South Africa--Women were sitting on plastic chairs in Zandi’s Hair Care Salon with Dark and Lovely relaxer smothered on their black hair. Posters of women with straight hair were pasted on the walls of the square room. The floor was covered with coarse hair blown from left to right by the wind coming in through the front entrance. Smoke from the hair being curled by electric tong filled the room, smelling like burnt tyres.
It’s no secret that some African women have been self conscious about their crinkled hair since the birth of humankind. And I am no different. I straighten my hair every month, for fear of combing my natural hair. It’s very coarse and it really feels like someone’s pulling your veins out.
As a child, I would battle with my mom about combing my hair. Mom had to grab a hold of me tight. I ran away every chance I got, but mom managed to catch up with me in the end. I never knew she had it in her to run so fast. And sometimes if she couldn’t catch me herself she would ask other kids to chase after me until they got me. I remember crying so hard and begging them to let me go, but they just laughed and dragged me to my mom to get my hair combed. My mom resorted to having my hair shaved off with a razor, leaving my head as bald as a baby’s bum. Kids used to laugh at me. It still gives me this sour feeling inside.
The owner of the salon feels that many women rely on hair straightners to make themselves more presentable in other people’s eyes. “Women are insecure about their looks,” Zandi explained. “Straight hair is what is considered to be more beautiful.” Zandi deals with many clients wanting to straighten their hair everyday.
Black women were experimenting with homemade remedies and products to strengthen their hair in the 1980s. But it was Sarah, also known as Madam C.J Walker who managed to develop a product that turned coarse hair into silky-European-like hair. Many people were against her products because they felt it made black people look white. That never stopped her from reaping the benefits. She became the first black self-made millionaire.
Some women however, prefer to keep their hair the African way. Amukelani gave up straitening her after being motivated by her boyfriend’s dreadlocks. “He just woke up, and he was ready to go,” she said. Amukelani also said straightened hair took her a long time to style in the mornings. She decided to grow an Afro instead. “I don’t have to wake up early in the morning to fix my hair,” she added.
I must say I admire Amukelani’s confidence in keeping her natural hair. Her hairstyle definitely looks good on her, but I would rather be caught dead than to keep my hair natural. I always say African is beautiful, but it can be better.