July 8, 2012

Reflective Moments — Transition

I've been meaning to write about this inspiring video I watched that was posted in the New York Times made by filmmaker Zina Saro-Wiwa.  The video addressed the growing trend of black women embracing their natural hair. Some call it "transitioning," the "big chop" or "going natural."  Whatever anyone chooses to call it, bottom line is, this has become a movement (I mean all you have to do is google the subject or check out the plethora of Youtube videos on the subject).  In the short documentary, the filmmaker pointed out that this movement has become political; there was a time in our society when the kinky, coily natural African hair was simply unacceptable; not in the workplace, not for majority of society, not even to us African women.  We have long lived by European standards; we strive for it, we work hard to attain it.  We alter the nature or our strands to fit into what is considered the norm and acceptable.  As a result, sadly, most of us have never embraced the hair are naturally born with; sadly, most of us don't even know what our natural hair looks or feels like.  I was perplexed when my aunt chemically straightened her then almost two year old daughter's hair and gave the reason that it was difficult to comb through.  I believe for the most part, when an ethnic woman finally makes a brave decision to go natural, it becomes a revelation, an awakening, a new found freedom.  We love what we discover; we have beautiful coily hair that's nice to touch, we revel in it's texture and how it feels and all of a sudden, there's need to nurture it and watch it blossom and grow.

It cracks me up though, all the hype surrounding transitioning hair.  Seems like all of a sudden, there are natural hair saloons popping up everywhere and they cater to girls with natural hairstyles.  There are companies that claim to make just the right products that would help nurture and grow our budding coif.  It's such a hype though, and many women are sold into it (reminds me of the hype surrounding "organic" food! (LOL)). There's a heavy price tag on foods that we should have access to in the first place.  Growing up in Africa, foods we ate were all organic; that's what we had access to because most foods are grown in the farm in our backyards.  It was more of a luxury to purchase packaged foods that turns out now have been overly processed and unhealthy for anyone (the irony! But I digress).  Going natural to some women is a symbol of empowerment and solidarity.  Some women that make the transition get disappointed when their hair don't turn out to be exactly as curly as the model on the ethnic hair magazine.  These days, maintaining those natural strands can cost you a pretty penny; between the products and the cost of maintenance at these saloons.  As proud as I am to know that more black women are embracing the natural beauty they are born with, I have to draw the line between the empowering and the ridiculous:
  • It is just hair and it is yours, you've had it all along.  It's unfortunate you didn't have the opportunity to be acquainted in the past, none the less, you are now acquainted, so enjoy it, but don't go crazy.
  • Your hair's blueprint was written before you were born, that never changed.  So please be careful spending your hard earned money on those expensive products hoping to turn those budding strands into something they are not meant to be.  It should never cost you too much to maintain what God gave you for free.
  • Simplicity is best; ever heard the term "less is more?" Sure you have. Your hair will grow regardless, expensive maintenance or not.  Matter of fact, your hair grows better when left alone.  That's why perms never grew our hair, we were busy interfering with it's natural growth cycle.   I knew this when I used to perm my own hair; I noticed the reason why it seemed like a White or Asian or a natural sista's hair grew or blossomed was because they didn't spend too much time chemically altering it.  I do believe in clean and healthy maintenance however.      
 I have done three big chops in my life.  The first time I was thirteen, in Africa and about start my first year of secondary school.  Before that my hair had never been cut since birth.  I had insanely long hair that was the envy of my peers, I was also very thin and got teased a lot.  Some people joked that I needed to cut my hair to gain some weight (makes me think of all the ridiculous and hilarious remarks that I've heard people make throughout my life).  I got so curious about having my hair shaved.  Lots of girls my age shaved their heads at the time; I imagined the freedom of just getting up and carrying on with my day and not being bogged down with my hair all the time; bathing and being able to put water on my scalp.  Having long hair required a lot of maintenance.  One day, I just went into a barbershop and asked them to shave my head and that was that.

Second occasion was in 2006.  I had perfected the habit of wearing wigs, I wore wigs all the time.  I loved changing my hair a lot, taking on different aliases so to speak, It was easy.  I hardly had a "bad hair day;" there was no such thing.  All I had to do was put on my hair in the morning and I'm off.  I hate the rigors of hair maintenance; don't have patience for it.  When I wore my hair out, I'd hear people ask me why I covered such long and beautiful hair in wigs all the time (it's funny though how shoulder length hair was considered long for a black girl).  I got curious about short hairstyles watching Nia Long and Halle Berry and I decided to give it a try.  One evening I stood in front of the mirror with a pair of scissors and cut most of my hair length.  I wore my permed hair short for a while.

One remarkable thing about my hair is how fast it would grow back.  So as usual, it did.  The third occasion was a year and half ago.  I wore wigs so much that my hair literally became a bird's nest.  One of the reasons: I relocated and thus moved far away from my girlfriend who was my hair stylist.  lt's not easy to find a stylist that understands your hair and your style; one that gets it without too much explanation or mistakes.  I wasn't comfortable just going to anybody.  So I did my own perms and washes and left my hair under my wigs.  Then one day after looking at my birds nest, I just got tired of it.  I came to the realization that it was pointless chemically straightening my hair when I hardly wear it out, one misconception was the belief that perms grew hair.  I imagined what it'd be like wearing my hair natural again.  My cousin, who had already gone natural for about a year showed me how healthy her hair had become.  I thought about it, realized it just might not be that bad; to take a shower and to allow the water to run through my hair and scalp, like when I was a teenager in secondary school.  I could wear my hair out or wear a wig or sew a weave; either way, I would not have to fuss with my hair ever again.  So one evening I told my cousin to cut it all off (ah freedom).
It's been close to 18 months now and I have to say, I'm glad I cut my perm out.  Just like any other big chop, I reveled in my natural hair's texture, I didn't even realize I had curls in my hair; I was fascinated by it.  I love twirling it, I get nothing but compliments.  People have told me they prefer my look when I wear my hair out than in any other style.  I didn't realize how much I would enjoy wearing my natural hair.  I still wear other styles, like weaves and braids and in between I let my hair breathe and it feels great.  My hair is growing back fast as usual.  I can't wait to have it grow into luscious long locks, I love me a full head of curly hair.

Zina Saro-Wiwa's Transition.

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