This is my hair story. It is a journey through trends, styles, major fails and finally learning to care for and love my natural hair.
Everyone has their own hair story and I would love to hear your experiences so please feel free to comment!
The beginning – relaxers and desires for European hair.
There I am at about five years old at home in a small town in England. My favourite thing to do at this age was to wear a t-towel on my head (like a shepherd in the school nativity) because it gave me the feeling of having long, straight hair that moved.
In those days my mum did my hair, usually in cornrows, so I was not allowed to play with it. Mum used to say: “That hair on your head is mine so don’t touch it!”
As a result, I played the girls’ hair at my school. Everyone was white. I wished I could fit in and have nice blonde flowing hair like theirs – it was easy to plait, comb and style. When it came to playing with each other’s hair my friends loved it when I plaited in French braids like a pro.
At 14 I got a perm. Mum took me to a home hairdresser who relaxed my hair once a month with a cream relaxer. It made my hair easy to manage so, for the first time in my life, I styled my own hair. This mostly consisted of lathering on tonnes of gel that weighed down my fine strands and felt greasy. I would never let anyone touch it.
Relaxers are dangerous. They have harsh toxic chemicals in them. I discovered how bad they are when my brother asked me to relax his hair at home. He went out bought the chemicals from a store. I read the instructions and went about relaxing his hair. My brother trusted me completely so when his head started burning and I said he had to keep the creme on for a few minutes longer he endured the pain. The relaxer burnt his scalp, patches of his hair fell out and I was in big trouble. He was lucky no permanent damage was done…
After relaxers came braids!
This is a memory clear as day – I was sitting in my bestfriend’s kitchen with my boyfriend. He was stroking my friend’s thick, dark and long caucasian hair marvelling at how gorgeous it was. He looked over at me (who was feeling left out, awkward and jealous) and said: “Don’t worry, you’ll have your braids put in tomorrow.”
I wore single braids for the first time when I was 18 and have continued to wear them at some point or another up until now. Those first braids gave me that feeling I was searching for at five years old: being able to feel my hair move.
Is an Afro socially acceptable?
I went to see my extended family in the north of England, wearing my natural hair in an afro. My auntie thought I was crazy.
She was going to plait braids into my hair and COULD NOT BELIEVE I would go outside amongst people with my nappy hair ‘out’. We drove to the hair shop to get braiding hair and I was pretty sure she was embarrassed to be seen with me.
I worked as a journalist for the local newspaper. My boss was intrigued by my natural hair and one day he asked me to write a feature about the afro hairstyle. I went out on the streets and took pictures of people who wore their hair in afros and included a picture of myself. After that more and more people in the town, black and white (but mostly white because hardly any black people lived there), sent in pictures of their afros. I had no idea there were so many! We ran another story featuring all the pictures. It became a celebration of natural hair and boosted my confidence.
I wore that style for a year until I suffered from bad breakage because I was not looking after my natural hair properly and using the right products. I used a hairdryer on high heat everyday! A big no no for kinky hair, which is super fragile.
Getting other people’s hair and sewing it in mine!
Crazy thing happened. A black hairdesser opened up into my town! This was a big thing and meant I didn’t have to travel a minimum of 10 miles to get to the nearest hair salon that catered for natural hair. I decided to try a weave. I bought some expensive human hair (that probably originated from India where women shave their heads and donate it in a religious ceremony, unbeknown to them it ends up on the heads of black women who pay top dollar for it) and I had this hair sewn in. It went ALL THE WAY DOWN MY BACK! I felt so glamorous and got a lot of attention with my tumbling waves. People said they prefered it to other styles I had tried, some said: “You look so much better!”
After a while I didn’t appreciate the excitement because the weave wasn’t my real hair so not the real me. I started feeling disappointed when people told me how they prefered me with a weave – ‘but this is not how I really look’ I thought.
I did love wearing weaves. The versitility in colour and textures you can get from them is great. Also they can be good for your hair so the breakage I had suffered before this time grew back.
The ‘weave hawk’ was my last weave style. After that I fell back in love with my natural tresses.
Fierce natural styles
This time around I felt more on trend because more people were going natural. I saw the frohawk for the first time at the Afro Hair Show in London, in 2011, and rocked that style all the time. People always wanted to take photographs of me. These pictures (above and below) were done by street photographers.
Despite being completely natural one major problem was I still never did my own hair. I always went to a salon, as a result I had no idea how to look after my own hair. No idea what shampoo was best, or any products for that matter, no idea about techniques to use, no idea what was good for my hair and what damaged it…I got to 30 and didn’t know how to care for my hair.
No self confidence = no Fro
When I moved to Thailand, I reverted back to my old ways of hiding my kinky hair and stuck to this one style for three years! It was cornrows in a pineapple and then I would add a synthetic hair ponytail. ALERT!!!The combs that kept the ponytail attached caused severe breakage! I had a bald patch on my crown 🙁
Get this though…I found black hairdressers in Bangkok!
Black hair salons in Bangkok
When a black woman has no hair salon to go to nearby, panic sets in. In Thailand some women approached me in the street, with desperation in their eyes, asking where I had got my hair done.
It just took a little out of the box thinking, which happens easily when one is desperate. I flew to Singapore for my first Asian hairdresser experience.
One day I read a magazine article about an African restaurant opening in a trendy part of Bangkok so I called them up asking if they knew anyone who could braid hair – I always trust that my African sistas can braid hair well.
I have never been wrong and wasn’t this time either. The African restaurant had a chef who braided hair! Genuis!
I also found a salon on Soi 17 opposite Central World shopping mall.
I thought the tame ponytail and braid style would increase my chances of getting a job. I felt like I would be the new kid on the block and needed to ‘fit in’ again.
This was my usual look for teaching. I could have worn an afro if I wanted to. There were three other black teachers; one wore dreadlocks and the other wore an afro.
Love me, love my hair
I would love to say that I learnt how to take care of and style natural hair because I thought it was about time I did. This would be a lie. What really happened was, I moved to Germany, I couldn’t find a decent hair salon in the Frankfurt area, where I live. Yes there were salons but I found them so unprofessional it was a joke.
I learnt how to do my hair myself through Youtube bloggers Naptural85, LiveNaturallyLove Jessica Pettway, Nappy Fu, Protective Princess, Chizi Duru, Geraldine the Great and Living With Osa. These women are a part of the natural hair movement.
Natural Hair Movement? Yes, It turned out that I was not alone in my hair journey. Millions of black women around the world have ‘gone natural’ after having similar experiences to mine.
It is so liberating to hear that women now put aside weaves, relaxers and hot curlers to instead wear the natural hair they were born with: out loud and proud.
My hair lived happily ever after
So now I give my hair a lot of love as well as simply loving it. I only use natural products in it so I make my own shampoos, conditioning treatments, gels and creams from raw ingredients in my kitchen! I love talking about it, playing with it and wearing it in a multitude of styles. Now when I choose to ‘fake it’ I tend to wear a wig that is just like my hair but a lot bigger and bolder!