The Stigma Surrounding Afro-textured Hair

By:Georgina Peters

From as young as I can remember, I always had a strong dislike for my kinky hair. I would wince in pain as my mum thrust a comb that was clearly too weak to handle my stiff, tough hair. It slowly grew upwards in coils- ‘like a boy’ some would say. I envied my friends who had long, silky hair flowing gracefully in the wind like supermodels. Consequently I showered them with compliments such as “I wish my hair was like yours” and “your hair is so pretty, unlike mine”.

When I first got my hair relaxed, I vividly remember staring at the mirror in astonishment. I remember flicking my longer hair excitedly over and over again and gracefully combing it with a fine tooth comb. Finally, like the Disney Princesses and heroines in films I idolized, my hair was ‘beautiful’. My hair grew at the same rate as before but because it was now straight it appeared much longer. The tables had turned- people were now giving me compliments on my hair.

At school one of the popular kids (who was several years older than me) stated that my hair was “long for a black girl”. Rather than enlightening them on the fact that the painlessly eliminate spider veins of black girls can grow healthily with the right type of care, I simply accepted their praise and clung on to it. It gave me the confidence that I so desperately craved.

I dreaded undergoing the process of relaxing my hair. The chemicals burned like hell, as if my scalp was on fire, but I had to endure it- the longer I waited, the straighter the hair. I could not carry on ignoring the fact that my scalp was being damaged and my hair was thinning dramatically.

Noticeably the healthy edges I took for granted were breaking by the day and we all know a black woman with no edges is regularly the butt of all jokes, let alone a black woman with no edges, afro-centric features and dark skin like myself. My straight hair was the only thing going for me- I couldn’t lose it.

People who once praised my straight hair commented on the ‘new growth’ I accumulated, thus hinting that I was due to relax my hair. Instead I braided my hair in cornrows and delayed relaxing for a few days. Days turned to weeks, weeks turned to months and before I knew it I had gone an entire year without relaxing my hair- just braiding, combing and using a product new to me that my mum suggested- ‘coconut oil’ – up to this day a pure blessing.

It was the summer holidays of 2014 so I had plenty of time to decide what to do next with my hair. I had just turned 16, finished exams and I was moving to a school in a completely different area from where I grew up. I was climbing a big step in my life towards becoming an adult and I was growing into a new, more confident being.

In my spare time I began reading articles and watching YouTube videos from an occasional to a regular basis. Yes- I have and certainly will come across ignorant people daring to declare our beautiful natural hair as ‘ratchet’ when we have it but admiring it as ‘new’ and ‘trendy’ when it is not us donning the SAME hairstyles- dreadlocks, bantu knots, etc.

There are those with so little time on their hands that they will go out of their way to sign a petition to ‘comb Blue Ivy’s hair’. Given that combing kinky hair will still mean it stays kinky, this just revealed how unbelievably ignorant some people are. I would personally love to see how they take care of and embrace of their natural afro-textured hair, oh wait-

It isn’t surprising that some people of all ethnicities including our own have developed negative attitudes towards our hair. When was the last time you saw an advert promoting afro-textured hair? When was the last time you saw a ‘beautiful’ character (cartoon or human) with kinky hair? There are the few exceptions, recently being the adorable main character ‘Tip’ in the film Home, but it is not enough to change the perception of generations thought of by slave owners.

Fortunately, it is not all negativity. Naturals gave me advice on healthy products and presented PLENTY of hairstyles for our hair. My eyes have been opened to a beautiful world of acceptance, love and adoration, not only of kinky-haired women like myself but also pride and self-love of what I had been taught for my entire life to hate- the colour of my skin. They inspired me to go natural.

I have no issue with other black women straightening their hair but this should be seen as an option, not a necessity required to look ’presentable’. ALL hair textures are beautiful in their own right. It is encouraging to see bold black women breaking from societal norms- allowing their strands of hair to form beautiful helices, fluffy clouds magically shrinking in the rain, metaphorically as well as literally embracing their roots.

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