African Hairdressers and the Axes of Evil

I am officially ready to embrace the cold, folks. Black girls, you know what this means. For everyone else, loose translation: my winter hair has arrived!

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If you are about to say something to the effect of “oh, but I thought you were going natural?” save it. Natural means no chemical straighteners. All naturals know the value of protective styling, especially on this godforsaken continent. When temperatures plummet far below zero, my ‘fro needs to hibernate. Fret not, she’ll be back in the spring.

Getting this done was a mission and a half. It always is – CAN I GET A AMEN? Over the years, I have had the pleasure of interacting with many different hairdressers. Due to the styles I prefer, I tend to require the services of mainly African hairstylists (predominantly braiders). In my experience they’ve been at least 70% West African. My years of research in the field have led me to the following conclusion:

An African hairdresser may be one or two, but NEVER all three of the following dimensions:

  1. Friendly
  2. Conveniently-located
  3. Good at her job

Scenario A: Friendly + conveniently-located = a terrible braider

bad

I am beyond unimpessed

Scenario B: An awful person + lives/works at least an hour away from you = an exceptional braider

exceptional

Hair looks tight..as does something else in this picture

Scenario C: Friendly + good at her job = lives in an entirely different city/country

decent

Would it be crazy to move back to England for a hairdresser?

More often than not, I have equated a good hair braider with a terrible personality. I am sorry, but it’s just always worked out this way. When I have had braiders who were nice, offered me food and took breaks, the quality of their work wasn’t that great over time.

My most recent experience conformed to these expectations. I trekked an hour and 45 mins to the house of a Senegalese woman who literally said no more than 15 words to me all day. May I remind you this braiding experience took six hours? Exactly. She just wouldn’t talk. Trust me, I am not at the hairdressers to make friends. Something else that can be irritating is a hairdresser who doesn’t stop talking for six hours straight. But this woman was watching her Nigerian movies and yapping nonstop on her cellphone (at the same time), yet failed to acknowledge my presence as more than a floating head in need of attention. I loved the end result, but couldn’t be more pleased to get the hell out of there.

Anyone else find themselves bolting at the speed of light to get away from their hairdresser? How do you reconcile not connecting on a personal level with someone who has the ability to craft such an integral part of your physical appearance?

The struggle is real.

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The Hairy Truth

Hair is an integral part of every woman’s life. However, as most women know, the standards of beauty set by the media often aren’t realistic. When it comes to hair, black women are particularly affected as our hair is anything but “straight and silky.” As a result, we tackle a variety of styles. Allow me to take you on my hair journey:

Washing woes

grade 2     fro

There is no time in a young black girl’s life more feared than washing her hair. I cannot explain the crippling anxiety, pain, and tears I experienced. It is not the washing, but rather the detangling that strikes fear in the hearts of black girls everywhere. My mother would chase me through the house, eventually dragging me to the bathroom, where my fate was sealed. Twenty minutes later, I would emerge red-eyed and raw-scalped. “Beauty is pain, my dear,” she’d always say.

The relaxer diaries

relaxer   relaxer

Getting my hair relaxed for the first time was incredible. I’ll never forget running my fingers through my hair without them getting stuck or tangled. I was struck by how much more manageable my hair was. This was soon replaced by anxiety about when my next appointment to tame the natural growth would be.

Weaves

stjamespark1    bob    weave

Over the past few years, I’ve experimented with weaves. Weaves are carefree and fun, but at the three-week mark, your scalp begins to itch like no other: pat your weave, ladies. While weaves added variety to my look, they were financial headaches that deepened my insecurities about my natural hair.

Au naturel

current fro 2     current fro

In May of this year, I decided I’d had enough of the obsession with relaxers, weaves and long, straight hair. One day, I asked my sister to do the big chop. While it was terrifying, I instantly felt closer to my truth as a black woman.

Black Women and Identity: What’s Hair Got To Do With it by Cheryl Thompson, is a great read for anyone wanting to learn more.