One of my earliest memories as a child was of the dreadful trips to the hair salon with my beautiful and overly enthusiastic mother. It was a form of bonding for her but I really did not look forward to those occasions because of one reason alone, my tougher than tough African Hair.
I would always walk slowly making sure I delayed the dreadful journey to the “hair factory” as much as possible. On arrival at the salon, the receptionist would look at both my mother and I with a huge welcoming smile on her face but I would never smile back. Like clockwork, she would hand us each a glass of cold fresh orange juice and a warm piece of cake (bribery!) and lead us to the reception area where we would patiently wait for the chairs to empty. I viewed the hairdresser chair as an electric chair because of the various forms of “punishment” I would receive the second I got on it. Having tough African hair was no simple feat and I was the world champion in that sector. I must admit that I used to be surprised at just how dedicated my mother was when it came to maintaining my mane for me.
The headaches that would soon follow after a trip to the salon are sadly still rife to this day. They were a direct result of all the detangling, pulling, tagging and blow drying that my hair had to undergo to give me a more presentable and ‘tame look. The whole process was really too much for my young heart and I would always try to maintain the final sleek look so that the trips to the salon would be lessened. These trips ironically seemed to increase with age and I truly believed that the universe intended to make me bankrupt through hair maintenance
The day I finally decided to give in and put relaxer on my hair was the best day of my life, after my birth of course. I walked into the salon with a step in my walk and everyone could tell that my demeanor was generally friendlier. I was fifteen years old when I relaxed my African hair roots and I vaguely remember hugging the hairdresser on that day. All my hair woes and worries were about to go with the wind and the amount of joy I experienced on that day was incomparable.The deed was done and I walked out of the salon with silky soft jet black hair that actually moved as I walked. You could have imagined my excitement when I walked into the estate and received compliments from both the young and old alike. I truly believed I had morphed into a hybrid of Naomi Campbell and Alek Wek at that salon and to say that I was walking on sunshine would have been the biggest understatement of the year. My sister who was still too young to receive this “relaxed treatment” stared at me with pure wonder and awe in her eyes. My hair problems had disappeared and I had thought that it would be smooth sailing from that point. The reality was that things got a whole lot worse from then.
The first hint at how stressful hair maintenance would be over the years occured two weeks later when hints of my old mane started appearing on my scalp. “Growth” was what they called it and I was having none of it. Relaxing hair is not a cheap affair but I was willing to spend as much as I could during my teenage years to maintain the long and desirable hair that I pretended to have been born with.
Then came “The Weave”.
BADAAAA BOOOOOM TWAAAAFFFFF!!!!
Weaves are described as a hairstyle created by interlacing pieces of real or artificial hair into a person’s existing hair, typically in order to increase its length or thickness.
This phenomena called “The Weave” was the definite answer to my hair’s inner dreams and ambitions. It simply meant that I could have Beyonce’s hair and rock it for two weeks then quickly switch it up and Vogue it out like Anna Wintour for as long as I wanted. The versatility that weaving provided was truly God’s apology for the pain women underwent during labour and I was genuinely happy for a while
When I arrived in USIU I had this mentality that the longer and bigger the hair, the better I looked. It literally got to a point where my self esteem would vary in relation to what hairstyle I had. I am very aware of how shallow that statement may sound now but at that point I was a complete slave to my hair. India Arie sang a song about people “not being their hair” but I hated that song so it did not really make much sense to me.
The lyrics however, spoke volumes when I decided to have “The big chop” three years down the line. It was a decision that baffled both my friends and family alike and most people thought I had gone mad for doing such a daring thing.
January 14th 2014 was the day all my hair came tumbling down at the local barber shop. In a split second my identity lay on the floor of that establishment, at a grand total cost of 100kshs.
I stared at my reflection, I had been reborn, and it felt as though I was seeing myself for the first time. I did not have a fringe to hide behind (when I wanted to avoid eye contact with someone) I did not have those ridiculously long braids (which sometimes doubled as a scarf in the cold season) and I did not have to install another Beyonce weave (which I had come to believe made my singing sound better) ever again.
“I was stripped bare
by my lack of hair
and that was the day
I fell in love with me.”