“Why is our hair alien to us?”: A journey to owning my natural hair
My supervisor and I will go on and have a half-hour discussion on why I will spend hours getting braids done or get my hair permed when I could take care of my own natural hair. When I first arrived in Hong Kong, I had my permed hair in braids. A lot of people in this Asian country incessantly asked me if it was my natural hair. I found the question to be strange because I thought it was apparent enough that those thick braids were not mine. It then occurred to me that it might not be so obvious to my Hong Kong friends. So, I had to explain time and time again that they were hair extensions. My friends would exclaim in shock when I told them it took about 4 hours to get it done.
Three months later, I took out my braids after much deliberation on my Facebook page. I had heard about how much it costs to braid hair in “amanoni” and I was shocked by how expensive it was. I was determined to keep it a bit longer but I was afraid my beautiful “straight” permed hair will be ruined so I took it off.
You should have seen my friends when they saw me without my braids. For some reason, they assumed that was going to be my go-to style. I told them I wanted my “natural” hair to breathe a little. Again, another shocker! “Is this your natural hair?” Without thinking I said “of course”.
I never had to face questions about my permed hair. All these questions from an “outsider” perspective got me really thinking as to why I have my hair permed. It did not help that my thesis topic is also on beauty ideals. The more I read about the racialized connotations of my “natural” straight hair, the less happy I was with myself.
I chopped off my permed hair not long after. I had so much fun letting water run through my hair without thinking of blow-drying later once again. It’s not been absolutely easy but then the learning curve has been fun with all these youtube channels and learning about hair porosity as well as how to style my teeny-weeny afro (twa) hair. I also like that I am able to put my hair in braids with extensions if I want to.
It’s even easier now as I am home in Ghana and products for natural hair abound. I saw a billboard advertising products for those who keep their natural kinky hair in town by one of the big hair products companies. You could not imagine my joy. It points to a growing consciousness about wearing our hair natural as Ghanaians.
It’s funny that I can wear my hair to corporate events in Hong Kong whichever way I want it but my own people chided and vilified a young lady who wore her hair natural for it being too bushy and casual. I thought so too at the time. I know better now. Sometimes, it takes the outsider to point out the apparent. The highlight of this journey was when I did a presentation in class on beauty ideals in relation to body shape and size and a student had this side note.
I am not denying women who decide to perm their hair their agency. Agency, however, does operate in a certain social context. If you grow up with everyone perming their natural kinky hair, of course it is the next natural step for you too. I hope that going forward, we will learn to embrace our natural hair, kinky, nappy, dishevelled and all. I have never been happier.