The African Woman’s Natural Hair Diaries

Let’s talk about the African woman’s natural hair.

Forget about the amazing, edited photos we see online of African women with sleek, black “natural” hair braided into cornrows or held up in fancy hairstyles, that make you somehow insecure with your own mane. As a matter of fact, I tried my level best just to find authentic, natural hair images from the Internet for this post.

Let’s talk about our own African, natural hair as we know it. Kinky, often times unmanageable, which hardly grows to our desired lengths or if it does, then thanks to our blessed genes. Let’s face the real truth of our African hair from a feminist perspective.

African natural hair comes with its bagful of challenges.

In my country Kenya, for example, some of the communities famed to have nearly all of their women with naturally long, soft, manageable hair happen to notably be the Maasai, Samburu, Somali and communities from Northern Kenya such as the Borana, Gabra and the likes. Other women from other communities who may possess such kind of hair, considered beautiful by many, may attribute it to familial genes.

As a clarification of my statements above, there are African women with naturally, long, soft hair doesn’t matter from which community they come from, (though there are those from communities that have a distinct hair texture) and African women as well, with kinky, shorter hair.

A shy but beautiful Samburu woman. Photo courtesy of http://www.beontheroad.com

For most of my life, I have struggled with hair. It is the kinky type. The one that a blow dryer cannot even manage. It has it’s good days and oh, so many bad days, that I would be forced to tie a turban to avoid the embarrassment of a bad hair day. I have been tempted to perm it before. I have actually gone ahead and had my hair chemically processed, just to avoid the hassle of natural hair which shrinks when it comes into contact with water.

Please do not be fooled by the picture below. This is my natural hair at its finest. There are days when I swore I would shave it all off and I know many African women secretly struggle with hair issues. We just don’t say it aloud because we believe that we are past that stage of constantly fretting about hair. But then it is a known fact that hair makes a woman. How a woman wears her hair determines her whole look. We look different every time we come from a salon which is proof of this.

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Good Hair Day Image Of My Own Natural Hair

 

There is a contributing factor to this struggle with our hair though. Society long came up with a gauge of what is considered beautiful and what is considered not beautiful. Africans have sadly endured periods of oppression in the past, where their oppressors appeared to have “better” hair, “better” looks and “better” opportunities than them. We were socialized to find something wrong with ourselves from our way of life, to our looks. We developed a desire to emulate what was considered ideal. If we didn’t achieve it, we felt at a loss on what to do and our insecurities set in.

I’m not employing a victim mentality by stating the above, far from it! However, most of the insecurities that African women have with their hair, is mainly due to the fact that it does not grow to amazing lengths, it is not soft and flowy like that of their Caucasian counterparts. The end result is African women trying to achieve the long, flowy hair look by donning weaves and chemically processing our hair.

And while I have no issue whatsoever with weaves and permed hair ( remember, I have equally tried both in the recent past), my perspective on this is that as African women, we have not taken our time to really understand the intricacies of our hair. We only find the need to take really good care of our hair once it is chemically processed, because there are consequences for ignoring a permed head. When it is in it’s natural state, we assume that a full blow dry will do.

Convincing an African woman to treat natural hair with wholesome hair treatments would be like convincing a tired mule to transport heavy luggage. The only hair treatment we deem appropriate for natural hair, is washing it with a shampoo we assume will take care of everything and using hair oil during our blow dry sessions. We at times tend to neglect our hair lines, which break with every braiding and twisting session at the salon, only noticing there is a huge problem once the damage is already done. The blow dryers with their heat do no justice to our scalp.

Braided African hair. Image courtesy of nappilyjenny.blogspot.com

However, all hope is not totally lost as in recent times, an ever increasing number of African women are opting to take really good care of their natural manes. Some are ditching the weaves for their well kept kinky dos and the results are truly amazing. An African woman with a full head of black, natural, kinky hair is a sight to behold. We all have admired the afros of the 70s era that our parents rocked. The same hasn’t changed in this era. An African afro is our identity and will still be our identity for decades to come.

African women need only five remedies to fully appreciate their natural hair:

  • Take time to study your natural hair.
  • Understand your natural hair and what works for it.
  • Embrace your natural hair, short or long, kinky or soft with no comparisons to another’s.
  • Fiercely love it.
  • Take good care of it.

Ethiopian hair. Image Courtesy of http://www.pinterest.com

Remember, how a woman chooses to wear her hair reflects a lot about her personality. All these unattainable targets we set for our hair are not necessary. The versatility of natural African hair is that it can be braided into so many different styles and as much as we love our weaves, the hair underneath is what will always matter. So make a mental note to always and I mean ALWAYS, take good care of it.

Our kinky, curly and knotty heads are our identities. Columnist, Carol Odero, on today’s Sunday Nation, clearly attests to this with her article on hair. We got to rock these manes we’ve got!

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