I would not know my natural hair texture, beyond the monthly half an inch of regrowth, until I was 19
“Sit still” she said as my 6 year old self squirmed in distress as the burning sensation on my scalp began to intensify. I can’t forget “the burn”. This was my first chemical hair relaxer. After she washed out the toxic white cream, my hair was silky, straight and laid for the Gods. I loved it! I had to, right? From that moment on, I would not know my natural hair texture, beyond the monthly half an inch of regrowth, until I was 19.
It was a strange and confronting experience when I realised that things I accepted to be the norm were conditioned opinions from the people around me, who themselves had not questioned where they adopted these sentiments. It was only after I stumbled upon my most authentic self and embraced her, that I was truly free.
I moved to Australia from Kenya in 2012, at the age of 19. Before departing for Australia, Mum made sure I had track extensions, what we often called a weave, installed so it would last me a couple of months before I had to tackle the challenge of finding an affordable hairdresser. After I had pushed the weave install as far as I possibly could, a friend recommended someone she knew who could chemically relax my hair for me at a cheap price. With a scarf covering inches of natural hair regrowth, I went down to Footscray. I had so many relaxers to pick from, eventually settling on my trusty organic brand, because the word organic gave me some sort of false comfort. I later found myself bent over a bathroom tub, as my new hairdresser washed out the relaxer at her dimly lit apartment. After a blow out with the use of excessive heat and exchange of $20 I could finally face the world again, scarf in hand.
Soon after the treatment, sparse pockets, where there used to be volume, were appearing. I purchased clip in extensions to fill the gaps, and kept them in for so long that when I eventually took them out more hair was gone, broken by the pull of the clips. My naturally delicate hair, which was so damaged from the years of chemical relaxer, was finally giving up defeat, and kinky sprouting hair was coming through to the surface."
I found myself in a place where I had to unlearn “truths” surrounding beauty, identity and what society deemed acceptable.
In my teenage years this inch of growth was an alert to get the hairdresser to tame the weed, to relax the kink. My natural hair was never something to be proud of; it was to be hidden under braids, weaves chemicals and excessive heat, and often a sign that you couldn’t afford “good hair” in my society. These were the deeply rooted ideologies of westernised beauty standards that my mother’s generation grew up with and this was why when I returned home after my first year abroad and chopped off all the chemically relaxed hair, leaving me with a TWA ( tweeny weeny afro), mum couldn’t comprehend why I would do such a horrible thing to my “beautiful” hair that she had “nurtured” for so many years.
Here it was, my natural hair, in all its glory! My initiation into the sisterhood of natural hair. What do I do with it? I had absolutely no clue on what to do with my hair. My hair was as foreign to me as it would be to anyone else who has never seen tightly coiled 4C hair. I didn’t even know my hair had a texture type, or curl pattern at the time. My brother announced, “Finally! I love it” as though it had only been a matter of time before I could finally see what he saw. My partner, sat through a multitude of youtube videos by natural hair gurus, demonstrating how to get that twist out popping. Bless his heart! I was reveling in how the warm water caressed my scalp, how my hair would shrink up at the same rate as it dried, and would spend hours with my finger in my hair, mapping out this new texture.
Underneath all of this exploration, I still felt like my hair would not make it on a line up of good hair. I found myself in a place where I had to unlearn “truths” surrounding beauty, identity and what society deemed acceptable. I started to introspect and ask myself, why I still believed looser curls and wavy hair was good hair, and why my kinky curls were not something to be envied. I would often justify it with, “well their hair is so much more manageable!” in hindsight this was simply my way of hiding from the truth, because it was too colossal to accept. I did not love my natural hair. I had been taught to despise it, mistreat it, burn it, and this had set the tone for a debilitating relationship with my hair that undoubtedly extended to my relationship with me."
I have grown from a place of seeking validation, to one of liberation.
Caring for this thing many might claim as trivial, hair, transformed into self care for my being. It became my therapy in mending that broken relationship and was the beginning of my journey to self love and self acceptance. I always knew myself to be a confident, self-loving person, but if I didn’t love this one thing about myself, simply because society told me it was not worth love, could I truly be the best version of me, my most authentic self if I was not yet free of social pressures? Through embracing my natural, kinky, coily 4C hair, I discovered a space of other incredible women who I share this cultural experience with, and we have become each other’s healing.
Throughout this journey, I have grown from a place of seeking validation, to one of liberation. I strongly believe that the versatility that comes with my kinks and curls should be synonymous with freedom. Natural hair as a movement and community, at one time had become quite militant and non-inclusive. This was essentially doing the same thing main stream media was, in pushing one agenda (a Eurocentric beauty ideal). It was either you were natural or other. This was the main catalyst for my mum and I to start up Wawili hair, a business that sells hair pieces, which I now run with my sister. Both of them, my mum and sister, are now natural. Wawili translates to the “two of us” in Swahili. It is an ode to women who empower each other and a reminder that we are always stronger together. Through Wawili hair I want women to permit themselves the chance to explore and experiment with all facets of their being. To know they have choice, and they are free to wear their hair natural, a weave, or slay in a wig; it all comes down to choice. You are free to choose for you.
My takeaway from this experience, is to love myself holistically, fully and unapologetically.