Sunday, 20 March 2016

Loose Curls vs Tight Coils; the good and the ugly?

Pic: Esperanza Spalding

Let's talk natural hair. To be more specific, I am referring to afro textured hair that naturally grows from the heads of Africans. African hair comes in diverse beautiful textures; even my sister and I who share the same parents have different textures let alone Africans from different ethnic backgrounds. However, though our textures may vary, I think its safe to say that at face value a majority of Africans have melanin rich hair that coils and stands up. So why do we predominantly see a particular type of natural hair being pushed to the forefront. This idealised natural hair image happens to be the defined loose curls that succumbs to gravity i.e. hair that looks like you could be mixed, or more bluntly put, hair that is closely aligned with European curly hair. A hair type that does not commonly grow from the scalps of many Africans.

The natural hair movement, a movement that is seeing women of African descent liberate themselves from the European one size fits all standards of hair beauty and embark on a journey of re-discovery. For in many cases, these women received their first 'relaxers' at tender ages, a decision that was made for them, hence have never seen their hair let alone taken care of their hair in its raw state. Sadly however, a movement that should see us start to rekindle the love we should have always had for our hair, is allowing many women to obsess over the manipulation of their hair to help them fit into a new 'natural' standard of hair beauty. 

It is very apparent that we are sneaking our white beauty standards into the natural hair community and so that 'good hair/bad hair' concept is still rearing its ugly head. Texture discrimination, where the good natural hair is the one that has the silky look, soft loose curls that bounces as it falls, and baby hairs that lays for the Gods whilst the kinkier type 4 hair textures only gets a 'good hair' pass with the aid of twist/braid outs and some good strong holding gel. So amongst many you'll find the obsession with styling techniques that create the illusion of a more uniformed looser curl pattern; methods that elongate the hair and combats shrinkage because downward length is still a problematic important measure of good hair; and let us not forget protective styling because apparently there's an evil force out there that doesn't want black women's hair to grow 'white girl hair long' (this force is only against afro hair, of course) so we must 'protect' it. I'm still wondering why I've never heard an Asian girl say she's protective styling to grow her hair. Maybe our hair wasn't designed to fall and hit our waistlines? Maybe it was actually supposed grow out big into the sky rather than down towards the ground. I often wonder if we've actually moved away from the notion of our hair being 'unmanageable', which was a prominent justification for relaxers, to a self love washed up version of the very same notion when we perpetuate that natural hair in an afro state becomes unmanageable and therefore needs to be in stretched out styles to combat this, or that our hair is so fragile it struggles to grow the European kind of long so we must protect it. The fact that we have to go into great measures to get our hair to behave the way we want it to (i.e. more European like) then is it that there is something wrong with our hair for not cooperating or that there may be something wrong in the way we want it to behave? Why is it that we listen to and trust external forces but not our own bodies? Do you listen to and trust your body when it makes your stomach growl from hunger or when it makes your eyes heavy from fatigue? Then why not so when it makes your hair tightly coil and defy gravity?

Pic: Alicia Keys

For black women thinking to transition or big chop, they get hit with a huge disappointment when they see their natural hair and find that it's nappy! It looks nothing like the beautiful natural hair they saved many pictures of throughout their journey. Like I did, they will spend a lot of time trying to master the perfect twist out that just somehow doesn't look like the Instagram/Youtube girl’s hair. Even when a twist out looked somewat like a success in the morning, by noon it would be frizzing up into a fro. So in my case, after numerous failed twist outs, I just resulted to pulling my hair back into a bun and told myself that I'd wear my hair out when it gets longer and starts to fall instead of stand. Imagine that, I was hiding my natural hair because I couldn’t manipulate it to look like the ‘good natural hair’. What was supposed to be me loving and ENJOYING my natural hair resulted in me hiding it because it didn't fit into a white washed natural hair standard of beauty. There is so much beauty in the freedom of letting our hair grow from scalp as it will but if we want to do a twist out today then that’s fine, if we want to do poetic justice braids tomorrow that’s fine too, heck if I want to wear a wig some days or straighten my hair that’s fine. What's not fine is the mindset that our hair must always look a certain type of way to be socially accepted. 

With all that said, I get why we think the way we think and therefore do the things we do. It is of no surprise that we still try to 'tame' our hair, make it easy for others to digest and not appear to be making some sort of political statement because going natural really wasn't me going for a 'black panther look'. It is of no surprise that for a job interview or meetings we feel more comfortable to have our pulled hair back to be taken more seriously...I was always subconsciously told that our hair isn't professional for the corporate world. It is of no surprise, though it saddens me, when my own mother tells me that no man will find me attractive with my afro hair and that I do not look presentable. How your mother viewed your hair, you viewed your hair...she was just regurgitating the views of her own mother and the various female influences in her upbringing. Falling victim to how my mother viewed my hair, and in affect her own hair, I found myself inheriting this mental disorder that plagues the thoughts of many Africans towards their hair. I guess when you hear something enough times, you start to believe it. I am now less ignorant to these negative thoughts that still likes to creep up on me from time to time, white supremacy is a disease we've all been deeply infected by which will require time and active measures to heal from and I say 'heal' because it is abuse, but I digress. 
Natural hair is not fairly appreciated. Looser curl patterns cannot be the sole representation of African hair nor can it be the standard of beautiful African hair when the most honest representation would in fact lend more to the indigenous tightly coiled texture that crowns the head and reaches up to the heavens.

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