By Mya Imadojemun
Finally, at the age of twenty-one, I feel I can say truthfully that I love my natural hair. All of it. All its coils, kinks, curls and knots. I am happy with my hair but this journey has been far from simple.
When I was young, all I wanted was dead straight hair. I would stare at the white girls in envy, watching their ponytails swaying side to side as they walked the school halls, their long tresses cascading down their backs. I watched how effortlessly they scooped their hair up into a messy bun and came into class with fringes and an array of hairstyles my natural hair would never conform to. One morning before going to primary school, I grabbed a pair of scissors and cut the ends of my plaits in an attempt to make my hair ‘stay down’. I was left with a botched haircut, plaits that stuck up even more and tear-stained cheeks. Global definitions of beauty have been determined by Western Eurocentrism, so all I saw in the media were white women with flowy hair. I would wander the beauty aisles, gazing at the women with shiny straight hair on the box of hair products, yearning to have the same hair texture. Growing up, shops like Tesco, Asda, Superdrug, Boots etc did not even sell Black hair products. My mum had to go to the Black hair shops in East and South London to pick up a tub of Blue Magic and a bottle of Luster’s Pink.
As I got to secondary school, my relationship with my hair worsened. I no longer wanted my childish plaits so my mum let me take charge of my hair. With European textured hair, throwing it up into a ‘messy’ bun is acceptable. With Black hair this is not the case, our buns are seen as unruly, unkept and unprofessional. I’d come into school with what I thought was a stylish messy bun, only to be asked by my classmates why my hair was so untidy. I eventually began attempting ‘wash and go’s’ to lengthen my curls, but this was short-lived as an hour later my hair would shrink back to its natural state and we were back at square one. One day an interaction I’ll never forget took place. I queued up to go into my art class and a boy came up behind me. He yanked my hair and recoiled in horror. “Your hair is so oily, it’s disgusting” and he wiped his hand on his blazer.
So the argan oil Ecostyler gel became my best friend and I slicked my hair up daily, leaving my edges (and me) in tears. I would visit an African hairdresser now and again to get braids. As the blow dryer pick ripped through my knotted hair, I could feel their frustration and in the end, they would charge me extra because my hair was “too thick”. Even today when I sit in a salon chair I find myself automatically apologising for my thick hair; something I should not feel I have to do.
Having natural hair felt exhausting. Constantly seeing European beauty standards on TV and in magazines made me frustrated I did not have the same hair texture. Black hair is not even thought about when it comes to the beauty industry. I once remember my sister walking into a hair salon in Harrod’s to ask whether they cater to Black hair- to which they said no. If you don’t have Afro-textured hair you would not even realise how everyday things are not Afro-hair friendly. I worked in a kitchen previously and the uniform required me to wear a hat- it did not fit. I spent weeks repeatedly telling the managers how the hat will not fit over my hair until eventually, they let me wear two hairnets. Even recently for my graduation, I walked the stage without the hat because again- it did not fit my natural hair. These are covert forms of hair discrimination and are as insidious as overt forms. Anti-Black hair sentiments have been present for centuries. From the slave trade, where Afro hair was seen as a sign of uncivilization and used as reasoning for the dehumanisation and enslavement of Black people. To the present day, where stories of individuals being sent home from schools and workplaces for wearing their natural hair are unfortunately a common occurrence. Openly embracing your Afro-textured hair in a society that has continuously told you not to is a revolutionary move.
Arguably now there is much more representation when it comes to natural hair. Today there are millions of natural hair videos on YouTube, Instagram and TikTok filled with tips and tricks on how to treat Black hair. At the end of secondary school, I was over constantly slicking back my hair and decided to begin looking after it. By the time I started university, I had watched an uncountable amount of videos on natural hair journeys, big chops, LOC methods and more. My friends and I in sixth form would grab a cup of water, drop a strand of our hair into it and watch to see what our hair porosity was. I spent my weekends walking the aisles of Queens Cosmetics intently reading the ingredients of hair products. After years of despising hair care, I now have a routine that works best for me and my hair. Instead of natural hair being a mundane chore for me, I now find it therapeutic and comforting to spend time finger combing and moisturising. My insecurities do occasionally surface and these have a lot to do with the beauty standards on social media favouring type 3 curly hair, but I continue to work on this. I love my natural hair and have come a long way from the deep-rooted hate I used to have towards it. Rather than wishing for my hair to be something it is not, I feel liberated having natural coils and that is something I wish the younger me had the opportunity to feel.