The natural hair movement has become somewhat of a widespread phenomenon all over the world now with afro-haired women being advocates for change as they embrace their kinky curls, which as a result has led to greater social acceptance towards wearing kinky hair in its natural state. With this change, many false perceptions of what it means to be ‘a natural’ have been tackled. I recall a time growing up in Kenya where having your natural hair in its’ natural state would suggest that you are either ill, on drugs or unkempt. It is refreshing to see how a majority have moved on from those misconceptions, adopting a wider acceptance for kinky afro hair, however, I am very aware that this is still an issue in some work and school environments.
I have been on this natural hair journey for a while now and the one thing that hasn’t changed is the fact that I’m still learning new things about my hair, which quickly dissipates any lingering feelings of monotony. However, a thought did occur to me the other day as I was going through the motions of wash day; how strange for me as a 20 odd African woman to still feel like a novice when it comes to looking after my own natural hair, a notion I suspect a lot of naturals have grappled with at one time or another. It made me wonder whether I would feel less inexperienced, or more so, less overwhelmed initially by the concept of ‘going natural’ if having my hair in its’ natural state would have been socially acceptable from the word go. If natural hair was socially accepted as I was growing up, I can only assume that having 20 odd years of experience of looking after it would have left me feeling better acquainted with it. I would have grown up in a world where having natural hair would be less of a phenomenon and more of a ‘NORMALITY’ because it wouldn’t be different to anyone else growing up with their natural hair. My reality was different. In the 70s as my mum was growing up afro hair was part and parcel of the day and age but in the 80s that quickly became a thing of the past as media and the hair industry became saturated with the idea that straight hair, whether relaxed or flat ironed was better than natural hair in its kinky state.
I have come across a lot of women who are daunted by the thought of going natural, and often feel as though being a natural haired woman is more of a mammoth task; one to be taken up by women who either have a lot of free time on their hands or just have a lot of nerve. But why should it be either? Though I still feel like a newbie at this natural hair gig, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. New is… innovative, fresh and exciting, and it also keeps you on your toes. Through the highs and lows of trying to figure out ways of working with my natural hair, I unwittingly discovered a new sense of self-acceptance.
We live in day and age where our self-perception is constantly being bombarded by all forms of media that suggest we need to look a certain way to be accepted by others whether it’s from what we have or look like; and in that process, we lose sight of who we really are. As a mother and an east African woman, I feel a great sense of responsibility to be an example to my daughter as I pass down the baton of self-acceptance, whether that’s through embracing my natural kinky hair or just teaching her that real beauty comes from within.
I would like her to grow up knowing that she is unique and beautiful and that there will possibly be times she will experience stubborn tangles and knots with her hair, but that doesn’t mean that her hair is ‘bad’ but that she like many other women, who are with or without afro hair, is simply experiencing a normal ‘bad hair day’.
Rediscovering and embracing elements of who you are is empowering. As a woman finding new ways to love and embrace your natural God given beauty is something of great value and something that no amount of makeup, hair dye or relaxer can substitute. Don’t get me wrong I am no purist, there are days that I like to splash on a bit of makeup because I feel like it. The issue is having an idea so extreme that it creates the need to deny who we are or what we are born with in order to fit in, which inevitably only cultivates a low self-esteem.
So as I stand in front of the mirror and fight to detangle my natural hair, stubbornly refusing to give in to the relaxer I once knew so well; as I choose to learn and adapt to different ways of working with my kinky hair rather than against it, I feel as though I’m winning. There’s so much more to being a ‘natural’ than meets the eye. For me, it’s somewhat become a backhanded way of rising up against years of oppressive notions and misconceptions that afro hair should look a certain way for it to be socially acceptable. It is learning to embrace and accept a part of who I am without feeling the need to let it define me, after-all we are more than just our hair. It’s knowing that if it doesn’t work out and my hair still looks crazy after invested hours of conditioning and deep treatments, it’s learning to laugh it off and trying again another day and not getting too hung up on it.
Here in lies the secret to being a natural, it’s all about learning to work with it rather than against it. Eventually, years of experience can only certify us as experts of our own hair.
With Luv xx