I recently sported this Afro look on social media and it caused a little stir. Probably because no one had seen me with my natural hair out like this before. I stopped relaxing (straightening) my hair in 2014 because I wanted to give it a break from chemicals with the hope of growing it fuller. When I look through my old pictures, even though my hair was relaxed straight, I mostly had it in braids. Reason being, when I joined the gym in 2001, I found out how quickly a beautiful salon wash and set can become limp after a sweaty gym session. To avoid constantly blow drying my hair, I kept it in braids. By 2016, my hair was fully natural.
Childhood afro hair plaiting trauma
As a child, I hated getting my hair cornrowed. The local women who did it in our neighbourhood back in Lagos were very mean. I remember elderly “mama Tawa” opposite our house. She’d make me face her and clamp my head between her thighs to didi (mat) the back of my hair. Oooooh the smell that came from her nether region was suffocating. Then, there was the lady a few streets away (can’t remember her name), if I moved an inch, she’d use her Ilari (wooden pick comb) to give me a knock on the head and tell me to keep still.
That unpleasant period ended when I went to boarding school. If I remember clearly, my twin and I decided to cut our hair in our form 1 (year 1) because short hair was easier to maintain in boarding school. My mother (who by then was experiencing hair loss) tried to discourage us but we went ahead and did it. As I grew older, the desire for a more mature straight look developed, but my mother wouldn’t allow it.
If I can’t straighten, I might as well braid.
I started braiding my hair in my A’Level year at FSAS Lagos. We did it ourselves, my twin and I She’d braid mine and I’d braid hers with attachment (extensions). We sometimes used little coloured elastic bands on the tips to jazz up the style. Those multi coloured elastic bands got me in trouble one morning when the VP grabbed my plaits from the back and started pulling them off my head. I discovered that morning that, colour wasn’t allowed.
Evolutionary theorists suggest that Homo Sapiens (early man) had kinky textured hair when they arose from Africa over 2million years ago. They believe that all of modern human evolved from Africa and early man had kinky hair to protect them from the sun rays.
Hair stylist Andre Walker introduced a hair system which puts hair into different classes. According to his system, I’ve got type 4b hair. Afro or kinky hair though versatile, is not particularly easy to manage. After it’s washed it shrinks into very tight curls and gets tangled up. A lot of hair product is needed to moisturise, soften and tame Afro hair. And for this very reason, I wanted easier to manage hair.
Liberation is going from Afro to straight hair
I can’t remember exactly when I got my hair permed (straightened) but it was before I started university in 1987. Straightening my hair was a dream come true. Many of us wanted to look like the black women we saw in Ebony, Jet and Right On magazines who either had straight bouncy or Jheri curled hair. Hair that moved when they shook their heads. I even started dying my hair jet black to complete the look.
When I look back now….God has really been merciful. When I started relaxing my hair, it usually wouldn’t relax fully no matter how long the relaxer was left on my hair. Then, one the day at a salon near where I lived in Lagos, the owner suggested I wash it before relaxing. That dangerous (hair should be relaxed dirty with scalp based with oil) and painful experience did the job. The joy of straight hair made me go back several times after the first time even though my scalp was left in scabs from the chemicals.
It’s a miracle I didn’t suffer long term scalp damage from the several times I relaxed my hair just after I washed it. I list below 3 major reasons I believe why at the age of 51 I still have a some hair left on my head.
3 reasons why I still have some hair.
At 51 years, I’m thankful that I’ve still got hair on my head considering that I didn’t particularly take care of my hair in my younger years. I believed I’ve lost about 50% of my childhood hair density. Hair can thin as we grow older. Some of my hair loss is natural age related hair thinning. Some is also hereditary because my mum suffered from early mid scalp hair loss. I sometimes wonder how I’ve managed to keep some hair on my head and these 3 reasons is what I concluded.
The God Factor
Wigs, hats and scarfs give me a headache. As a result, God in his infinite mercy, allowed me to keep some hair despite the many years I didn’t properly care for my scalp.
Sweaty Spin Sessions
I joined the gym in 2000 and have been a member since then. Sweaty cardiovascular sessions have helped nourish my hair follicles by increased circulation and blood flow. Our hair receives nutrients and oxygen from our blood in order to grow. Essential nutrients are circulated to hair follicles by the blood. All my sweaty sessions have helped (and continue to help) my hair because they increase blood circulation, hence growth.
Braiding can be a form of protection styling if done properly. Making sure the braids are not too tight, of a bigger size have helped my hair. In addition, I leave the edges nearest to my forehead out because that’s the most delicate section of the scalp.
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