African vs. African- American Hair Practices

by Christabel Mintah of Chy's Curlz

I’ve been thinking of developing this story for a while now. It is the story of how girls were/are made to wear their hair shaved from grade to high school, both in Ghana and in Nigeria.

A little back story, I was born Nigerian and grew up in Nigeria until I was 10 years old when we moved to start a new life in Ghana. Since I spent most of my formative years in Ghana, that became more home to me than Nigeria was. There are many similarities between the two countries and one is the rule to have young girls wear a TWA until they graduate from high school. I think the reasoning behind it is the same as there is for wearing uniforms. It ensures homogeneity, also, the girls who could not afford to get their hair braided did not have the pressure to spend the money and thirdly, everyone looked “neat” and “presentable.” Now, that is not to say it was right or wrong, just giving the possible reasons.

As far as I can tell, this practice was mostly the case in public schools. I noticed that many (not all) private schools permitted their female students to wear their hair at whatever length they wanted, as long as it was braided up neatly. The only girls who were exempt from this rule (public and private school) were those who were biracial. There weren’t many girls who were biracial, but those who were, got to wear their hair long. Again, as a little girl, you don’t think anything of it. You just knew that their hair was “prettier” and more “manageable” than yours and it wasn’t a big deal. You didn’t read meaning into it (at least not consciously), you just accepted it.

I remember our final year of high school, many girls (me included) will grow their hair out, but will tie it down with a scarf overnight to encourage the maximum shrinkage to avoid being punished (spanked) by a teacher. We did this because we knew that once school was out, we were going to get our first relaxers … good times.

That's me with the bandanna and our senior year of HS :)

This practice did not seem like such a big deal to me when I was growing up, but as I get older and upon going natural, I’ve been thinking about how it affected my love, or lack thereof, of my natural hair. You see, most of my friends are Nigerian or Ghanaian and most of them – if not all – sport relaxers and will not let go for anything (although I’ve convinced 7, including my mama, to BC. Yea! #teamnatural). But why is this the case though? Why is it that, after growing up without relaxers, we hold onto it so strongly? Many of the experiences I read on blogs pertaining to natural hair are those of African-American women. They relate how they got their first perm at 4, 5, 6 or thereabouts. The stories go on to say that since relaxers were the norm for them, they just kept getting them until their decision to either BC or transition.

My question is this, why after having two very different and distinct experiences do African -American and African woman have this reluctance to let go of the relaxer?

85 Weigh in!:
Anonymous said...

That's crazy, that they let biracial girls wear their hair long because it was "manageable"...hummpppphhh...they are curlies of every background still looking for the holy grail products and styles....so messed up!!!

~CocoEuro

Doc said...

til this day my mother hates my natural hair, but yet sports a twa...under wigs. I have tried to convey to my mother that message of be proud of who you are. We have gotten into plenty of disagreements about hair because she still has that old world mentality from Ghana. maybe the movement here in the US will effect those in Ghana. who knows?

hairscapades said...

I love this post! Thanks for sharing your experiences Chy’s and providing many of us with insight into this custom. Hmmm … you know, when it comes down to it, I sometimes think it is still as simple as many of us want what we don’t have. Those with curly hair want straight hair, those with straight hair want curly hair, those who are short want to be taller, those who are tall want to be shorter, those who are thin want to be curvier, those who are curvy want to be slimmer … and the list goes on and on and on. Also, I think there is something to be said for personal aesthetic and some just prefer straight, flat, “swingy” hair whereas others prefer curly, full, gravity defying hair! Finally, and probably most significantly, I think that we share a common challenge and that is not knowing what our natural hair can really do and not knowing how to care for it in its natural state outside of braids, ponytails and TWAs. When it comes down to it, it seems to me that it might be the “manageability” factor that feeds the reluctance to go natural. For African-American women, it often comes from having relaxers or braids from a young age and not knowing how to care for their hair in any other state. For Nigerian and Ghanaian women, keeping the hair short effectively does the same thing as it’s pretty much wash and go. One is never able to learn how to care for natural hair allowed to grow long, which requires a certain level of knowledge and skill. So, ultimately, for both groups of women, relaxed hair may just seem easier and less complicated. Just my two … ummm, twenty-five? … cents!

Shelli

Afropean Queen said...

In Namibia, were I am from, all through Primary school and High school, all the girls had to have our hair tied up with scrunchies and hair had to be out of our faces, All the girls. In primary school, every Monday morning we had assembly and our nails were checked (short, neat and no nail polish), our dresses had to be a certain length, shoes polished and clean, it was the same in high school, we wore white shirts and grey skirts. Our bra's had to be white, beige or cream no color underwear and our skirts were allowed to be just one hand print above the knee (this was in a German Public school), the 'African/Black girls were allowed to relax our hair, or braid it, but it had to be out of our faces and off the shoulders, the White girls as well, we could color our hair but nothing too obvious few highlights. You would get suspended if you came to school with blue or red or green hair. I had some explaining to do, when during the summer I had dyed my hair red. In terms of relaxers, I actually got mine late (around 12), most of my friends also around that same time. I think with us, it had more to do with the fact that it was mandatory to have swimming lessons twice a week and do sports once a weeks and we had to do an extra mural sport in the afternoon, so relaxing hair was not on lol. Most of us girls would do our hair during the holidays and then when it came back to going to school, we would have our hair braided or cornrowed. By the way, I was born in Zambia and Moved to Namibia (when in Zambia, my hair was tied up or plaited or braided - Never relaxed). I should note that in Namibia, we have school uniforms and only very few (I think perhaps 3 schools dont have a uniform) however, all the girls hair were always neat, tied up and out of our faces, no matter which school you went to. I mean you represented your school till the last bell went out and even in the afternoons, if you were caught in the shops in your uniform with your hair loose or shirt tucked out you could be reported the next day lol.

Anonymous said...

I am from Senegal and since most of us are Muslim, babies are shaved at birth and from then on, we wear braids and some of us get to perm their hair after age 10 and get weaves after 16 (I was only allowed to get a weave after 18 even though I had been in the US since 15). I think hair is seen and treated differently from country to country in Africa. In Senegal we don't have many biracial people but the Fulani/Toucouleur have longer/curly hair than most and tend to be lighter so I guess our hair is seemed as "nicer". I recently cut off all my hair (a big deal for my people, lol) and I couldn't be happier.

Anonymous said...

I'm trying to guess what high school that was. It looks like Accra Girls? Anyway, I agree with your assessment and want to say that most of my friends as well as my sisters and mother are natural and I think what made us go natural was the whole cycle of growing your hair with a perm etc and have it all break off during the winter. I can say for myself I wouldn't be natural if I were still in ghana.

Aniversum said...

I am from Nigeria, but I was born and raised in Austria. Only for two years, when I was six years old, we lived in Nigeria. I always had long and very hick hair, and the kids at school always told me, that when I am 10 years old i will have to cut my hair, because thats how it goes. we went back to Austria and I got my first relaxer with 7.

I went natural with 22, and the little nigerian community here in Austria, had huge problems adapting to it. why don't you get a relaxer? was a question I was always confronted with from other black people.
The white people have no problems with my hair, in fact I get a lot of compliments over my hair.

I cannot speak for the nowaydays Nigerian, but the generation of my mum (50+) has a huge problem with natural hair. It is hard for me to understand, but it seems that they feel personallly attacked,when a black woman decides to wear her hair natural. My mum cried when I went natural, and said that I don't look presentable anymore.

I am proud to be natural, because I am living proof that black hair does grow. since my bc I have cut it several times, and it always grew back. now i want to grow it to waist length. Of course for myself and to encourage others. In the german speaking countries the natural hair movement is still small, but we are growing. I am sharing my experiences on my blog in german language.

Anonymous said...

I think it's important to point out in these discussions that these are modern African styling traditions which reflect colonial period attitudes. Pre-Colonial and Non-Westernized Africans were/are not ashamed of their hair texture and often wore very elaborate hairstyles in multiple lengths. The shame modern Africans and Africans from the Diaspora harbor about their hair is a direct hold over from slavery and colonialism and the messaging that was drilled into us and passed along.

Afropean Queen said...

@ Aniversum,ganz super, du kommst aus Ă–sterich!!!!! I lived in Vienna for a number of years, and I gotta agree the African community tends to frown a bit at natural hair, whereas the Germans are more accepting. I know when I shaved my head my South African, Namibian and West African friends were shocked and some actually were hurt, as though I had done something personally to them lol. But my German friends loved my bald head!!!!! And they totally embraced my TWA, my Afro and my braids. I will say this though, it was hard for me to find natural products in Vienna.

Naijaprincess said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Naijaprincess, I grew up in Nigeria,and I actually wore my hair until secondary school (middle school and high school here). No one had a problem with it and while I cut it often it was always my decision, I would get tired of washing it, COMBING it and having it plaited. In secondary school, everyone, black, white, pink, red, biracial cut their hair through middle school and we were allowed to grow it out in high school. I think most Nigerians are just not as obsessed with hair as other cultures, of course that also means we are mostly uninformed about hair. I live in the States and I went natural cos I wanted my kinky hair,I had never liked straight hair and it was not as easy to get it braided as it was in Nigeria(I also desperately wanted short hair) it wasn't a big deal. I was surprised to find out that it was a major topic of discussion here. Whenever I visit Nigeria, I am not asked to get a relaxer, I am usually asked to wear it in a pulled back puff (which everyone seems to love) or to get it in plaits (mostly because I wear my hair in an uncombed mess for the most parts). I should also point out that even when my hair was relaxed in Nigeria (and it was healthy and long) I never wore it out, I always wore it in plaits and braids which is what most Nigerian women I know do, and if your hair is in Braids (which is not a western style btw) who cares if it's relaxed or natural. I got my first relaxer (which my mum did not approve of) because I could not abide combing my hair, it was the most painful thing ever, and for that reason I cut my hair often, now I have a better handle on it. But I think for most Africans, while we will admire long hair, natural (like with the fulani's) or relaxed, our self identity and esteem is not tied to our hair in anyway.

Naijaprincess said...

I grew up and went to elementary and public secondary school in Nigeria. EVERYONE, including biracial kids had to chop off all of their hair/wear cropped hairstyles in secondary school. In elementary school, our hair had to be neatly braided and groomed, and the braiding styles were often assigned- e.g. week 1- cornrows into a pony tail, week 2- corn rows going straight back, week 3 corn rows into two pony tails. Braiding is super cheap in Nigeria- e.g. the equivalent of $10-$40 for a whole head of microbraids, so cost wasn't an issue. If you couldn't afford to go to the market and get your hair braided, there was always an older girl on the block who would braid your hair for free or in exchange for something else.

Since some biracial kids didn't have the hair texture for the mandated braided hairstyles, some of them were exempt. However, the vast majority of them with kinky curly hair wore their hair in the mandated braided hairstyles etc. I also grew up around of a lot of Indians and Lebanese in Nigeria- obviously they couldn't comply with the braid mandate for girls in my primary school but they were required to wear their up and out of their faces. No one got a pass just because of their skin tone.

The purpose of these hairstyles and later on the twa in secondary school was ensure uniformity and to remove the unnecessary distraction that hair often provides and to focus it where it belongs, on education.

Hair doesn't carry the same baggage in many African cultures as it does in the United States. For us, it is often just a hairstyle. A relaxer is seen as a coming of age for many girls once they finish secondary school, because it distinguishes them from being in high school. I spend a lot of time in Nigeria, although I now reside permanently in the US, and I've seen lots of naturals. As long as your hair is neat, no one will bother you. Are there crazy relatives and random people on the street who will ask you- "auntie, you no go relaz (relax)" certainly, but I got tons of compliments on my hair when I went back this September and I wore it in its natural state. I big chopped in 2008 all the way down to less than 0.5" of hair and my hair is now past bra strap length when straightened. My family members are simply amazed and lots of my aunties are now contemplating going natural as well.

Naijaprincess said...

At anonymous 2:26 p.m: I wholeheartedly agree. At the end of the day, in our culture, hair doesn't have the same cultural baggage as it does here in the US. Hair is often seen as an accessory- you change it as often as you like. Regardless of it's permed or natural, as long it's neat most people will not care. I was never pressured to relax my hair at all. The pressure and push back that I got was in deciding to chop it all off- my dad actually called a family meeting of our entire- immediate and extended and begged my aunties to talk some sense into me because he thought I was going through some sort of quarter life crisis. I big chopped two months before I graduated from med school,so I guess he thought I was having a nervous breakdown and the stress and anxiety had finally taken its toll on me. LOL. But he loves my hair- and so do my brothers and the rest of my family. They're forever sticking their hands in my hair and messing it up.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm.... I'm going to have to disagree slightly with the original poster regarding biracial kids being exempt from braiding or chopping their hair in Ghana. I grew up in Ghana with my cousins who are biracial- half Ghanaian, half Lebanese. We all, my cousins included chopped off our hair in secondary school. There were no exemptions due to hair texture or manageability- that may just be your own perception of the situation. In elementary school, my cousins with curlier hair got their hair braided. But one of my cousins just had hair that always slipped out of braids and ended looking a mess by the end of the day, so she had to wear it up in a pony tail or in a french braid. She was never allowed to wear it out in our school.

Anonymous said...

This was the best post and the best set of comments I've ever seen on any hair blog. Here we are in the internet age and we have not been embracing the total diaspora. I think if there were more posts from our sisters throughout the world we would understand our history (of our hair included) and so much more. Those who do not know their history are doomed to repeat certain negative aspects of it. How eye opening it is to learn about how our ancestors viewed hair. OMG I will be looking for more hair vlogs who aren't afraid to reach out to the world.

Anonymous said...

I am Nigerian, born and bred, and I never had to cut my hair either in primary or secondary school. In my secondary school, a girls only school, we had hair styles(corn row) announced every Friday for the next week, and there were two default styles we could do any time.
Some girls still wore their hair short, but that was probably their parents preference.

I know there were schools where you had to cut your hair, but the previous posters made it seem like all schools were like that, which is not the case.

Marin

Anonymous said...

I am from Senegal and interestingly enough for me, my desire to get a perm at 15 was for a desire to have my hair look like african-american celebrities' hair like Beyonce, kelly rowland, and the list goes on. As far as I know there were no restrictions on how girl's would wear their hair at school so long it was neat. It's funny how we tend to ignore the influence african american entertainment has on other cultures. Now that we are seeing more and more prominent figures proudly wearing their natural hair, other people including myself are feeling more comfortable with their textures. Just recently a major senegalese news website published an article about the "natural hair movement in Senegal". The statements above are only based on my personal experience as i can not speak for the entire African continent. :)Gotta love this blog. Thanks Nikki

Anonymous said...

I've been waiting for an African woman to post an article about natural hair in Africa. Although I am fr States I live in Africa and see that it would be so nice if the women in Africa could be educated better on embracing their natural hair. The media has influenced people everywhere even in the rural areas of continent of Africa. Also the lack of proper natural hair products makes it difficult for African women to give up the relaxers. Everyone wants to fit into the mold.

Anonymous said...

@ Anonymous 3:37 p.m.: You hit the hammer on the nail! Many African girls and women are influenced by African American celebrities, like Beyonce, Rihanna or Kelly Rowland. I just came back from Nigeria and when I went to the salon with my aunties, they would always bring along pictures of the Nigerian or American celebrities whose hairstyles they wanted to emulate.

Regarding hair styles in elementary and secondary school, I went to an all girl secondary school in Nigeria where every girl was required to wear a twa. In elementary school, the hair policy wasn't as strict; it just had to be neatly groomed and/or braided- couldn't wear our hair down and out.

I don't think the previous posters were implying that all secondary schools are like theirs, I think they were just speaking from their own experiences. The private schools had a fairly lax policy regarding hairstyles. However, in my region in Nigeria- Owerri to be exact, most of the public secondary schools in that region required girls to wear twas. This was 10-15 years ago though- it may have changed since then.

Laxmi said...

Hi Aniversum *waves* na, wie geht's? :-)

Interesting post. This post/photo took me down memory lane :-) I live in Germany and I've heard nothing but compliments since I BC'd this summer. As far as my Ghanaian relatives go,besides just my cousin, brother and mum who like it, I think everyone else is choosing to invoke the 5th amendment, about going natural lol!

I agree with Naijaprincess,although in Ghana, it had more to do with the school you attended-usually the public schools. In primary school, I didn't have to cut my hair, some did, and I wanted to so badly but my mother wouldn't allow it.

In Junior and Senior Secondary school I had to. We would also 'store' our hair, which was not cutting it throughout the semester and tying it down with a scarf to mask it's length as a full-out afro would be seen as unkempt, or worse- 'you're storing your hair so that you can relax it during the vacation and act like you're grown and engage in grown up things' lol.

I went to Holy Child, an all catholic girls boarding school and you can expect a statement like that from a teacher, which could be followed by him or hair zipping a pair of scissors through your hair.

When it comes to negative statements about natural hair, I think, the less educated a person is, the more you can expect to hear negative comments from them, if I take a stroll through the market or through a village somewhere, I will not be surprised by the number of people who would wonder why my hair isn't relaxed, these are the same people who usually bleach their skin. That's not to say that there aren't some 'well-educated'people who carry around that ignorance. Although as already posted above, there is a lot of influence from AA celebs, and pretty much everybody is a weave queen nowadays.

Anonymous said...

This is the one of the most thought-provoking and insight-worthy posts I've seen in a long time. As an African-American woman in the United States, I've often wondered why African sisters abroad kept their hair short. I figured it was a cultural tradition, but did not understand the "reasoning" behind it.

Thank you all for sharing your perspectives and experiences. A teachable moment indeed.

Anonymous said...

Very insightful post! You learn something new everyday ;o) I'm from Egypt (Christian) and recently decided to stop relaxing my hair and to go natural so to speak. My family comes in all different shades- from Kelly Rowland's beautiful skin tone to very fair. I have gotten a lot of pressure from my family to keep my hair straight- some of them have told me that wearing it in its natural curly state brings too much attention to our African roots ;o( Oh well- that's their problem. We are African after all.

Malaika

kinky_lockz said...

as an African in the diaspora i am so happy to see such a topic brought to light. the comments really bring together a diversity of knowledge and experience. for me, this is why i advocate the term afro-textured hair and not african-american or biracial hair on social media sites. our curls/kinks run throughout the spectrum. young ladies all over the world are constantly accessing the internet to note trends in fashion, hair and beauty. i would love for each of us to see ourselves represented :)

Anonymous said...

I loved to read this blog because I think our experience with hair as Africans is a bit different than our "cousins" from the US. I come from Cameroon (Nigeria's neighbor on the East).The country is kind of like Canada, with a "french" side and an "English" side (next to Nigeria). I am from the french-speaking side and girls there could wear our hair however long or short we wanted to throughout primary and high school,as long as it looked neat and we didn't use extensions to our butt and crazy colors.Relaxing was a bit like a coming of age ritual as many would get it for their baptism/1st communion/birthday/successful completion of a diploma or just randomly. However,it had to be braided, banded/"threaded" or in a ponytail.There were reports of some girls who had one side randomly cut by some headmasters because it was out.During the Monday inspection, some girls with long hair had to take some braids out if the headmaster doubted it was all theirs(some would sneak in extensions)...CRAZY

Girls in the english side however (or in english schools on the french side) usually had their hair cut,mostly for the same reasons mentioned in the blog.They would usually get braids or even a relaxer during the summer and cut it back in fall. But I never heard of some special pass for biracial hair on either side as the ones on my side went by the same rules we had.Maybe in international schools.

In my "tribe",traditionally girls&women would cut their hair when a loved one passes away.Some naysayers would say not doing that is a sign of disrespect or actually force them to do it but i haven't heard of such cases in recent history.

In general in my country,BRAIDED or CROPPED SHORT natural hair (TWAs and afros will get stares,but more bc they're unusual), relaxed hair,it doesn't matter,it's all hair (unless it's in dreadlocks because that's a bit too exotic for my folks lol).However there is a trend towards weaves as the youth culture is very influenced by the African-american culture we see on tv.I remember being VERY SURPRISED when I came here at 16 and started braiding in a hair salon.Seeing African American girls' hair JUST LIKE MINE or as diverse as I was used to back in Africa....I WAS SHOCKED!!!! (same for not so flawless skin but that's another story lol)Where were the flowy locks,waves and curls down to the back I saw in music videos that defined my childhood? I know the biggest (and most requested by far)gift I can give to my friends who are still there is indian or brazillian hair as they spend just as much as girls here to get their fix (which is A LOOOOTTTTT given the difference in currency $1=500 francs.$100=50,000 francs= 1 YEAR OF TUITION TO THE STATE'S COLLEGE).I have never had a relaxer (my mom told me last week she wanted my sisters and I to make the choice ourselves).I'm 21, natural and I LOVE IT

Anonymous said...

Just a question . . .
If African women do not have the "cultural baggage" that African-Americans have with hair, why are we even having this discussion, why do African women relax their hair at all, and why can no one seem to tell us HOW is it possible that Europeans can come to your home continent and completely wipe-out the beauty standard to the point in which there is no knowledge available about Precolonial natural hair care??

Missy said...

Ghana in the house!!! I always have to rep first :-). The issue of hair in African countries is an interesting one. I am of the opinion that the "cultural baggage" related to hair is one of those shared Black experiences. The process through which Black women all over the world learn what hair is "good" hair differs but it all stems from Europeans forcing their culture on us through slavery and colonization. I have observed a recent trend of Africans at home and in the diaspora reclaiming their culture through fashion. I am excited to see so many more African women rocking modern styles made from African prints and wearing their hair natural and looking fly as hell. There is a group on facebook that used to be really active called "Ghanaians who Rock their Natural Coily Hair" and it is amazing to me how many of us there are out there. And many of us sure wish we'd left our hair natural after SSS (Gey Hey in the house!). My hair would be touching my behind by now lol.

Anonymous said...

@ anonymous 8:12 pm: Not everyone relaxes their hair to achieve a European standard or ideal of beauty. As many have stated above- relaxing is a rite of passage for many young women because it distinguishes them from secondary school students. I don't know how else to explain it except for how it has already been explained- it just doesn't carry the same weight or connotations as it does here in the US.

Anonymous said...

very interesting article, I enjoyed reading it and reading ALL of the comments. My friend is from Ghana and when she explained to me that she was forced to keep her hair short, and that she didnt have any freedom to do what she wanted with her hair while in school, I thought it was outrageous, but reading the reasons given above, I guess I understand. I think it is ironic that when one decided to go natural, they are refered to as African Queens or going "back to the motherland" (ive heard this soooo many times), yet, reading the post, it seems Africans arent in favor of natural hair. When I see African women, I dont see them with natural hair, its usually braids or weaves. Also, for those who claim hair isnt a big deal or doesnt hold any baggage, it seem it actually does. Alot of people wrote that thier family members were against natural hair and they prefered for their family to have it straight, i wonder why if hair holds no baggage and its not a big deal

Anonymous said...

At the same time though, we can't lie and say that africans aren't influenced by western media and western ideals of beauty. Pretty much the entire world is because of how pervasive western media is and for other possible reasons. Light skin is seen as more beautiful and kinky hair is usually seen as ugly and unmanageable.

I think because Natural hair is not seen as desirable or sexy is WHY it's a rite of passage. Relaxed hair is seen as more feminine and desirable, let's be real.

It might not hold the same weight as it does for African Americans but there's still a lot of discomfort with how our hair grows out of our head. I'm saying all this as a Nigerian born in Nigeria, raised there and raised in the States.

I am hearing of more women going natural in Nigeria so that's good.

Anonymous said...

Also, everytime I go to Nigeria I'm reminded of how STUNNING we African women are and just imagine how amazing they would look natural...let's see them cheekbones!

OK, I know Nigerian men (I can't speak for men in other african countries) are so used to seeing weaves (and let's be honest sometimes jacked up ones) and being attracted to girls in weaves that some do not like natural hair but I really do think if they saw how gorgeous their women looked with their natural hair it would change their minds. African women already have so much confidence and natural hair would just make them seem even more regal.

tessism said...

Before I add my response from http://hairscapades.com, I had to respond to the comment about "cultural baggage". I am Nigerian, raised in the US and spending some time here in Nigeria. It's not that people in Nigeria don't have issues with their hair, it's that the cultural connotations are slightly different. Think colonization vs. enslavement. They produced similar but nuanced experiences when it comes to hair. I have noticed that people just don't care about hair here like we do in the States. I agree with the commenter who said that people aren't as knowledgeable about hair care over here. Shoot people aren't very knowledgeable in the US but there sure are far more resources there. Simply, women aren't as pressed about their hair and easily shave it off, wear a wig or a weave or braids. It's just not the same. I, having grown up in the US, have exacting standards about my hair which ensured cultural shock when I first arrived. Most people have neat hair and I think that's the standard - looking presentable. Also, people relax as a rite of passage. It's what grown women can do once they're done with school and all it's rules about uniformity. I find it best to observe and reserve judgment. I learn more. Being here has been a great eye opener.

tessism said...

Great article! I am currently in Nigeria but I grew up in the US and my hair was natural until junior year in high school. I’m currently rocking a relaxer because it’s the easiest thing for me to manage. Since I’ve been in Nigeria though, I’ve decided not to relax my hair for as long as possible. Going on 4 months and I’m putting in double stranded twists. I’ve noticed many young girls with their hair shaved off and older women with weaves and wigs everywhere you turn here in Nigeria. I think it’s because they’re forced to shave their hair when they’re younger that these women see relaxed hair or weaves as a sign of womanhood and affluence.

I know I’m on a natural hair blog so I tread carefully when when I say that in my world, there should be no stigma to relaxed or natural hair. It’s a choice and we should be able to move between the two with complete ease and clarity. I am not compelled to relax my hair. I understand the implications of the chemicals and consciously choose to use them until I choose something else. I definitely will go natural in the next few years. In the meantime, my priority is and will always remain on ease and presentation. My hair needs to be gorgeous in whatever form I wear it and that’s after washing it day in day out after Bikram yoga class. My routine needs to be simple and mindless. Right now it’s olive oil and conditioner exclusively. I’m lazy. I expect this will translate well when I go natural.

But I digress, back to hair NIgeria, while it’s understandable to me that women rock certain styles after undergoing the oppressive uniformity of primary and secondary school, I am not feeling the wearing a raggedy weave to wear one or a shoddy relaxer. I suspect that hair maintenance and health using wholesome products isn’t a major focus here. With proper education, I could totally see women rocking gorgeous natural or relaxed hair all of their own. I think if they found out that natural hair can be lush, moisturized and fabulous and they could do it themselves, more women in Nigeria may go the natural way. In the meantime, most of what I see, especially those weaves, just isn;t working. I despise weaves. I also cannot abide with unhealthy hair. One day all women here will have access to healthy, gorgeous hair any way they like it.

Anonymous said...

@Anon 8:12 pm--I was thinking the same thing. It seems as if the desire for relaxed hair in many African countries is explained as either a "rite of passage into womanhood", or a desire to adhere to a Western ideal. But it's still only Black Americans who apparently have "cultural baggage" about hair, notwithstanding the fact most of the forerunners of the natural hair movement (at least online) are American women.

If, as Anon 9:14 pm says that relaxed hair distinguishes older girls from their younger counterparts, then why is it still the norm for adult African women to keep their hair relaxed, weaved or braided? Why is loose natural hair still frowned upon by African adults, do they regard their own hair as childish? Christabel asks that herself with: "Why is it that, after growing up without relaxers, we hold onto it so strongly?"

There was a post here months ago about the African hair braiders in the States, and the discussion led to how many Africans of different nationalities view loose natural hair as unkempt, ugly, etc. It's interesting to read statements like that, yet the perception is that it's the Black Americans who have "baggage" (and this isn't the first time I have heard this).

Whatever makes your boat float ya'll, lol. Meanwhile I'll keep on reading the numerous hair blogs/ and YT videos of American naturalistas.

Anonymous said...

You girls are beautiful! I looked up pictures of Fula sisters and their hair and headgear and almost cried!

Chy'sCurlz said...

Hi ladies, I'm so happy that there has been so many unique but varied responses to this post.

As I stated in the original post, I was fascinated with finding out why, even though we have varying experiences (A vs. AA), we have so much in common. It was not meant to be devisive but rather conversation-worthy and thought-provoking. We all have "baggage" in one way or another. They differ in manifestation maybe, but still essentially the same as many pointed out.

One thing I can say though is that growing up, we didn't have "deep" conversastions about hair, weight or any of the things I worry about now. I can't even remeber if I had a flat tummy in HS (I like to think that I did) because weight wasn't a discussion frequently had. A lot of things were not discussed but that dosen't mean that it dosen't catch up with you with maturity and global awareness.

Anonymous said...

Amen Anon 10:05PM!!

So African-Americans have "cultural baggage" WTF??!! LOL! I'm not going to even get into the historical reasons and implications of those words here. Needless to say, I find it laughable to hear from whose mouth/where it comes. Simply, laughable.

As usual, African-American women are used as punching bag for others to "uplift" their self image, if only in their own minds.
Like you, Anon 10:05, I will continue to look at the numerous hair blogs of the many African- Americans who are at the forefront of the natural hair care evolution.

LoriLoveXoXo said...

I'm kind of with Anon on this...as far as...I would have thought that the rite of passage would be very simply growing YOUR hair out...the straightening part is what trips me up. Why wouldn't wearing a big afro be just as strong a distinguishing factor if the idea is to separate yourself by not having a TWA? For me, the relaxer portion came out of left field. It seems that even though the western ideal of beauty isn't as directly imposed as in African-Amerifcan culture...it has certainly reared it's ugly head(pun intended) in a seemingly innocent way. Especially when using images of African-American pop culture icons to model yourself after. Those icons are heavily influenced by westernized beauty standards. So we're still staring the same issue right in the face, we're just looking at it through different pairs of glasses. The devil is ALWAYS lurking in the details (figure of speech, not calling anyone the devil, just sayin...)

JostWrite said...

It is slowly becoming a we and them issue. As a Nigerian, explaining relaxing of hair as "a right of passage" does not make much sense to me. Why not just grow it out and flaunt your growing boobs as evidence of adulthood? :) I am sick of A and AA getting the we and them attitude.

The question becomes why is European looking hair the option to signify adulthood? As Black women whether African or African American or Carribbean...we have baggage when it comes to hair. Most of us do.

If hair is just hair, we should all be wearing it out naturally. Hair is never just hair, we are influenced by media and every thing we see and hear.

Anonymous said...

Here we go...

MommieDearest said...

Where's the rest of the article? It just stopped abruptly.

JostWrite said...

@MommieDearest, Hahahaha...I thought so too.

Chy'sCurlz said...

haha...the article ends with this question "My question is this, why after having two very different and distinct experiences do African -American and African woman have this reluctance to let go of the relaxer?" You can also find it on my blog.

Anonymous said...

I feel like I shouldn't be allowed to comment on this having never set foot anywhere in Africa, but I do know there are similar practices in Panama and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The only reason I can think of for women with such vastly different experiences with hair to so tightly embrace relaxers is because either way they were taught to be ashamed of their hair.

What is mandatorily wearing very short hair throughout your school years but being told that your hair is not acceptable? It is not acceptable long, you cannot wear your hair out. Even if that's not what the system intended to say, that's still the message I got from it. The only difference is the way such intolerable hair texture was being dealt with. In some parts of Africa the "unacceptable" hair is cut off and kept cropped, whereas in America it is hidden underneath weaves or relaxers, either way the school-age girls aren't wearing their natural hair long and styled.

I did not get a relaxer until I was 19. And my grandmother was heartbroken when I did. She actually cried "why would you do that to yourself? Your hair is so long and pretty. I wish I could have had hair like yours. If you had to cut your hair like I did you would never want to change what you have." (Grandma is good at the guilt trip).

None of the women in my family ever had relaxers. Some had weaves, some wore TWAs, and some had the most beautiful, fierce styles I have ever seen. And every single one of them wore it cropped short the whole time they were in school, except for my mother. My mother went to a catholic school where as part of the dress code hair had to be pulled back smoothly from the face. She does not have the kind of hair that cooperates with that kind of style and so it was either get a relaxer or go to the school on the other side of town where cornrows were permitted. But of course the other school had a bad reputation and hair grows back, right?

(I think I lost the point somewhere in there)

Anonymous said...

I have read all the comments on "CULTURAL BAGGAGE" about hair with African versus African-American women, I think what commenters such as @Tessism meant to say was that the issue does not cut as deep with African women as it seems to African-American women. While it is true that many girls relax their hair as teenagers, there are some who don't and it's not a big deal. In Africa, you generally don't hear of parents or grandfathers etc telling girls to relax their nappy hair. I use this example because of some of the stories I read on hair blogs.Of girls/women facing enormous resistance from their family and friends when they go natural,big chop etc, of people terrified to go on job interviews with hair that is not straightened, of women wondering if they will get a man if they let go of the weave or relaxer. Generally in Africa, however you choose to wear your hair the general expectation is for your hair to be neat and presentable whether it's straightened, braided, cornrowed, twisted or cut short.

On the flip side, there are *some* African-American women who have expressed deep seated disdain for their hair on vlogs and blogs. We've seen it all. Prior to coming to the U.S. I knew many women wore weaves and relaxed but I was absolutely shocked to learn that for some of them it was not simply a style preference. It was because they had learned to hate their own hair because from an early age they were told it needed to be straight at all costs.

This comment is not meant to point fingers or show who has more issues than the other but simply to point out some of the subtle differences. There are some common areas of course such as the influence of celebrities who we sometimes want to emulate. I think the goal should be to seek understanding so that ultimately we can appreciate ourselves more.

Sue

Anonymous said...

Ok, semi-related question, was anyone here ever told "only whores straighten their hair"? I was, it was also often accompanied by "only whores wear red lipstick" and "only whores show the whole world what they got"

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous at 11.52 am, I agree! Being told to wear your hair short or pulled back or whatever, does send the message that any other option is unacceptable!! I went to an elementary school where we could keep the hair cornrowed or wear it in loose styles. But in high school cornrows, braids were not allowed. So most of us wore the hair straight, in 1st form most people had natural hair. Fast forward to 4 years later, I was one of the few people left who still had natural hair. Most had relaxers and some wore half-weaves secretly-(weaves weren't allowed).

It was also the 90's Aaliyah, SWV, Salt and Pepa, En-vogue, MC-Lyte were in vogue, as impressionable teenagers natural hair had no chance! All these ladies had smooth hair in edgy cuts, we listened to their music and wanted to look like them.

Sue

Debbie said...

"It was also the 90's Aaliyah, SWV, Salt and Pepa, En-vogue, MC-Lyte were in vogue, as impressionable teenagers natural hair had no chance!"

I give mad props to women who were natural in the 90's because of this right here...LOL...

April said...

I did a study abroad in Ghana three years go in my sophmore year of college and the school children, the girls, all wore their hair in TWAs and the reason told to us was to prevent a bed for lice to develop,(I think that was one of the reasons told to us)and also to keep maintenance down and to assimilate everyone. Everyone was equal to each other with a TWA.

I wore my hair in some busted twists I must say while I was there, they were just more poofy because I didn't wash my hair often in the three weeks I was there, and most passersby asked me if I had locs. It wasn't really a big deal to me, but back then I didn't know about big chops and such. I saw schoolteachers, because I volunteered at an orphanage, with wigs and weaves but I didn't think to link it with shame or pride for natural hair. I did see some skin lightening billboards that upset me though. Also I'm a dark skinned young woman and was only one of two dark women on the trip, while the third black young woman was considerably lighter in complexion than us. I got the "I thought black Americans would be lighter" a few times. I guess some people thought we were all biracial in the states lol, I found that weird.

When I decided to stop getting relaxers it was because I could never take care of one, I did the absolute least to keep my relaxer up. My mother wanted me to relax but it wasn't a strong conviction of hers that I should. My decision to relax at ten was a "I don't really care" kind of attitude, my sister wanted to and I didn't have a real opinion on the matter. Still it was seven years after I'd stop relaxing. Now both my sister and I are natural, she boarded ship after me and my mother doesn't mind one bit. My older sister is still relaxed but it looks good and natural or relaxed her hair is still very thick. She desires curls lol, but doesn't want to work for them, ie going natural. Anywho, it's all good in my hood.

April said...

I would also like to see more African women in Africa wear their natural hair. It bothered me how westernized Ghana was, and of course it wasn't as westernized as let's say Singapore where I am now, but in terms of beauty I feel there could be much more done socially to show African born women the beauty of themselves, the beauty in themselves which comes out through their skin and their hair.

I also find it ironic that even though shea butter, black soap, and so many oils hail from Africa, that doing natural hair in Africa, caring for it that is, isn't as well known or well practiced there. I'm not trying to speak for the entire continent but only in my experiences with African women. A girl I went to high school with who was from Ghana originally used vaseline on her hair. It seemed healthy. And of course that's only one personal observation but I look back now like oh my gosh, but then again she was very low maintenance so it might've just been her style.

Another African born young woman who I still talk to via Facebook sometimes used to get her hair braided up and still does, or she would sport an afro which I though was so cool. But now she is trying to develop better hair care practices. I don't know why I thought that just because they were African that they would've had more insight into taking care of their natural hair. I didn't know the numbers of women in Africa who sported natural hair and I still don't, nor do I know how many of the natural ones whether by choice or not know any traditional ways or any ways at all to treat natural hair.

Curly-Natural-Me said...

I love this post! Growing up in Nigeria and Ghana from this story sounds exactly like growing up in Kenya. I'm Kenyan and i had the same twa experience throughout grade school! That bit about tying a scarf overnight to encourage maximum shrinkage was so tickling coz we did the same thing!!

Anonymous said...

Wow! I don't think this topic was meant to be divisive or to put down one group in order to lift another up. I think what the posters are saying is that hair has different connotations in other parts of the world. As an American residing in Mozambique I can see their point. I don't think "cultural baggage" is meant to be negative but rather as a way of say that it has a different connotation, that's all.

Anonymous said...

Well said anon 11:52pm

Thinking back to when I was living in Cameroon,hair just wasn't a big deal as in it didn't define me or was used to claim my identity.there was no "big" chop.Cutting your hair either meant someone you love passed away,you switch from a French to an English school, you had lice or just because!But hair was definitely seen as something that can make or break an outfit.A common say was "it doesn't matter how beautiful your face,figure or clothing is if your hair isn't".

I'm going to be bold and speak for many women from Cameroon and say that the focus is neatness and versatility.From what I have seen in America I don't have the impression that my cousins here change it up so often.or at least as often as we do.I'm not knocking on anyone,anyone who has been in a hair salon on a Saturday knows the enormous waste of time! so before I get called out,let me explain.

Over there, braids and updo's are SUPER CHEAP/FREE.So if you're caught with hair that is not neat,it reflects on your hygiene.Throughout childhood and teenage years,girls who don't have to wear their hair short to go to school braid their hair EVERY WEEK,max 2 weeks.Because of lice,it's a risk for everyone in the classroom.I had to cut my hair once because some girl had lice and she spread it to the whole class.NOT FUN.The second time I had lice(caught the same way) I had about 12 inches&i was not about to cut it.I had to use sthg that smelled like GASOLINE.it killed the lice but BURNED like i imagine a relaxer on washed hair would. So beyond two weeks...not good.If you don't do it and it's not neat,you risk having it cut for you at school.going to the fulani to braid my hair was the highlight of my week actually bc their braid styles are FIERCE.

Women however do more updo's,weaves,wigs and a little less braids I think bc that was their only option as little girls,so they are enjoying the freedom now.and it takes less time.in case they cant make it to the salon one week,they think relaxed hair would be easier to manage during the work week.I think IT'S REALLY AS SIMPLE AS THAT.

It is unfortunate that many AA grew up with a negative image of their hair reinforced by their own family member.In Africa it's more like "ok my hair is nappy,so????Isn't it supposed to be nappy?I dont get it".But I don't think there should be a debate about who has more "cultural baggage".Let's not kid ourselves.A big portion of the world is influenced by western ideals of EVERYTHING and I believe colonization and slavery were both more direct and longlasting influences than merely watching it on TV.So are there underlying causes to why grownups wear weaves/wigs/relaxed hair more often?Probably.Are those reasons any less valid depending on their continent or cultural background? You tell me!We are talking about a whole continent being told everyday that nothing its people do (wherever in the world they are) was good enough,was ugly,that we had mostly have no positive contribution to world history.we had our independence about that same time as civil rights here and those movements actually helped each other.Does it feel like I'm taking about something bigger in a conversation about hair?yes I am and that's how it feels to me when I read comparisons of "cultural baggage" because in the end IT'S JUST HAIR.So let's be natural,relaxed,shaved on one side cornrowed on the other,Team Edward or Team Jacob... WHATEVER and enjoy and support each other in our healthy hair journey!

Anonymous said...

Okay, I'm not really understanding where the "us" versus "them" controversy is coming from. People are explaining what their experiences were like in different parts of the African diaspora. And let's be honest y'all, speaking as an American- born and bred, we do have quite a bit of "cultural baggage" so to speak as it concerns our hair due to slavery and ongoing mental slavery by some in our community. Let's call a spade a spade. Wasn't it just a few weeks ago that we were up in arms about a curlunikki follower relating her story about how her husband threatened divorce because he didn't like her hair?!? Mind you she was pregnant at the time. I mean really! SMH. I don't take offense at all to term "cultural baggage." Every culture has its own and from my experience, and I can only speak for myself, I have noticed that there are deeper connotations to our hair here in the US than in other parts of the world. Just my two cents.

tessism said...

Amen and 10 snaps to Anonymous 4:51AM above me. It's simply a slightly different focus. No better. Just different. And it runs deeper than hair. Let's not make this about A's putting down AA's then this post would lose it's meaning. It's here to share a perspective.

There are far more infuriating things like skin lightening to discuss. Just imagine that since people did not grow up with you and where you did, they may do things similar to people you know just for slightly different reasons. Focusing on us vs. them or better vs. worse is besides the point. It's just a different experience. There's a whole lot of suppression going on in Nigeria IMHO coming from school, family and church. A relaxer for some is how you bust out and say I can do whatever I want. No crazy headmaster's gonna cut it. The roots of this suppression are deeply tied in colonialism and all its shame and insanity. Trust. It's just a bit different.

Now I grew up in the US. I relax my hair. I love my natural hair. I am Nigerian. I have abundance of hair. If it looked like crap relaxed, I would chop it off in a heartbeat. I'm ruthless with my hair and do not worship it. Shoot, I cut my hair all the time. Health is my focus, not length or being European. My hair must be fabulous when I need it to be. It must serve me well whether I relax it or not. Regardless, it sure does delight me. I'm looking forward to it being natural when I devise a way to incorporate my laziness into that process.

Anonymous said...

I really hate when people generalize their experiences. It is so dehumanizing. I never had to cut my hair in primary or secondary school; my hair just had to be braided and off my face. I also never heard of or saw an exception for biracial kids. I have natural hair and everyone loves it and wants to go natural now.

My mom relaxed my hair at 13 to deal with lice. Gross, I know. I have thick, coarse hair and it was always a battle to get lice out. She cut it one year and after my next lice attack (I was in boarding school and terrible at managing my hair), she reluctantly relaxed it.

I am beginning to think there is a class and culture component to these discussions. There is a lot (looooot) of variation within each country.

Anonymous said...

I'm Nigerian and growing up the cutting hair ritual was usually done only by girls in boarding school (or house girls) as I never cut my hair and I was relaxed at a young age (maybe it was a 90's thing) too as were all the girls in my peer group.

Even though I had to start braiding my hair in Secondary school, relaxers were always encouraged because I had 'bushy' hair that was so 'rough'. I'm natural now and I love it but I still have Nigerian relatives that don't (even going as far as to offer to buy me a relaxer).

Anonymous said...

As a Nigerian, living in Nigeria with natural hair, what I've noticed also is that relaxers and weaves are also used as a measure of social status. Getting your hair done every week and shows others around you that you are of a certain social group because you can afford to go to the salon multiple times a month. And as Nigerians, some of us can get very caught up in measures of social status- e.g. how many chieftancy titles one has, how many degrees, how long it takes an MC to introduce you at a function because he has to mention all of your degrees, chieftancy titles etc LOL. Just providing another perspective.

Oluchi

CurlyTonya said...

Thanks for sharing your story. I think it is interesting that most black women (all over the world) have issues with going natural...and hair in general. We are relaxing, pressing, weaving...and trying to fix our kinky hair! Despite the class and cultural differences....we are all the same.

Anonymous said...

I'm African too, came to the states at 15 and in my country, Zimbabwe, it wasn't all schools that had people cut their hair. Rural area kids often had that rule enforced whereas I was relaxed at a young age and often just had to keep it braided and out of my face. That applied to everyone...biracial kids and white kids. I also went to boarding school and still could have relaxed hair that was again, out of my face and neat.

I'm not quite sure what the post is about really?

Anonymous said...

Ahhh the joys of having kinky/tightly coiled hair.......... The conversations you can have about it are endless. We are so far behind as a people. It's like a curse or a punishment to have tightly coiled hair sometimes. It goes so deep.

Anonymous said...

I'm african american and I'm 49 years old. I'm sure the ages of the posters range from the teens to 60+.

Practices and opinions from the 60's may not be relevent to those from the 70's, 80's and to this era.

Please do not discount the varied experiences of the posters. Take into account the time in which they went to school, and the practices in their local culture.

I have thoroughly enjoyed the opinions posted by my sisters and they have served to dispel a lot of myths about African Hair Practices!

Thank you all!

~Thetruthisoutthere

Anonymous said...

p.s. IMHO, I think the reluctance to let go of the relaxer is based on the dominant cultural opinion that "longer hair is sexier".

Any way you slice it, sex sells.

~Thetruthisoutthere

Anonymous said...

To the ladies that posted about having lice has a child!!! Where were you two years ago!! LOL!! I'm American and at the time we were in Germany and my son bought lice home. Me, my two daughters and my son all had it. I had no help because eveyone and even on the internet said Black people did not get lice!! LOL!!! Some people said I got it because I did not use grease!!! (bigger LOL!!)

Yes, we need to have African/African American a forum more often to bridge this invisible gap!! Our experiences with OUR hair are different, culturally and emotionally.

~CocoEuro

Masuka M said...

Great article. Coming from Zambia, I completely related to this experience of natural hair being very high school and how getting a relaxer was a rite of passage that everyone looked forward to.

Serenity Love Sincere Peace Earth said...

It's a uniform. And uniforms have a purpose. To let everyone know who you are and have everyone look the same.

Anonymous said...

Very enlightening discussion! I love reading about how hair is viewed across the diaspora. We have more in common than we often think do and the way that we relate to our hair differs from culture to culture based upon our historical experiences i.e. the massah's influence.

On a side note, still not sure how "the man" managed to convince societies the world over that their beauty is the standard that everyone else must live up to. Our skin tones and hair textures are so beautiful and versatile. I went on holiday in Ghana last Christmas- traveled home for the holidays with my bestie and lemme tell you I nearly gave myself whiplash- the women were just gorgeous! The people as a whole were just beautiful- beautiful in spirit. I truly felt at home and that was my first time visiting the "motherland."

But hey, I may be biased because I've always believed that black is the most beautiful. I walk around strutting my stuff with my afro blowing in the wind and I KNOW I'm werking it and looking mighty fine while doing! Can't no one tell me my chocolate skin and afro hair ain't beautiful!!! The devil is a liar, y'all! *Whew, about to catch the holy ghost up in here*..... ashamama babababab blanamama bobo, babashemtarara taraki nana.

JostWrite said...

@anon 11:01am...you got me cracking up. I actually needed that. The devil is definitely a liar, almost killed me in a car accident yesterday ON THE WAY TO CHURCH...some nerves.

Anyways, we are all beautiful and many of us carry baggage in regards to hair regardless of culture or nation. Others experiences are more deeper, but no matter what baggage we carry as Black women...we should be able to question and deal with it, while giving others the chance and support to deal with their hair issues as they fight and walk through it.

Anonymous said...

I am loving the comments on this post and I love that we are all here discussing (hair)one of the things that connects us to who we are. No matter your stance on the hair issue, it has united us here for discussion. I do disagree with the way the heading of the post was titled, because there is no "them vs. us", or "us vs. them." We bring our different collective experiences and the internet/curlynikki has provided us this opportunity to discuss them.

To the op I love your picture! You and your hair are beautiful. @anon 11:01 loved the picture you painted of your afro blowing in the wind! Do your thang, sis!

Anonymous said...

OMG I love this post and I honestly read EVERY comment. I'm a naija born & bred. I remember from primary up to high school I HAD to have my hair braided, no exceptions or questions asked same for the biracial kids. I remember there being one phillipino family in my primary school and they were the only ones exempt - mainly bc I feel like they prolly argued w/ the school about how their hair was too silky to braid - rightly so IMO. I remember one of the girls commenting on how she loved that I could braid my hair in various styles and how she hated that hers was so straight & silky and of course I told her how much I loved hers. To us as young girls it was just coveting what we couldn't have, simple as that. Looking at her hair didn't make me hate mine or feel like mine was worse than hers.

I got my first relaxer at 11 right before HS. I remember my mom being beyond livid w/ me and the only reason why I did it was bc I wanted to feel "grown up" bc tbh it made no difference in my life. You see in HS my hair ALWAYS had to be braided up - yup even the biracial kids w/ hair down to their bums and tucked into a scrunchie!! lol I was only home for a few months at a time and during those periods it's not like I left my hair out, it was almost always in braids (ghana weave, senegalese twists, box braids, etc) so there was never a feeling of straight hair is good hair or natural hair isn't.

Fwd to my graduation from HS I got a weave. Why? bc that's what I saw on tv and adults wearing. It was a proof that I was no longer a young girl and now an adult. Today in Nigeria you only see adult women w/ weaves. Why bc it symbolizes adulthood and all the things that come w/ that - sex, social status (brazilian/indian - rich woman, yaki - average/normal woman). Now this does not mean that you need a weave to have those mentioned prior as getting braids, cornrows etc are still done by adults too but it is just a symbol of power. A symbol of choice. That you are of the age where you can go to a salon and demand whatever style you want and wear your hair whichever way you want w/o having to answer to anyone, so long as it's neat and looks presentable bc I assure you even the market seller on the street will have words for you if she deems your hair less than presentable - natural or not.

Anonymous said...

[Contd]...So I guess I don't really understand this strong hatred that I see for women w/ weaves, wigs, relaxed hair (check comments on entertainment blogs like ybf). For me and those that I come in contact w/ it's as simple as- is your hairstyle neat & presentable. Whenever I wear weaves like Beyonce's my mom and many women don't like that either - often saying it's too big now, too bushy, you used too much hair, why is the hair in your face like that? you should do all back or braids i.e cornrows. So it's not really a as-long-as-its-relaxed/weaved-up-its-better situation.

So yes, I do believe that there is "Cultural baggage" however I think the prior commenters articulated it wrongly causing this unneccessary A vs AA thing. What they meant or rather what I took it as is, the cultural baggage an A woman has w/ her hair is somewhat different than that of an AA woman. Some would like to argue not but it's the truth. For an A woman hair is just a mode of expression - one day I want to be Beyonce nxt day I want senegalese twists. Meanwhile, I honestly believed it's more deep rooted for an AA woman and ties more to her sense of identity. Why do I think so? bc only since I moved here (US) for college have I ever heard - oh it's nice to see a sista rocking her own hair and accepting herself for who she is (so I guess I must not love myself on the days I decide to weave it up lol) - In all my 18 yrs of living in naija noone ever tied my hair or the way it looked to my sense of self and I never felt that it did.

PS - I'm a natural too! :D

Sidenote: this is just my perspective o!

Anonymous said...

Experiences are all different! I am a Nigerian..born and bred in Nigeria. I went to a public school and did not have to cut my hair. Our hair had to be neat. For some people, that meant cutting their hair..for others it meant weekly corn-rows. Schools that enforced TWAs did that to keep upkeep dpwn..lets face it - TWAs are super low-maintenace. I got a relaxer at 10 because that's what the big girls did at the time. At that time, there were people with natural hair still. We were not forced to get relaxers..it was something you saw on TV and wanted to do. It made mey hair manageable..I always had panoc attacks as a young child washing super thick and long natural hair..I didn't have any attacks with a relaxer. It is true, that Africans don't have a "good hair" concept. We don't know the word "nappy". For us, its just hair..as we get more westernized..the concept of what's beautiful as changed (as it has ALL OVER the world). But at the end of the day, as long as ur hair is clean and well-kept (however you chose to achieve that)..its now up to you.

Anonymous said...

I apologize for my typos

Anonymous said...

I'm Nigerian, I have natural hair and I went to a boarding school in Nigeria.
Nigeria is a country with a lot of schools who each follow their own rules as they see fit. And if the rules work for them, they keep enforcing them. Not all schools insist you have to cut your hair, but they do insist you keep it clean and braided/threaded/plaits whatever...as far as it's done up. Some schools think it best that everyone cut their hair, because it eliminates stress....period. Good idea? Bad idea? Who cares? It's their school,their rules, don't like it? Find another school. Long story short...blame your parents, they put you in that school being very aware of the rules.
Nigerians as a rule do not perm their hair as a measure of social status, that suggestion is insulting and ridiculous. A perm is inexpensive. Children from villages and ghettos in Nigeria get their hair relaxed on the regular, I can bet you two jars of hair gel it didn't increase their social status!
And why on earth does it sound as if naturals are rarity? I have no words.....Don't forget it's a country with a LOT of people, with different languages,culture, beliefs and religion. There are churches that shun perms and weaves, there are cultures that say a one year old female should get her hair shaved, lots of fulani women still have their hair natural, most braid it. Some people thread their hair and some simply shave it cos by golly it hurts to comb hair all the time!! Just because you don't see people rocking bantu twists or a twist out, proclaiming they're 'natural', doesn't mean they don't exist.
Relaxers have been in Nigeria for as long as it has existed, same as the jherri curl and the hot comb. Nigerians do what they do because they have a choice. That choice may not be theirs at a certain age, but when it is, they perm, hot comb, gel, braid and weave the hell out of their hair, because they either look good or it makes them feel good.
I chose to have my hair permed while still in high school. Why? I thought anything would be better than having to comb my natural hair, becauuse it hurt all the time. Did I prefer it?...nope. Turns out I hate the dryer more. I've been natural four times and it's all been by choice, not as a matter of trend or movement. The pros outweighed the cons.

Every hair story is personal, be it a perm or a braid. Let's not play doctor and diagnose an entire country.

IFY

Anonymous said...

Anonymous Dec 5 4:45

the author said "to the best of her knowledge". Also she is correct in saying that the African experience is different than the African-American experience in school. I am American and many teachers don't care if you are clean or not. I have been in school where the kids wear the same close everyday because they couldn't afford any better with uncombed hair. I would rather go to a school that said you need to be clean and neat (no matter what has to be done) in order to go to school. It takes the pressue away from children who can't afford the best of the best and makes everyone the same. Don't knock the author. It's ok to disagree with her perspective. That's fine because not everyone shares the same experience as you would know if you would read some of the other comments.

Anonymous said...

I haven't read the other comments yet, so if I'm being redundant, forgive me.
In my opinion what "pro natural" people fail to acknowledge enough (at least verbally)is that "African" hair, meaning kinky hair, is difficult to deal with. The less tightly curled hair is, the less time consuming it is, the less fragile it is, the more shine it has, the more movement it has. The merits of shine and movement are debate-able, but I think we down- play the difficulty of a hair texture that is hard to comb and easy to break. There are real advantages to having a relaxer that have nothing to do with hating one's natural texture. I know many will say relaxers damage hair simply by the nature of a relaxer, but a straightened hair strand offers some protection from the fragility of a twisted strand.

I'm over 3 years natural, my hair is probably 3 inches shorter than when I first BC'd. I had a relaxer since I've been 11 years old, my hair was mid back and thick (yes, really) My hairdresser simply knew how to take care of hair and keep all the extra damaging things out of the process. My older sister allowed me to get a relaxer when I was 11 and it allowed me to comb my own hair. I couldn't prior. It freed up my sister's saturdays (she would have to wash it and then twist it)

My point is, let's not underestimate the desire for ease when it comes to hair.

Anonymous said...

From reading many of the comments here, I am still left with a bit of confusion. Many A and AA women seek to have hair that does not look like that which grows out of their head. Many of the African women who have commented here state that it has nothing to do with "cultural baggage" , but expressing affluence, being neat, etc. AA women's attitudes/choices about hair , however, are viewed through the prism of their reaction to slavery and westernized beauty standards- and by NO other factors.

So, I guess if I had grown up in an African country, the chances of me having a weave or a relaxer are pretty much the same, but because I'd be African, the reasons would be considered psychologically healthier. OOOKAAAYY!! Hilarious. SMDH

Since A and AA women appear to pretty much be in the same physical sphere when it comes to hair (as evident by weave/relaxed styles being in much greater abundance than natural styles in BOTH America and Africa)), I am very amazed and even a bit disgusted by the fact that the Western beauty standard was/ has not been resisted more by Africans who were not FORCED into a particular cultural moire, but seemed to CHOOSE to allow it's influence.
Just my 2 cents.

Anonymous said...

@ Anonymous 2:33 a.m.:

I'm really not understanding your logic here at all nor your so-called disgust. We all have the power of choice. Blacks in this country (U.S.) are not "forced" into a particular "cultural moire" to relax, weave etc- at the end of the day it's a matter of choice. I think you're reading waaaay too much into this. Just my 2 cents.

Chandra

Anonymous said...

I'm with you, I can't understand her logic either.

From living there most of my life,I'd say the majority of African women are actually "natural" considering that it might be a little more difficult to obtain relaxers remote areas and by remote I mean 5 hours from the nearest big city/capital on a dirt road or using a canoe (lol).So while relaxers started in more "urban areas" and even though they spread fast,they are just not everywhere like here in America.And the term "natural" is...just an adjective describing the state of one's hair.Like "ok you're "natural",so...idk,should I throw a party for you?" kind of deal. While it is wonderful that so many AA women are using their natural hair journey to reclaim their identity,the latter is not the ONLY reason for being natural.

IMO,the focus is on neatness.it doesn't matter what you do to your hair,as long as it's neat.women have had every kinds of braids possible in their hair since childhood.Relaxers offer a change.It's not about changing your identity (so because you don't have nappy/kinky/hair in the state it comes out of your scalp you're not African anymore?Good luck with that!)When White girls get a tan,is it because they are confused about their identity as White girls?You tell me!

If I could wish just one thing to A and AA alike on their hair journey,is to define their own measures of success.are we going we going to be bogged down by the past,drowned in debates about who had the most direct influence or the biggest reason to reclaim one's identity?or are we going to define our own standards,independently from society or even the natural hair community?Your choice!

Anonymous said...

I believe what the Anon poster meant by "Forced into a particular cultural moire" is that by being in a culture which initially raped them of their language, family connection, and culture in general, American blacks have historically been faced with an in your face attack on just about everything. At one time, American blacks could have been killed for resisting the new cultural paradigm. The longterm consequences may have, understandably, trickled down. One of those consequences may be the use of relaxers and weaves in SOME cases, as an effort to fit into a particular beauty standard that initially was forced.
Africans had the luxury of not being directly subjected to such travails, but made a choice to allow the western beauty standard to affect African culture to the extent it has. And let's be truthful, it has affected the Continent- as evident by the heavy use of toxic bleaching agents and the desire for straightened (not just NEAT) hairstyling.

Anonymous said...

@ Anonymous 10:06 a.m.:

I kindly beg to differ. People are forgetting that Africa as a continent was colonized up until the late 1940s-1950s. I think what several of the posters above are trying to say is that in many cultures, hair is not intricately tied to identity. For many, it is just hair. Perming or weaving doesn't make you less of an African. What is wrong with saying that?

Some countries like my country- South Africa only gained their independence in the early 1990s. Let's not begin with the "my travails or my ancestors travails as a slave in America were more difficult than your experience in Africa." I find that highly insulting. I'm South African- I think the history of my country and the images people the world over have seen of our fight for independence speak for themselves. No one's journey is more important or more difficult than the other.

Here in South Africa, and I can only speak from my experiences, I am natural and I've never felt pressured to relax to fit any standard. The focus as some have mentioned above is on neatness. As long as it is neat, people will leave you alone.

Thandiswa

Anonymous said...

@ Anonymous 10:06 a.m.:

"Africans had the luxury of not being directly subjected to such travails, but made a choice to allow the western beauty standard to affect African culture to the extent it has."

Say what?!? What luxury and what choice? I find this statement to be idealistic at best and ludicrous at worst. As Thandiswa pointed out above, Africa was also colonized and thus, subject to western influences. We- as in African-Americans and blacks in the diaspora, are not the only ones who suffered as a result of the slave trade. I think the current state of many African countries post-colonialism speaks for itself. We have ALL been affected and we have all been influenced by Western ideals of beauty. The way we relate to these influences differs from culture to culture.

I have found this post to be very enlightening. As an American, it is interesting to hear about how hair is viewed in other parts of the world.

Kellie

Anonymous said...

I guess the divide in the comments here indicates the longstanding residual emotions surrounding the trans Atlantic Slave trade and the psychic pain it caused.
Ive known black Americans who disparage Africans for "allowing" colonialism to occur in the first place. They think, "How can someone (Europeans) just walk into your house (continent, in this case) and claim ( buy people and take people and resources)it, if your unity is tight and you truly walk with pride and self-love?"
Ive heard this with my own two ears.


I've also known Africans (and some Caribbean blacks)who look down on AA and think, "We have more confidence, self- pride than black Americans, because we have never been enslaved ( or we fought harder to overcome enslavement). We won't put up with the same things that black Americans will." Ive also heard this with my own two ears on MANY occasions.

I live in the U.S and have traveled extensively throughout the Caribbean and Africa.

It looks like there is a lot of work to be done on both sides to improve things. Hair and the discussion of it is only a superficial manifestation of this issue. We should truly start seeing ourselves in each other.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Thandiswa...very insulting to mention the whole "Africans had the luxury of not being directly subjected to such travails". A little African History will educate you my sister.
I'm from Zimbabwe and we only gained independence in 1980...imagine...1980. The colonial mindset lives on and only now are some of us refusing the "extras" that come with colonialism.

Do some research! It will help you and open your eyes a little. Ignorance is NOT bliss all the time!

Anonymous said...

@ Anon 10:06 am:

"Africans had the luxury of not being directly subjected to such travails, but made a choice to allow the western beauty standard to affect African culture to the extent it has."
Whoaaaa! Really? the luxury? Made a choice? I also find this comment very insulting and as a born and bred lady from Cote-d'Ivoire, I COMPLETELY disagree. So, being Black in America, it is okay to "feel bad" about natural hair, but not okay in Africa? Please! This is not intended to be a debate on who suffered the most: A or AA? The bottom line is: it is a question of individuality and personal experiences. Some ppl would criticize your hair - natural and/or relaxed - some other would not. I'm natural. When I'm home, nobody asks me why I have natural hair or criticizes my hair. Most people would look with amazement at my hair and be surprised that it is so manageable. Some others would bluntly ask me to relax my hair. Same thing here! So, please let's keep this discussion on what it is really about: HAIR. And I would advise some commenters to educate themselves on the sociology of race and race relationships, on colonialism and slavery and on Africa and World history. This has been the subject of several PhDs dissertations.

salone gal said...

Though i now live in the states, I was born and raised in Sierra Leone until age 15 where braids and pressing our hair was the rule at most boarding schools. I continued to wear my hair in braids after a mishap with a single perming incident. I am now back to wearing my hair natural!!! and I love it. My white co-workers complement my new look wondering why I wore my hair in braids in the first place. As for my African friends, majority are quite jealous because my hair is thick and healthy and theirs is stringy and dry from over processing or partially bald from wearing weaves for years. I am happy to be natural again..definitely enjoying my low maintenance hair do that is void of harmful chemicals.

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