I love the movie, Nappily Ever After. I am particularly intrigued by the journey of self-discovery that lies in something as simple as your hair, your crown. I went through my own version of this; a journey I affectionately call Nappily ever after 2.0; my hair journey to self.
I remember having a really good friend of mine; she was a first-generation Eurasian and used to boast about this incessantly. She loved curling, tonging, and straightening her hair, at varying moods but at lightning speed. My hair was thick. kinky and unmanageable. In a bid to be beautiful, I did the same thing. I curled, tonged, and straightened my hair at varying moods but at lightning speed.
Of course, my hair protested, and very soon it broke in huge tufts that left gaping holes on my scalp.
I was devastated and fought for months to repair my hair. I tried everything, from hair protein to moisturizing to relaxing to herbal methods; nothing worked! What was the next best thing? Weaves! Lots and lots of weaves. I proceeded to braid what little of my hair remained and stitch on a weave.
At this time, I was working in a predominantly white establishment and I sought to buy the best quality weaves to ensure I looked amazing. I doubt I ever received a compliment but no news is good news, right?
In a rather sad twist of events, a close family member passed away, and as grief does, it shook me to my core. My behavior became mildly erratic and I tried as much as possible to live in the moment so, on a whim, I butchered my scraggly tufts and dyed what remained red. People at work loved it. It was so renewing that one of my long-standing colleagues introduced herself to me, and asked which department I was going to be working in; I was a new person, I was myself.
It was then that I decided to look after my natural hair. I had this mental image of an Indian with streaming long hair, cutting off just enough to cover my broken tufts, and dramatically flipping her raven locks with a haughty, “There you go, I’ve got loads to spare!” while I gratefully bowed to her and received her flowing hair.
The question that haunted me thereafter was; why did no one ever teach us to look after and love our natural black hair? For as long as I can remember, I was taught to relax my hair because it was, “unruly and unmanageable,” and not once did I work to love my hair. The same went for my blackness. Not one person told me how beautiful I was in my chocolate casings and I thought of all the labels; yellow bone, redbone, as dark as two nights put together.
This fuelled my desire to maintain my hair and so I went online to research how best to treat natural hair. My discovery? Natural oils and everyday ingredients like honey, eggs, avocado, and banana, can do wonders for black hair. The one thing that hurt my heart when I started this journey is the response I received from my own people. “Don’t you have money to do your hair?” “Relaxer is just five bucks, sort your hair out!” “Freehand isn’t befitting to your status.” In every sphere, I realized that my hair, my natural and God-given hair, was not enough.
This is the analogy of the life of a young, black woman. In your natural and God-given state, you are told you are not enough. You are not smart enough to compete with a man, you are not good enough to lead a firm, you’re too emotional, you aren’t as pretty as women from other races.
Like your hair, you are forced to despise yourself and buried beneath the weaves of patriarchy, gender-based discrimination, misogyny, glass ceilings that should in fact be glass slippers, being objectified, mummified as well as crucified for having a dress too short or too long. You are constantly told that you need a man to provide for you and that if you are to ever have meaning and standing in society, you need to be married with 2,5 kids and have a beautiful home in a cul-de-sac or modern-day suburbia.
The greatest tragedy this creates is the loss of self. Whether we fight to fit the molds we’re forced into, trading our manes for crowns, burying our dreams so they fuel those of others, or simply complying with people’s definition of our own success, we lose ourselves and that is the greatest loss of all.
As I sought to find myself, I was guided by the following quote from Emily McDowell.
Finding yourself is actually returning to yourself. An unlearning, an excavation..remembering who you were before the world got its hands on you.
For me, finding myself became a returning to self in the mane that is my crown; I’ve had my natural locks for the last two and a half years and I’m still going strong. For you, it could be choosing the career you always wanted to pursue, chartering your own course instead of roads chosen for you, or simply being yourself, unapologetically so.
The journey to self is long and arduous but also rewarding. Like all expeditions, it begins with a single step, so start today, start now. Find who you were before the world got its hands on you.