A few weeks ago, i went to Njoki’s to have my hair cut. Yes, cut. I thought it would be a good idea – something out of my norm. She did not. Instead i got a bashing with the primary concern being how I would look at my wedding. No, it is not that i did not mention i am getting married. It is just how older women express their concern in the face of one’s life changing decisions.
Nnwa, I had my hair relaxed when i was about twelve and then on ever since. The only pictures of me with fully kinky hair were from holidays before then. They aren’t many, i hated photos when i was younger. I almost always had long hair. I do not know when it started but I was told long hair was good but long, sleek hair was beautiful. Beautiful. I was not told otherwise so that is what i believed. For me, beauty became somewhat defined in the straightness of my long hair. It had to be straight and it had to be long. Almost everyone i met in the pages and the films had the same. My belief became religion. I wanted to be beautiful, now i knew how.
It was only a year ago when i actually thought about it. What i would do with my hair if it were all natural. I couldn’t think of anything. Funny. That i would not know what to do with how it was meant to be. Yet now i want to cut my hair. It is not because i read somewhere that women of African descent outside Africa are more accepting of their own hair as it is than ‘actual’ African women and wanted to balance the scale somehow. It is not because i want to be connected to my roots. I am African and i am Kenyan. I do not feel a need to defend that yet somehow, i think that would sit better if i had a TWA. I do not know why. It is not because it is becoming increasingly popular to wear a fro and easier to get a salon that will actually know what to do with it. It is not because there are products, blogs and video tutorials to show me how to comb, style and rock the kinks. It is definitely not because there are natural sista tea parties springing up across the city. I love that my actual hair is now trending, i love that there are articles and products and support groups on it. I believe the natural movement is in itself, liberating. I thought about it because it reminded me of a time when i thought and felt i’d made a decision, yet i really had not. Reminded me of a time when my vision was narrowed down not by what i chose but what i had come…been led to believe. Reminded me of times i did not understand enough to know what beauty is.
Nyathiwa, i will not define it for you. I just hope i will guide to an understanding that is your own. But i am afraid you will probably grow up with a TWA that i will later advocate to have dreadlocked because i will want to rewrite my story through yours. Get redemption. I will want you to have this freedom kinky hear bestows. Because in as much as i want to cut my hair, perhaps i can’t. Perhaps i believed too hard and there’s not much room to turn back. I am told it is just hair. But to me, it is still a little more. In many ways, i still believe it is beauty and to trade the sleek for the coils, is to lose it.
You will hear many versions on what beauty is. You will try to be many of them. You will fail at most. After a while, you may not fully – always accept it but you will realise that you are beauty. Not your hair. Not your skin. You. You are not your hair. A while can be a long time. For you, i hope it is not.
May you have a freer world. May the shadows of insecurities not cloud your sky. May your decisions stem from what you want, not what we will tell you you should want. Just to be sure, i will make sure you read and see a lot more with people like you in them. Otherwise, like your mother, you will write of friends with long, blonde hair and hot afternoons ice cream sundaes you have never had and baffle your english teacher.
You will learn that there are many little things that decide who we become. Some of these things you are asked to chose, some are chosen for you. Some just become.
The world will teach you who it wants you to become. If it is not the world, it is your school. If it is not your school, it is your friends, your books, your music. If it is not them it is your siblings. It is your father. It is I. I cannot say my own voice will be true for you. Only you will need to decide what path is your own. It will no be easy but you have to try. Do not settle for retelling stories. Write as much of your own script as you possibly can. Otherwise, like your mother, you will believe the single stories only to grow tall enough to see there was truly so much more.
Wear your own how you will want to. Nnwa, you are beautiful. Nothing will make you more or less anything. Nothing but you. I will let you know if i get the big chop, perhaps it will reshape my perception even if just for a while. Teach me what i hope you will learn – You are beautiful. You. You are not your hair.
My love always,
© Ang’asa Malowa