While the natural hair movement has not only swept through the United States but completely taken over when it comes to what African-American women identify as the true standard of Black beauty, the continent has taken a while to catch up.
Relaxers have long been the go-to product among women in Africa to smooth out their kinks and achieve what was once considered the only type of “professional” look. But according to a new BBC report, times have changed with relaxed hair now being deemed “un-African” and natural hair recognized as “a nod to being a real African.”
Through the eyes of Pumza Fihlani, the BBC examined the politics of African hair. Fihlani, a South African journalist for the public service broadcaster, recently moved away from chemically straightening her strands – and has vowed to also keep her daughter’s hair natural for many years. But as she explained in her piece, like the kinks on our head, the motives behind choosing to straighten one’s hair or not are not so easy to untangle.
South African hair blogger Milisuthando Bongela explained that the disdain with which many treat Black hair is just an extension of the way Black people have been discriminated against for centuries because of our skin color, our culture, and more. It’s no secret that, to some, “good hair” means less coarse hair, which is why a lot of women have opted for chemically relaxed hair or weaves. But what was once a means of achieving acceptance, has now become passé among women across the African diaspora as natural hair is seen as being more connected to one’s heritage.
But the truth is hair isn’t that deep for everyone. Relaying the opposite sentiment of Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who remarked that “Relaxing your hair is like being in prison,” because “You’re always battling to make your hair do what it wasn’t meant to do,” Fihlani pointed out that her hair was relaxed as a child simply because it was convenient. “I don’t ever recall my mother saying long straight hair made us prettier or making any of us feel our bushy natural hair was unsightly. For her, relaxing it meant less time getting us ready in the mornings,” she wrote.
Ironically, now achieving a more kempt natural look requires more effort than straightening her hair as she noted “I spend anything up to five hours in the salon, a twice-a-month ritual. Each visit can cost up to 1,500 rand ($120; £75), depending on what I get done.”
While that cost may be hefty on the wallet, it’s a small price to pay in the context of the weight of appearing “professional,” i.e. having straight hair, that’s now been lifted off of African women’s shoulders. Fihlani notes that until recently many women feared they would be overlooked in their professional lives and by men in their personal lives with natural hair. Now, thankfully, they’re beginning to see what God gave them as a source of pride.
Image Credits BBC/Screenshots