So it seems best friend Chimmy stirred up the hornet’s nest in her interview for her new book Americanah. While natural hair fans rejoiced at having a renowned international author stand up for hair rights, weave/perm lovers on the other hand, took umbrage.
“….Hair is hair – yet also about larger questions: self-acceptance, insecurity and what the world tells you is beautiful. For many black women, the idea of wearing their hair naturally is unbearable..”
But she was not lying??!!.
Chimmy usually sports natural hair/natural looking weaves so I wasn’t surprised to find she was a natural hair fan. And despite that I DO sing ‘I am not my hair’ to the more aggressive natural hair Nazis It doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the ‘origin of this debate’ or why it is important.
Elnathan John (blogs here) wrote this update “Please if you have natural hair or don't use make up, it is fine. But there is no certificate or prize for it. Keep it to yourself. Don't judge the people who do. The fact that you go natural does not make you superior to the woman who likes her weaves or makeup. There is space for everyone. *sigh*
I nodded, sighed along with him and moved on to the comments. Pro-Hair choice fans were out in full force, but I also noted my gf’s comment:
“I totally understand where Ms Adichie is coming from. As a parent with a 7 year old daughter who kept asking me why her hair is not like "Lucy or Rachael" in her class and how she didn't like her hair, I felt the need to show her (my daughter) how to love herself for how she is. So I ditched the relaxer and the weaves and went natural.
I don't sit in judgement of anyone who wears Brazilian, Indian, Peruvian or any type of weave. But like Chimamanda I advocate for self love. Love yourself warts and all. It helps with self esteem and self worth”
In February, Okeoghene wrote this post asking “When is the right time to talk about race/skin with your child?”. This questions comes up for parents in the diaspora where your beautiful child finds herself the only black kid in a school of 200 white faces. We understand ethnicity. A 6yr old doesn’t. The onus is then on you to make sure he/she gets it right….’that you are beautiful the way you are’.
But if we think this affirmation is only needed in Oyiboland, Think again.
I have always had a love/hate relationship with my skin. Read these posts here and here. It was till recently I realized that my hangup with my skin hasn’t surfaced much, here in the UK.
Why you might wonder?
Here I am African. Nigerian. My skin is expected to be black, period. In fact 'yallow skinned’ Nigerians probably confuse Oyibos more, than a 'black skinned”. You can see the wheels turn 'Is she/he one of us? them?
It is a different story in Nigeria.
Growing up I was called ‘blackie’ and 'atinga' (thin) by siblings. Once in awhile they would even ask my mom ‘where she got me from’ cause I was so dark and skinny. Yes they were jokes, but as a child I must have internalized it somewhere that my color and slimness wasn’t alright.
Then I became grown up. and it wasn’t just my family anymore. It was Delta soap adverts with their fair beauties (remember them?), it was the lepa shandi songs, the ‘Dudu’ teasings, the cosmetic sellers and well meaning ‘Aunties’ who tell you to try ‘this cream and that cream’ to help bring out your colour a.k.a tone the skin.
It was meeting your dark skinned primary school mate on the street in 2010 and almost passing her by cause her fair hue wasn’t what you used to know.
It was the constant bombardment of creams and soaps which promise to lighten/Fade your skin in 21days.
It was realizing that being hip and chic and beautiful in Nigeria meant you had to work on your skin. Not just having it spotless…but latte colored or cream NOT dark chocolate.
So yes, it’s been a long time coming, but I have finally accepted that I am black and beautiful.
I have accepted that I will always be a size 8 (at least in the foreseeable future) not the acceptable 'Oriaku'-size 12
I have accepted that my hair might never grow beyond 6 inches. Sadly, I can’t remember what I looked like with natural hair cause my elder sister helpfully started perming my ‘unmanageable hair’ when I was 13. I still retouch my hair but I know I am learning daily to love my hair and appreciate its kinks. Be it from proudly weaving my own hair without braids, to giving it a twist out in its semi-permed state. I don’t even fix sleek hair weaves as much as I used to anymore. To be honest seeing Caucasians with the real thing makes me feel like a fraud. I’ll rather proudly use what’s mine.
Interesting that it took living abroad to make me appreciate what makes me unique. My hair. My skin. My accent. My traditional name. My strong white teeth. My cuisine.
So in a roundabout way what am I saying? Yes, we are not defined by our hair/the clothes we wear/the color of our skin/our physical appearance, RATHER by character, values, abilities, dreams and ambitions.
BUT, we need to look deeper at some of those defining values. I think of myself a decade ago declaring “I can only marry a fair man cause I don’t want my kids to be as dark as I am’. Sounds pretty self-hating doesn't it? How about the role society has played in making me arrive at that conclusion, by valuing ‘fair’ over ‘dark’, and for hair, ‘artificial’ above ‘natural?'
Seeing more and more females embracing and flaunting their God-given hair, reminds me that my natural hair is not just something you hide under wigs or scarves till you can get an appointment at the saloon. Or something widows are subjected to wear during mourning.
It is a statement of style and pride.
That is what I think Chimamanda meant by choice, “I want natural black hair to be as equal an option as anything else”.
At the risk of attracting a rain of Brazillian wigs, 1inch eyelashes and hydroquinone cream jars and Chinese hair, this post is in appreciation of natural/short/dreadlocked hair, coffee/chocolate/browned skinned sisters.
Thank You for giving our children, models who look like them and for reminding us of our roots (no pun intended).
How are you my People? Winter has finally packed its bag. Bye and Thank you!!!!