Today I’ve decided that I am going to let my hair down.
I’ve always let it down by using all the chemicals that had created been for our hair types- to make it a little softer, a little straighter,a little more manageable and little bit less of itself. I always tried to pin that one stray curl down, curse it for being rebellious, for it should be obedient and subdued like the rest of the hairs on my head. When all were lying neat and flat then everything was alright with the world. The inventory of hair products in my cupboard ranged from hairbrushes of all sorts to hair sprays and gels, heat straighteners and curling tongs and the ever most important chemical straighteners and relaxer kits. Strangely enough I hardly used any of it because all of that was in the hair salon already and that was my weekly Friday afternoon appointment. I was accustomed to just paying the odd eighty rands every week for the perfect hair, straight and sleek, and in turn saving much time and effort and the embarrassment of a failed blowout.
But please don’t blame my poor little curly head for being this way- for shunning my natural hair for a more western look. You see, I was just trying to fit into society, blend in in the photos of me and my silky-haired friends. You see, this was the message I had been sculpted with all my life, and I was pretty sure it was etched into my innermost being. “Blend in, try not to stand out in the crowd” had been rubber stamped in my mind and that is the same message I had told my hair. It started from a young age, this whole “journey” if I may call it that. At first it was only for special occasions like birthdays, weddings, parties, and special event days at school. My hair was pretty long so my mom would keep it braided just for tidiness and hygiene purposes and also because it was low maintenance, so it saved her some trouble. My mom wasn’t a very fashion conscious woman, she kept her hair very short but don’t get me wrong, she was still stylish as ever. Now when it came to me, I was still very young so I didn’t know or really care much about hair and trending styles. So in primary school I could get a blowout perhaps once a month or something like that. It was the most exciting day but also the 2 hours of my day I dreaded most.
Now, let me inform you, as you may also relate, the same lady has been doing my hair at the salon for just about 20 years now. My mom took me there because that is where she had her hair done and it has never occurred to me until this very moment writing this, but when I was old enough to afford paying for my own treatments, I never changed my choice of salon- I just kind of stayed on because this was what I knew and where I was comfortable. It’s like the family doctor- you build a relationship and to go and find another doctor would mean having to get used to that person again and having to explain all your problematic areas all over again. There was definite value in staying with Aunty V- that’s what I called her- my hair doctor.
As the years went by and I grew older, I could go more often. By then I was used to the stiff neck from lying back onto the cold, thin rim of the wash basin. I was also used to the thirty prickly hair curlers digging into my scalp, used to curl my hair into thin, manageable sections so that the heat evenly distributes resulting in straighter hair. I became used to the thirty minutes of sitting under the intense, omnipresent heat of the standing hair dryer, flipping through at least three tabloid magazines and doing all the crossword in the games section. And lastly I never quite became used to the burning of my scalp every few seconds whilst Aunty V was blowing out my hair. Sometimes she would be pulling my hair in the brush even harder because I was desperately trying to pull away from this blasting waves of heat whose sole mission was to melt my scalp. Being a bit older I know realize it was a pretty traumatic experience, every single time.
When I hit high school then I became increasingly unhappy with my blowout. It wasn’t as straight as the Caucasian girl who sat beside me. My hair looked thick and bushy compared to hers- in fact it was extremely frizzy rather than silky. This is when I was introduced to the miracle treatment that would be a definite game-changer. This is when I was introduced to the reverse perm. A reverse perm is actually the process of taking curl out of hair. So instead of having my hair relaxed every 2 months, I would just have it reverse permed and be looking sleek for the next 6 months. This also made my mother’s life easier as she would no longer have to sit for hours combing through my forest of hair trying to untangle it so that she could braid it. Once again I was led to believe that my lively curls were the enemy and that straightening it made life easier for everyone.
For years I straightened my hair. I also started cutting it because I had reached a phase in my teens where I was totally unbothered by “hair” ,as long as it was manageable and tied back from my face I was okay with it. People, often the older ladies in the salon, would always ask why I am cutting my “beautifully long” hair and I would often just reply with “Ah it’s just hair, it’ll grow back!”. When I went swimming with any of my friends with straighter hair I would feel less embarrassed because instead of frizzing into a full blown afro, my hair would just be a thick bunch of curls, albeit they hung lifelessly.
I think the process of altering my hair from it’s natural state to something more accepted was very much a physical manifestation of me altering my natural self to fit into my peer group. Of course the feeling of acceptance beats the feeling of exclusion.
Until one day I accepted myself as a my own best friend.
This unique friendship would lead to greater self-awareness and in the long run, greater acceptance of myself and others like me. This revolution came at the perfect time, I think had I had this realization earlier it would not have been as impactful as now, for it is this realization that fuels this book and ultimately this movement. These days I heat straighten my hair for different reasons. I am completely comfortable in my own skin and being surrounded by my hair in it’s natural and ever-so-glorious state.
I work in an office of ladies only and on extremely hot, damp days we always complain about how the humidity is the beast of destruction when it comes to our beautifully crafted hairstyles. We bitch and moan about how it becomes frizzy and pretty soon turns into your best nightmare. One day my manager asked why I don’t get a Brazilian Blowout treatment on my hair and without hesitation I replied, “ I love my curls!”. The pride and assertiveness that I said it with certainly shocked me to my core, I could just imagine how she must have felt. This was office talk so naturally the other two ladies present were also involved in the conversation. Everyone’s reactions were the same. It was a gasp and then a confused “Oh!?” and then the general consensus in the room - although it was not necessary to say it - was something to the effect of “I’ve never heard anyone say they love their curls before. How can she love her hair when it is so thick and unruly? Wow, never in my life! This is definitely new.”
And so I began thinking- this condescending attitude towards what we call “ethnic” hair is unacceptable and if it sustains itself it will be carried over to my children and in turn their children, creating a domino effect that should rather have not existed at all. You know, it’s always easier to follow the crowd and have a peaceful and friendly atmosphere than to swim upstream, be a little controversial and make waves so that people know there is more to life than just the immediate gratification of agreeing with the majority.
So this has become my mission. To encourage women with curly hair, to embrace it- and to encourage women with straight hair to embrace the curls too. It’s not a sin to be unique, and the more you accept your rebellious hair, the more you’ll realize that it is actually so full of life and that that life just needs to escape and infect the world with its liveliness and vivacity. Be unapologetic in embracing your hair. Make it known that these strands of hair have a mind of their own and won’t succumb to the pressure of a Caucasian-orientated society to blend in and obey the demand of straightened hair. These days you’ll hardly even see me with straightened hair, “And all the products and chemicals?” you may ask, well, I’ve replaced them with my crown. My beautiful, majestic crown of hair.
When a baby is born the head is usually the part of the body that comes out first. When the top of the baby’s head is visible for the first time it is called the crowning of the head. It is a very special moment. Thereafter, the unique spot towards the center of your head where your hair grows in the opposite direction, is called a hair whorl but more commonly known as your crown. So why not? Why not call this hair of mine- which just so happens to be the opposite texture, length, size and look that society has scripted- my crown? I feel that it is very fitting and relevant, especially since I regard myself as a queen of God. With this said, I shall wear my crown with pride. I have done it so much harm from wanting to fit in with the crowd, yet still it grows back strong and never lets me down. I hope that you treat your crown the same. It makes you who you are. Imagine if we all had straight hair? We would not have trends and fashion because all hair would be the same and we would know no different. Being different- in all aspects of life- allows for experimentation and for us to constantly learn about things that do not fall within our comfort zone or our territory or norm. It is the world’s way to constantly learn, innovate and progress and how would we be capable of that if we cannot recognize that our differences are what make us unique but are also what binds us together as a society. Do not want to turn someone into something they’re not. Embrace them and learn from them. In the same breath, do not feel the need to be something you are not. Be yourself and love yourself and if you are having a bad hair day, let your hair down, let it loose, it might just be a new hairstyle for all the Zoolanders out there.
Pretty pretty girl
with the pretty pretty hair
why oh why
the big big frown?
Pretty pretty girl
with the big big crown
please oh please
show me your pretty pretty smile!
Her hair was like a balloon
a big hot air balloon
and it carried all her dream and desires
carried them to beyond the sky...
you see, they say the sky’s the limit
but with hair like hers
she never did have a defined summit.
She would never be fit to be a Princess
or even a Duchess
as a matter of fact
her denims and washed out colours
were tacky to say the least
but when she unraveled her hair
and let it loose
she became everything that royalty could ever demand.
I spill my soul out onto these pages
with ink I expose to you my innermost
and you read me
with such indulgence
savouring each word
each fragment of my essence
treating my delicate, sensitive pages
with the caution of a first time reader
a story yet to be completed
though still wanting
to you I will always be
an open book.
Every morning she’d tie up her hair
ready to conquer the tidal waves that await
in the turbulence of the corporate ocean.
She smoothed back her unruly curls
a direct reflection of having to smooth down
the fins of the sharks in business suits
when she set foot on their turf
She was a leader
everything she couldn’t be when her
animated curls framed that darling smile.
My hair is such a mess!
as she hurriedly fixed herself up in the mirror.
My hair is such a mess!
your hair’s a mess
a beautiful mess…
and so was the universe
when it magically created the earth.
Remember the magic lies in the mess,
They all come and go
like a temporary tattoo
not a single one could stick
Wash she the oil that couldn’t mix with the water?
Or was she the water who created a muddy mess
when she mixed with the sand?
The only permanent tattoo
engraved deep into her personality was her
collection of bronze locks…
and that she knew for sure mixed with water, oil, heat and cold
and has never let her down.
It wasn’t too short
and it wasn’t too long
it fell just perfectly on her shoulders
snuggling into her neck
providing warmth when she was cold
and gentle caresses of love when she was lonely.
Her hair was here and there
and basically everywhere
but don’t get it twisted
she was a lioness
and her mane only made her look
that much more vivacious
when she was on the hunt
and her hair matched her grace
and elegant poise
as she held her head high after winning the race.
She was a mosaic of sadness
her melancholy colours glistening
in the radiant energy of her others
a silent reminder that she was still living
beneath all the rubble
but love for herself would be the glue
that could piece all her fragments together
and make her wholly beautiful once more.
All she wanted
was for him to kiss her velvet lips
but every time he tried he missed…
perhaps velvet wasn’t his flavour
perhaps she had to be more vanilla.
Note To Self
I’ve always loved you
but it’s been a while
since I’ve had a moment
where I’m so deeply in love with you.
A moment like this.
They fill the empty spaces
the walls block their ears to their jest
laughter and romance travel from the holes in the walls to the tiny cracks in the floor
she runs her hands through his hair
it smells of honey bees and cherry blossom trees
he pulls her close and buries his soul in her majesty
and for that moment
their glasses are half full
pouring out their love completely.
Note To Self II
Loving you is like
diving into the ocean
and finding a beautiful underwater cave
when all that was expected was a shallow coral reef.
You are everything pretty
and everything deep.
You turn the page young sister
but never do you close the book
this bullshit you call fashion
has finally got you hooked
some say the darker the berry
you know, it gives better tasting juice
but you tell me you need the blonde hair
to pull off those Loubi boots
magazines, Trace and tweets
they’ve got us feeling like we could never
march to their beat
Unshackle yourself young sister
burn the media at the stake
they deserve not a page in your story
so why give them your precious time?
Think further young sister
let them not restrain you to a measure comfortable for them… be yourself according to yourself.
Take heed young sister
don’t let them control your soul and convince you
that in your world you are only a visitor.
Make-Up & Lace
Make-up and lace
it’s what gave her her grace
the thing that set the pace
to conquer the world
or to conquer his heart
all she needed was
make-up and lace.
Today I’ve decided to colour my hair while getting my usual blowout. I’m at Aunty Valdean and I know it will take a good two or three hours. Today it’s the terrible threesome. Three generations of coloured women sharing the sentiment of a hair salon experience. Mrs. Connelly who is eighty-something, Aunty Valdean who is fifty years old and myself at the tender age of twenty-four. I don’t think that I enjoy anything more than a chill session with these ladies. The topics of conversation range from children and grandchildren to traveling to sports but one strange thing is that the conversation is never about hair- the one thing that has brought us all together. The only time that hair is discussed is when you walk in- a basic catch up on the state of your hair.
Today I walked in and just said “same colour as last please Aunty Val?” and she replied with a cool “okay”. I’m sitting with the dye on my hair and a towel around my shoulders. The conversation has moved to swimming and swimming pools in yards and I’m enjoying myself more than I would at a gathering of only twenty-somethings. Mrs. Connelly is young as ever- you would think that she is 20 years younger than she actually is.
Her short salt & pepper grey hair falls wistfully on her head framing her dainty face ever so femininely. What a wonderful chatty lady.
“Come let’s rinse!” Aunty Valdean summons me to the basin. I recline in the comfortable leather chair and get ready for my head massage that comes free with the wash. It is blissful.
I close my eyes and enjoy the moment whilst giggling to the naughty adult jokes between the ladies. After this my hair will be rolled in curlers and set to dry under the standing dryer before being blowed out with a brush and hand dryer and then flattened with a hair straightener. The final steps to that ultimate sought-after sleek look. Mrs. Connelly leaves and Aunty Val makes sure she makes it safely down all the steps before returning to roll my hair. It’s just me and her and I feel like I’m getting the VIP one-on-one treatment. Your hairdresser is your confidant, the person you tell everything to about everyone and you somehow know that the news will get to other ears that come after you but you don’t really care because you become so indulgent in the moment. It takes about 3 hours for me to feel as if I look presentable again and each hour is worth it. It’s a treat but everything is natural- from the red natural dye to the heat straightening instead of chemical straightening. I’ve found that the results may be temporary but the positive effects are long term and totally worth it. The next step is to get the blowout. She removes the curlers and my bouncy curls spring to life.
“I feel like walking out just like this” I muse to myself, but I’d rather stay for the full treatment. She uses a variety of brushes and creates sections in my hair to make it easier. Every so often I become a spaz as she burns my scalp with the heat and it results in a good chuckle from both of us. Suffer for beauty is what they say and I guess this is what they meant. Finally - the flattening of the hair to make sure that no rebellious curls come to the party.
This is where I take my first breath of air. Up to now I was not conscious of my breathing- it is as if my body had been on autopilot the entire time- the experience is that overwhelmingly intoxicating. She systematically flattens each section and you can see the masterpiece come to life. I think it’s safe to call it “a day at the salon” even though the actual process only took about three hours.
The smile in her curls
and flirt in her step
will have you wondering
if your first love
your first love.
you are conceived from
the infinite and perfectly crafted grains of beauty
from the earth
you form an integral part
of this here universe
each atom perfectly interacted with each other atom
and you were born
from a spark of brilliance
a moment of beauty
fear not my dear queen
you are the only one of your kind
don’t feel alone I say
everything in nature is perfectly designed
why would you think otherwise of yourself?
She was just like the others
stumbling and falling
face down, head over heels
‘til she realized the spotlight wasn’t on her
it was a light that lead the way for her
and she walked confidently in the waterfall of light
leading the way for the other fragile souls.
Hair is hair is hair
and it grows
year upon year upon year
sometimes it grows fast
sometimes it grows slow
sometimes it grows everywhere
sometimes not at all.
Silence & A Curl
When she retired from all the hustle and bustle of the day
and sat in her creaky chair in the corner of the dark, musty living room
all she had was the silence and her hair-
both caressed her skin
both warm and damp
and both would love her forever.
In the years past I have learnt to love my roots and edges. The little curls that spring out of place are just as beautiful and “fashionable” as the stray hairs of straight hair that are placed out of place strategically to look “effortlessly chic”.
In the years to come I hope to inspire more ladies of the Curly Hair Clan, to truly love it and flaunt it! They say if you embrace your flaws, no-one can use it against you. I say you should embrace your natural beauty and let others feed off your positive energy.
It is no secret that you can do more with curly hair, so why not be more too?!
Love your roots and edges for they keep you grounded and protected when negativity doth blow your way.
Your strength lies there.
Roots & Edges
Photography by Dutch
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