Monday, April 15, 2013

Hair, Skin Color and the Question of Choice

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!!!!


  1. Welcome back, missed you, and glad to read from you. I have quite the conversation going on on my blog on this issue, lol.

    All I'll add is, may each bird have enough space to perch without thinking it has to be superior to others to do so. Thank you for the shout out *smirking*

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    3. Thank you Myne. Life has been happening but I love blogging too much to stay away for loong.
      Smirk well.... Texlaxed hair is not grouped as natural o. But I agree, you have done your bit to flaunt the natural choice. Thank you :)

    4. It's unfair to remove a comment from your blog and leave the other when the latter obviously disses the former! To say I'm disappointed at your 'parapo sister' move is an understatement. I expected better from an intelligent lady like you. But obviously, I was misguided.

    5. The missing comment from Adura

      Language is a beautiful thing. Use the word 'superior' and people take it literally. Did i say I was better than you? I said virgin hair is superior to processed hair. Spread relaxer on your toast and see how you like it!!! What the fuck, Myne? Go and sit down! I'm tired of your lame arguments. Virgin Olive oil is what it is. it beats processed. Choke on it!!!
      Stick your condescending comments on your own blog, okay!!!

    6. Dear Adura,
      If only you had asked like you would have found that the comment you refer to got deleted, likely in error, when I was bulk deleting Anonymous comments recently.
      I’m not as partial as to delete your comment while leaving Gretel’s. Yes I did consider both comments rude, but I chose to let both stand for posterity sake call it what you may.

      p.s. You are as much a ‘parapo sister’ as Myne and I usually look forward to your posts, view points and comments on this blog.
      I shall let your unprovoked reproach sail over my head Adura. We are more than this.
      Hope you had a great day.

    7. Hmmm hmmm. Guess the pope isn't catholic. What a cliche. Don't you think.

  2. What is wrong with people. I think I'm hot. Jesse Jagz is my new hair role model but the red-tinted nachi mohawk would not fly at my job so I must stick with just nachi.
    I have an ass so of course I love that. I have no/min boobs so I think that's what's up.
    I love dark, not yellow. I remember dad telling me black is beautiful, that blacks always won (e.g. Sugar Ray and Mohammed Ali) and I just really bought it.
    I wore a weave one time in my life. I looked like a fool, it felt like a mat, and the pain was like I would never want to experience again in my life. Look in the mirror, chicas. Whatever you are is the best, lol.

    1. Hi T. Good to see you here.

      Don't know why, but your comment flowed like a rap. I was just dropping the lyrics lol. Your dad is a great man.

      Indeed, the face in the mirror is the best :)

  3. I am never one for trends but I like the fact that more black females are embracing the hair that grows out of their head, as is. I think it's a good thing. I also think that people should be able to do what works for them. I honestly get where both sides are coming from.

    I am glad u have come to the realization that black is indeed very beautiful.

    1. To be honest Sting, initially I didn't get the fuss...but now I understand better.
      Yes o, black is beaurriful ;)

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Thank you Adura.

      Yes there are deper issues. And as you can see, my journey to that realization wasnt easy. I remember my first time of seeing a babe at a conference in Nigeria with natural hair. Pretty lady, well spoken, smart, runs her business, WTEC Ceo Oreoluwa Somolu. She had on a short shift dress, cool sandals. We got talking during the lunch break and I couldnt help but notice her natural hair. I was aghast. I kept trying to suss the origin. Was she spiriko/Deeper life? Mourning? Couldn't meet a hair appointment? I never for one minute thought it should be normal or natural for a Nigerian woman to choose to rock her natural hair.
      I then discovered her blog, read her posts about maintaining natural hair and realised that her natural hair was a choice. Wonders!!!
      I just didn't get it.

      4yrs later, I now see ladies with natural hair and think, 'Wow her hair style is beautiful'. I want that.

      What am I trying to say, the revolution is happening. Silently but surely. Its not a war of words or what's superior. Seeing is believing.

  5. Love your approach on the matter. I personally can't stand natural hair nazis but neither do I appreciate over-critical permed hair fanatics.

    I like you, I'm also permed and have been since I remember and Yes! I think coming to America definitely helped me appreciate this a little bit more.

    The simple truth is permed hair is the only way to go for some girls and natural hair looks phenomenal on others, but we've been raised around straight haired folks that we usually hardly ever consider natural hair as a viable option.

    1. Exactly NR. Perming was the way you go immediately you become a two digit age. It was like a rite of passage.

      Fastforward 2013, I m happy to learn of ways to care for natural hair. My daughter shall have a natural hair nazi mom :)

  6. Adura Ojo,nne superiority should read this oh! LOL.

  7. This skin and hair business...welcome back madam.

  8. Gingerlicious Ginger, good to have you back. Been checking your blog via my blog list for newer posts. Anyway, natural, permed or artificial is all about choices. The only thing I cannot stand is ladies who destroy their hair all in the name of looking good. Whichever you wear, wear it well because when we become 60-somethingish, na our God-given hair go matter o. I am pro-permed because I cannot stand pain when brushing my hair, prefer my comb gliding through smoothly. You can check out my hair (before and after relaxing) in this blog post

    1. Aww I never went away :) Thank you.

      Propermed eh? lol. As long as it makes you happy. lol@old age and hair. So it is really important to care for it now unless one might just end up with scary alopecia in the twilight days.

      You are one black beauty Fredilia.

  9. Colorism is unfortunately an issue on every square inch of this planet where there are people of color, black or otherwise. Thank you for that, "colonial masters".

    Anywho, despite my relaxed hair, i love natural hair. I would love the "natural hair movement" more if SOME people didn't take on that superiority nonsense. But i do agree, people should feel free to chose to wear their hair in its beautiful, natural state. (Though there are still some sectors that make that choice very difficult)

    1. Colorism indeed. There is a label for everything it seems.
      Yeah the natural hair movement will not succeed if its all about bashing and who is better. It is living it. Simples.

  10. It's our choices that defines who we are..
    When it comes to other I believe in Live and Let Live

    1. No truer words Jyoti. Been awhile!
      Running over to your page now.

  11. Chanting* ginger Ginger Ginger Ginger ginger!!! Very well put

    1. You!!! Na so NYSC comot you from blogsville and my life eh? I haf missed you jare. Come and gimme a hug.

  12. Lol @your best friend. Chimmy is one lady i really admire. Very smart too. This was aptly presented and i totally agree. By the way, you really remind me of Chimmy

    1. Cheesy grin. Thanks. Bird of same feather flock together na.

      Have you watched her video on Feminism? So on point.

  13. Great read...thanks for sharing. for Chimmy, she sure stirred up a serious debate which I have been seeing at every corner of cyberspace...and musing over the comments. :)
    I have natural hair (no perm, relax etc by choice) and I wear it in a short fro from time to time... but I have to say its a nightmare to comb and maintain in that state.
    I also love weaves and I never feel weird about having them on...I'm perfectly comfortable either way.
    I also think that maybe some of us naturalists give the impression that we are better than those who are not...I think whichever way people choose to rock their hair...its their choice and we should never judge, make them feel bad or try to make them conform to our beliefs. :)
    I do however think that if it is true that Chimmy did make that statement about people who wear their hair a certain way having low self steem and so on, that might have been a little bit of a generalisation and but hey thats only my opinion.
    Keep it real! :)

  14. You said it all. Love yourself the way you are. With or without weave, natural or not; just be happy with who you are. Sometimes i feel this hair debate women get into is totally unnecessary. Some women who were told to perm their hair is a sin in church sometimes jump into the wagon of natural hair when clearly, theirs is exactly their choice. Some women have to use stuff on their hair to be able to even comb it.Your natural hair doesn't make you more 'African' than the girl in a long weave. You both just chose different looks. Period. I wear my hair in different ways. Weaves long and short, my natural hair weaved with or without braids, I have spotted low cut natural hair before. It's nothing serious really. As for colour, oh well, that debate will never end. while people here would do anything to achieve a lighter colour, I see caricatures of light-coloured men on Twitter everyday. They are seen as weak and sissy. It is a crazy world where opinions are as many as the people who live in it. JUST LOVE YOURSELF AND BE YOURSELF.
    Nne biko sorry maka the 'blog post' m'ji mere comment. Lol



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