10 May Nappy Head Girl
I was nine… I’d get a pair of my mum’s old tights and stretch it until it was so long, the longest I could possibly get it to. I’d tie a knot at the end, place it on my head then swing right to left, right to left over and over until I was too dizzy to do it any more. Then, I would drop to my knees and say, “God, please make my hair grow long like Annabel’s so it sweeps the carpet at book time. And if I’m really good please let it grow like the beautiful girl whose golden hair hung out of the window all the way down the tower…”
Day after day, night after night I would wait for it to change. Wait for it to be straight, to blow out in the wind. Tugging away at the coils that barely touched my ear… It never did. So I’d lie at night, with my pillow soaking wet and ask: God, if my hair is so ugly why won’t you change it like the women in the magazines and on TV, why won’t you change it for me?
What God wouldn’t change, for many years after that I tried to.
I had butterflies in my stomach with the biggest smile on my face. Staring, dreamily at the pretty black American girl’s picture, with long straight hair in two ponytails across the front of the ‘Just for Me’ kid’s relaxer kit. Only a few more minutes and I’d be just like her, I’d be pretty. My nappy head would be gone, the hair that breaks combs and brushes would be gone. When my Godmother applied the relaxer to my hair it burnt my scalp but I didn’t care.
“It pains to be beautiful but it’ll be worth it. No more of these nigger knots,” she said…
And it sure did. The pain I mean – it sure hurt to be beautiful.
It was December: December 17th 2012 I’ll never forget the day. I sat staring back at my reflection in the mirror for hours, lost and lonely trying desperately to connect to something, anything. I remember sitting there looking deep into my eyes but no one was there. I had no idea who I was, for the first time in thirty-four years I had no idea who I was. All I could see was this shiny hat, this long, wavy, pathetic, Brazilian hair attached to my head. You know how I used to wear it with the side parting feathered diagonal across my high cheekbones, way down in my back, 22 inches of 1b hair streaming down.
To think I once thought that was pretty! Walking around with someone else’s hair on your head isn’t cute, believe me. Lost yes. Cute no. And I don’t want you to ever forget that.
For some reason, on that day something deep inside me needed to see who was hiding underneath the disguise. It was too long, way too long. I was eleven years old. But the memory of what my natural hair felt like or what it looked like was long gone and buried. All I remembered was the pain! The pain of getting it done, the pain of hating my hair and not knowing why, the pain from the names I was called: Nappy head, Tough head or Dry head. The pain from slamming the creamy, white crack onto my crown the second it tried to grow through, to breathe and be accepted… I’d kill it every single time with chemicals, weaves, glue, the hot comb – you name it.
If I could change my Afro hair for a long, long time I wanted it and would pay big money for it too…
I got tired, so tired of being lied to. Tired of hating something I didn’t know, something I’d never been taught about. Tired of John Frieda telling us: what do you do with frizzy hair? Make it go away… Tired of seeing black girl’s as young as two with perms or extensions and knowing the long journey of self-hate they were embarking on. I wanted to touch it, see my face with it… I wanted to embrace my God given crown, my kinky, curly, fluffy, frizzy, nappy head.
So many things ran through my mind that day. I remember thinking, if the true definition of beauty is to love oneself, how can hiding a part of my authentic self be seen as beautiful? How could it?
Before I knew it, the Brazilian weave sat in a huge pile beside me. Stinking! With a ball of three months of my shredded hair placed on top. I raised my hands and placed them on my thin, limp, over processed, porous hair. My edges were so thin and all around the nape was bald. Reality hit me. Only thirty-four and I was losing my hair. Traction Alopecia they call it.
I cried so hard. Just me, the mirror and my tears, just us…
Every last teardrop for the pain I caused to myself, for not loving myself. I was angry with myself. Disappointed with myself! Cheated by myself. And most of all I cried for shunning a part of me for all those years. My beautiful Afro hair: I’m sorry. I’m sorry for ignoring you, not caring about you. Not loving you. I’m sorry for all the damage I caused. From that moment I said to myself, as of today you’re going to embrace being a black woman. A real, black woman. No more hiding behind the façade.
Do you know how scared I was when I took the scissors to my hair and cut the whole damn thing off, less than an inch short? I had no idea what it would look like or who the hell was underneath society’s masked, deceptive, ideology of black beauty. None! Too long had I been hiding, too long had I been afraid to see who I was. Did I like what I saw once clumps of my limp mane fell to the ground? No. I didn’t. But that’s the thing. It wasn’t just about the hair, or whether society or my own kind thought it was ugly or not. It was about me, it was about getting to know who I am. You know why? Because I was more scared living as an imposter.
Do you know how afraid I was to think that one day I would die and a ‘Brazilian weave’ or a ‘Dark and Lovely’ relaxer would be a part of my funeral bill? Like I’m getting ready for some fancy dress… That I’d be buried six feet deep as somebody else and when my day of judgement came God would say, ‘and who are you?’
See it’s not just about the hair. It’s a fight way deep into the root of our soul that will never leave if we don’t change it. A battle that stems back over many years, a deep embedded ploy designed to keep the black woman down. A heavy burden, a stigma that has been tied up for generations and generations in the root of our hair. Don’t get it twisted, there was a time when we wore our hair with pride, a time when our hair represented glory, dignity, status, a time when our hair was our antenna to the universe. But when slaves were captured, before they set sail they had their hair shaved off to strip away their identity and lower their status. Because the white man knew the meaning of true self… He knew that a race entwined with self-hate would be easier to control. He knew. Slave masters would teach their children to refer to younger slaves’ hair as wool and encouraged them to hate their hair. And then came the generalisation of ‘Good Hair’. ‘Good Hair,’ meaning softer and straighter in nature and appearance, a stigma that has stuck with black women for centuries.
Do you want to know how relaxers were made? Well, some inventor who had lye on his hands accidentally wiped them onto a woolly cloth and when he returned the next day, the wool on the cloth was straight. Can you believe that a black man, Garrett Morgan, discovered this dangerous chemical to permanently make our nappy heads straight, by accident! Sold with the slogan ‘Improve Your Appearance’. Then not long after, Annie Malone came up with her bright idea to invent the hot comb. And before that it was an iron, goose-fat, heavy oils or soap used to straighten coarse hair. I mean is Afro hair really that bad?
Is it just me or does this speak volumes to you? Black people born to former slaves went and invented these demoralising products and brought black women deeper into captivity than ever before. Mentally bound. Scarred, internally. We naively bought into this crap. Come on, look at it this way: black women spend the most money on the hair and beauty industry, the most. More than any other race… Why? To be accepted on some type of socially acceptable level, we spend. We’ve got a world full of black women who’d rather go broke and have their child go hungry than to leave the house with their own hair. Women who haven’t washed or touched their own hair in years, whose men or children have never seen it. Black grandmothers and great grandmothers who haven’t laid eyes on their natural hair in 50 to 60 years, or more… Black women who defend the alteration or the cover up of their Afro hair as if their life depends on it, instead of waking up and learning the truth!
After I cut off all my hair, I learned that it’s actually called a big chop. I thought it was me discovering a missing part of my being, but oh well if it’s a big chop then it’s a big chop. Anyhow, when I woke up the next morning I felt a rebirth of my spirit. The feeling was so freeing, I ran my fingers through my teeny, weenie Afro. My hair was so soft, so soft. I washed and washed and washed away the burden of pain, washed it away. I ran my fingers through every curl, through every kink. For the first time in a long time, I felt whole. I felt like I had a whole new purpose to live for. I was a black woman and I liked it. No, wait – I love it. Returning to my natural state is one of the best things I’ve ever done.
I got right back in that mirror and I said,
“Damn girl, you is beautiful! You strong. You powerful. You bold. And you is a black woman”.
I didn’t need any affirmation from an outsider, just me. Believe me, self-love is all you need to be complete. Love what God made you to be and everything else will be fine…
Two years I’ve been on this hair journey and it just hit me the other day that not one television commercial represents how to care for our hair. The billions we spend on the hair industry and not one damn commercial or billboard in the UK to represent Afro hair. It’s messed up. You know what else I discovered: when you type ‘beautiful black woman’ into Google not one natural girl comes up – there are pages and pages of relaxed or weave wearing black women, representing our beauty. Then you get Beyonce, Rihanna, Nicki Manaj, all these big superstars pondering to the ‘white ideal image’ – feeding us a bunch of lies… Imagine, Naomi Campbell – who is going bald from the years of weaves and relaxers to cover up her natural hair – is supposed to be the icon of black beauty. The media does nothing but misguide and misinform to chip away and further the demise of the black female image. Keep us down – out of the picture.
Can you believe I had to endure a tirade of backlash from other black women and black men from my community when I stepped out with my natural hair? Words of stigma from my own kind! Yeah you heard me, my own kind.
“You’re so brave I could never wear my hair like that!”
“How long you keeping this thing up for, when you going to relax it?”
“You really going to the club with your hair looking like some dusty old tennis ball?”
“Didn’t you know that a girl with a mini fro is not the one?”
“It suits you but it’s not for me.”
Oh wait there’s more…
“Girl, you look like one of those black radical extremist from the ’60’s, are you try’na go all Nubian on us?”
“They really let you wear your hair like that for work? It looks so unprofessional.”
But none of that matters…
It does however, affect me when my mum continuously asks when I will blow out or straighten my natural hair. My mum once wore dreads and walked in the name of Zion, she was fierce and mighty… but that was a long time ago. I was four. She’s now a chronic relaxer, every six weeks without fail. Thirty years and counting.
“I’d never go natural, it’s not for me,” she says.
“Girl you better do something to that nappy head, it’s horrible”.
Every time she passes her remarks it brings back the reminder of where it all stems from. The pain of what I thought I cut away is still there, alive, lying dormant in my people. Not only is it in their physical representation of the alteration of their hair, it’s deep into their mentality. Something so deep it will take more than a natural hair community to awaken them. Maybe some of them will never awaken. They’ll leave this earth with their weaves and relaxers not knowing how it feels to be free. Not knowing how it feels to love yourself fully, to accept who you are.
They’ll never know
They’ll never know how it feels to wash and go
To wear a power fro
How long their natural hair could grow
Never will have a twist out or a curl define
Never will know how to treat their hair gentle and kind
Never will see their curls pop and shine
Wear two-strand twist or say ‘yes all mine.’
Wear beautiful elegant braids or Bantu knots
Learn to detangle their kinks or how to co-wash
Learn how to steam to make it bouncy and soft
They’ll never know how it feels to be an original product of this world
They will never know how it feels to be… a real Nappy Head Girl…
Written By: Aysha Scott