got me rethinking how I looked at hair beauty standards. Ifemelu’s (the main character) hair journey is kind of a spiritual one and I tagged along with her as I read the book for the first time. By the time I read the last sentence I had caught the virus and joined the “nappturality” movement. However, the beauty industry doesn’t provide a lot of products that help care for and manage kinky hair especially the types 4b and c. And the few good products available don’t come cheap. And this explains why many converts like my friend, Taty, give up and go back to chemical relaxers.
Ok! Let’s go back to where I trailed off. I finally decided to go to the salon and get some twist braids. There, I meet an interesting trio of ladies talking about the things women talk about when they’re out of male earshot. Somehow the conversation veers towards 8th of March preps. They haven’t been able to get the fabric yet but they’re certain they will. One has got a rich boyfriend who always gets it for her. The other says her aunt who always has enough to clothe a village meeting given to her for free. The irony of it all: while the peasant rural woman has to save up and queue up to get what I always jokingly term the hypnotic fabric, boss ladies have it given to them (Smh).
Next on the prep list is hair. They’re all unanimous about wearing their Brazilian hair extensions. What catches my attention is the reason for their choice. The chubby one is able to convince her friends that even though natural hair is the new thing, Brazilian weave has still got more class. Everyone can afford to go natural but not everyone can afford an expensive weave. Oh! I now understand all the eye-rolling some minutes back; I told one of them who asked to know what I’ll do with my hair that the braids I was getting were going to last through to the end of the month.
These are black women dissing their hair, dissing themselves and celebrating hair extensions. So which woman are they going out to celebrate? I don’t want to go into the scheming and shenanigans that are sometimes involved in the quest to acquire one of these.
Well, who can blame us for following standards that have been sold to us and rammed down our throats for generations? One could argue that it isn’t more than just the aesthetics; nothing revolutionary or ideological and there’s no need to be so serious about this whole hair thing. But can we completely disassociate ourselves from our hair? I’d be damned if I got up one day to see le grand Manu with an afro or Asa with a sleek bun!
Well, we could all just join India Arie to sing “I am not my hair.” But then again we are all millennials and everyone has got the right to wear their hair the way they want. So however
you decide to wear yours on the 8th of March (for those who celebrate) ask yourself what you are celebrating. Ask yourself what defines you as a woman. Ask yourself if you want to fit in, make a statement or just be you. Ask yourself what change you can bring to the table. What happened to going down to the grassroots to organise workshops to educate and empower women.
How many of these women so eager to go out and March and show off their weaves even know the theme? Can we blame them? We shouldn’t trivialize the day by reducing it to looking stunning, la fête a la Camerounaise…manger, boire , danser et soulever. This should be a time for introspection.
And for your month of March read, I recommend Chimamanda Ngozi’s Americanah.