In 2012 this picture of FLOTUS Michelle Obama, did rounds on Twitter and it trended for a while. Why? You ask. Well, it’s because she is seen to be wearing her natural hair. In my opinion she actually looked stylish and on trend! Don’t you agree? Okay, yes; the photo was photo shopped to my disappointment, but it sparked a hot and dicey conversation especially among the black folk living in the Diaspora.
In fact one Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (the author of Americanah which by the way, I recommend everyone reads. You will thank me later!) was once quoted saying “If Michelle Obama wore her hair natural during the campaigns, Obama would never have been president of The United States of America”.
At that time, I remember thinking to myself, but that comment is so extreme and does not make any sense at all! Was it not Obama who was running for the presidency and not his wife? Well, especially not her hair! Why then would a rational person look at hair and not at something like policies or previous track record to decide who to vote for! Well, being that I am not a US citizen, I thought to myself that maybe I should care less and just mind my own business!
Four years later, I wonder whether I have been living a lie all my life. As children from the African descent (or rather children with Afro hair), we are brought up thinking that natural hair is not appropriate. That it is not “proper”. It either has to be straightened or relaxed for it to be “proper”. In fact one cannot walk in an interview with their natural hair because they give an impression of being unprofessional, wild and radical. Maybe that is the reason Obama would not have won if Michelle had worn her natural hair; because the voters would think his wife to be wild. But hey, I am not a political analyst nor do I boast to know of any political semantics, so I will say that this is a big If!
Well, for me, as up to two months ago, it felt so normal to wear extensions on my hair. It was normal to put on that weave as it gave convenience. It was normal to relax or straighten hair and dash somewhere when in a rush and it was all too normal not to wear my natural hair. This was the normalcy of life in my world.
But who comes up with the rationale of normal? Even mad men think of us normal people as abnormal! So who or what defines the standards of normal? Some will argue that normal is defined by the way one is brought up, their cultures and beliefs. But just to borrow a quote from Chimamanda she says “Culture does not make people. People make culture”. I therefore do not understand where the rationale behind this philosophy of “normal” comes from.
Recently there was a protest that garnered international attention by South African girls who were protesting against their school’s policy which forced them to relax their hair and it implied that natural hair is “messy”. Previously in Kenya too, a certain lady had sued a school because her child had not been allowed to wear dreadlocks in the school terming it as “inappropriate” yet they accepted braided hair.
So, is the “normal “definition of how hair should look like and be worn slowly creeping in even to those that have afro hair themselves? Now, I don’t mean to say that weaving, relaxing or straightening hair is wrong. After all, it is from this practice that some people earn their living. But don’t you think that it is an indicator of sorts that we (people with afro hair) are slowly losing part of ourselves in the process?
For the past few months, it has been quite a struggle for me to find the quick- fix type of service that I am used to back home in Africa. This is because; looking at Indians they have very silky, flowing hair. Some straight, some curly. Similarly for our Arabian brothers and so it is with the Caucasians. So they would have no need for braiding or weaving. They go to the salons for issues like styling, treating hair fall or maybe coloring. Not for plaits! So the struggle for me has been real here in India! I did finally get a hair dresser who could handle my hair, its texture and kinkiness though at slightly higher rates than I assumed to be.
Unfortunately hair in this case is not the only issue. The underlying notion that Afro hair seems to portray someone as “the angry black woman” or unprofessional or Radical or improper or extreme or at times downright ugly is what the major issue is. For the life of me I just cannot seem to understand the definitions of “proper” and “ugly” in this case!
Have you ever wondered why everyone causes a stir when the Hollywood stars walk the red carpet having worn their hair natural? Take Lupita Nyong’o for example or the lovely Emmy winning actor Viola Davis. The conversation is always about their hair and how courageous they are for wearing it natural. So much so, you would be forgiven to think that it’s a totally abnormal thing to walk the red carpet with natural afro hair.
So in the past few months, though through forced circumstances, I have had a serious conversation with myself over a cup of coffee, listening to “I am not my hair” by India.Arie. I have therefore decided to try as best as I can to wear my hair natural as I embrace its Uniqueness and the difference it brings! It may not form a pony tail or a bun but it gives a beautiful afro. It may not be soft and silky but with a little coconut oil and conditioner it gets better. It may not be long either but this saves me time when combing or washing it. So, it is a matter of looking at the brighter side of things and embracing it.
Surprising however is, how other folks are complimenting me on my hair because they have never seen anything like it before and the concept is fascinating to them. They keep telling me to wear it natural more often. I have therefore come to the realization that if you wear your confidence on your sleeves, everybody seems to follow you along and think that, that is what is “normal” and they stick by your definition.
It is therefore time to embrace our (your) uniqueness whether it’s the big afro hair or the language you speak or the color of your skin or your culture or your height or even the structure of your smile. Wear that confidence on your sleeves people!
Maya Angelo (one of those that wore her natural afro hair) once said, If you’re always trying to be normal you will never know how amazing you can be! It is time that you reveal to the world your version of your true self! It is time you define your own sorts of normal!