afro v relaxed

I am not my hair ~ India Arie.

I really want to say I’m not my hair. I want to agree with India Arie. But I can’t. I am my hair. I feel very strongly that I am my hair. My hair is as personal to me as my spiritual beliefs.

So personal in fact that my perceptions of myself have been changed by encounters involving my hair. When I moved to Joburg with little more than the clothes on my back, a new family built itself around me. A few people use the phrase Joburg family. To recognise and cultivate the beauty that lie below the enhancements. Those people who go from strangers to friends to family so fast, you simply do not see it happen. It’s amazing and I wouldn’t trade any of them for the world.

My Joburg family is a true reflection of Joburg itself. Multi-cultural. Multi-lingual. Multi-racial. Multi-everything. Pure awesomeness. One of the great things about this is that you find yourself in a delightful cultural melting pot in which no one is afraid to say anything or ask questions because of the bond between you. So I found myself being asked questions regularly about my hair that held up a mirror to what I had always done and what I had always accepted and made me wonder what my true feelings about my hair were.

  • Why do you wear weaves Chu? Is something wrong with your hair?
  • Do you dislike your hair Chu? Is that why you cover it up all the time?
  • Chu, (this was from a  woman in her 60s) do you wear weaves because you want to look like white girls from the back at least? No, I replied. I am quite comfortable being black. It’s just a hairstyle. But why is your choice of hairstyle hair that looks like a white person’s hair?
  • one friend asks, Chu is that your hair? (I was wearing pick and drop braids) Before I could answer, another friend chimed in, No, it’s not. Black people have horrible hair so they have to cover it up with stuff.
  • Chu, I really like your kinky hair. I wish you would wear it out more.

I answered all of these questions as clearly and as articulately as I could. Often, we wound up having long conversations about hair and understanding each other’s cultural perspectives and prejudices a little more. More importantly, I answered these questions to myself. Some of the honest answers made me uncomfortable.

The truth is I was in a place where I felt “unpretty” when I wore my hair out. That this was symptomatic of a far bigger and more embarrassing issue that extended to more than just my hair. Insecurity maybe? I made a decision, to turn that around. That decision wasn’t simply to take better care of my own hair but to fully realise the extent to which I am my hair. That my hair forms part of my identity. That I don’t have to follow the trends when it comes to beauty, fashion or self. That it upsets me when my hair looks shady. That it’s ok to simply decide not to wear weaves but to still wear braids because I like one more than the other. Extensions are extensions after all.  To love my hair as much as and along with the rest of me. To make a big production of how to wear my hair every time I change a hairstyle. To glance at myself in every reflective surface when my hair looks good. That the best kind of beauty works from the inside out. So I am my hair. I am my skin. I am the soul that lives within. And I love it all.

That said,  I respect everyone’s choices in respect of their hair because they are their own hair. I see gorgeous women in gorgeous hair of all kinds all the time. Be it relaxed, red, green, under a weave, braided, fro’d out or shaved. Choice is a beautiful thing. This is why I wear my hair braided, bunned in the English sense, rakarukwa mabhanzi in the Shona sense, somewhat kinky or straightened….because I can.

See how the African Sun brutalised my skin between photos (just two months or so in between these shots). Global warming is real. Now black people are getting tans smh lol.