“It’ll cost £40…Yeah, yeah it used to be £30, but I was doing you a favour at that price. And can you pay me in advance? I’m broke so transfer the money tomorrow into my account and I’ll do your hair next week, when I’m free” she commanded. In a melancholy haze I took her bank details, motivated by the ragged state of my hair, the narrow window of opportunity I had to redo it before the working week began again and an almost drug like dependence on her to fix my hair, ergo me (your hair is your beauty is it not?). I asked a white colleague what she thought; her bemused expression said it all. In her world you make an appointment, you go to a salon, you are quoting a price and that is what you pay only if the service is satisfactory. Enough was enough.
I can’t proclaim it was an epiphany, a moment of enlightenment or, to quote Jay-Z, clarity; a conversation with my maker or anything so illustrious. There was no build up, no research, no lengthy discussion with friends, no feelings of being desexualised and realising I might have to wear make up every day to spare me looking like a boy; no fear, no remorse, no celebration. I woke up, looked at the bank details on my phone, imagined me begging for time in her diary to do my hair and the subsequent three hour wait whilst she did someone else’s hair, despite having made an appointment with me. I undid my braids, washed and deep steamed my hair (with the cheap products from the black hair shop I have been buying for years) and decided not to call a hair dresser for several months. My natural hair was here to stay. That was two weeks ago and I have since fallen in love with my own hair – possibly for the first time. It was the best £40 I ever saved.
I’ve always loved the versatility of black hair and admired the prowess and ingenuity of our hair dressers to redefine hair and style. We have been revolutionary, yet so rarely celebrated. Weave can be a dirty word, even within our own community and yet you won’t see a white woman on TV nowadays without a row or two of ‘extensions’ as they like to call it. I’ve embraced the multiplicity of styles my face and hair were capable of holding. I’m the laziest girl you can imagine and the notion of combing my hair strikes fear in my heart, hence the years of perpetual braids or afro weaves – anything low maintenance. For years my natural hair was a tool to hold extensions. I grew up believing it to be hard and coarse, its beauty best realised when relaxed. So my decision to leave my raw, unadulterated, going to be hard work, hair, was a huge step. Yet here I stand having fallen in love with my mane of hard hair – It’s me and I am it.
I’m slowing learning the natural hair vernacular – It’s a totally different language you ladies have adopted. The BC (big chop), Co-wash (after a week of research, I just realised that this was washing hair with conditioner only), twist outs (why not just say twist?) TWA, 3C, 4B hair types (still have no idea what this means – can somebody please enlighten me?). And leave in conditioner – revolutionary. I had no idea it was something we used to keep hair moist. I always thought it was for women who were too lazy to actually wash their hair so used it to mask smell. How wrong I was – I love Darcy’s leave in and Giovanni’s when my hair is wet. I’ve spent hours watching video clips made by bloggers of all shades, (some with hair as hard as mine - although not many – I must say there is a bias towards the ladies with a natural curl), about the best natural products, how to manage your hair, easy to do hairstyles, even headscarf wrapping (thanks Belle – you are amazing at this… Next step Gele – Nigerians watch out).
My mother’s opinion, which I knew wouldn’t require much of a prompt to elicit (the customary inspection was inevitable), meant the most to me. She’s a modern woman, but still so very African, so I presumed she’d admonish me for the unruly masculine fro in favour of a more dignified conservative weave/ relaxer. To the contrary, my mother who never ceases to amaze me, was beguiled, she loved it and boasted how beautiful it made me look. She miraculously and without request brought out a block of Shea Butter so big it filled a shopping bag and like a rite of passage we chopped it up together whilst she talked of its purity, its roots in her motherland, Ghana, and often forgotten powers of repair on skin and hair. She bemoaned the trend in Africa towards European products, despite the production of some of the finest natural creams and butters. She sat and we talked as I used the natural butter to treat and twist my hair.
It’s only been a while and the nightly twists are already starting to erk, but when I wake and let out my little fro I feel sexier, richer more content in myself than I ever have. I even notice men checking me out more regularly – who would have guessed?.... Next week I’ve got to get back to the exercise. Not sure I’ll feel as lovingly when it shrinks to the point of no return after a jog; if I get through that I’ll get through anything with this hair.
Wish me luck!