“I spent many evenings…staring at beautiful women on YouTube as they explained elaborate hair care routines and styles which I’d inevitably fail at and cry small salty resentful tears.”
As a mixed-race child growing up in a white family, my hair was a source of great confusion and consternation. I would stand in front of the mirror and pull my hair frantically downwards, thinking that if I could just do it hard enough it might stay that way. All I wanted was for my hair to grow down and reach towards my waist, rather than up and out, sticking its curls out into the world around me. On Sundays my mother would sit me down and painstakingly weave my hair into a series of plaits and fasten each end with a colourful rubber band. The conditioner in my hair would eat through the rubber as the week progressed and sometimes I’d be woken in the night by the soft ‘pling’ of a rubber band snapping against my cheek.
“I looked into the mirror in the club toilet and I saw a woman who really looked like me for the first time in years.”
When I left home I was suddenly forced to confront the reality that I had no idea what to do with my hair. After the childhood plaits I’d spent my teens with relaxers and straightening irons and I didn’t remember what my natural texture looked like, much less what on earth to do with it. I spent many evenings with my tongue poked out in concentration, staring at beautiful women on YouTube as they explained elaborate hair care routines and styles which I’d inevitably fail at and cry small salty resentful tears.
Eventually I got into a rhythm of co-washing and air drying and moisture rich products which brought a lustrousness and body to my curls I’d never seen before. As the chemically damaged portions of my hair grew out, I started to understand and work with my hair rather than against it. I still remember with startling clarity the first night out I ever went on with my hair standing up tall in its natural afro. My friends were effusive and warm and complimentary and I began to feel more sure of myself. Sure, a bunch of white people tried to reach out and touch it, but a few razor quick reflexes and even razor sharp words put an end to that. I looked into the mirror in the club toilet and I saw a woman who really looked like me for the first time in years. I saw the woman I wanted to be.
“Beautiful, unruly, Black and bold. Just like me.”
It wasn’t all plain sailing, at times I still felt frustrated. I wanted my hair to be smoother, softer, easier to control. I resented the time it took to get ‘just right’. One day in a fit of rage I took a pair of kitchen scissors and hacked most of it off. My girlfriend looked at me in horror. I looked at my reflection and felt a grim satisfaction. I knew I’d have to start all over again and the thought made me hopeful. Maybe this time around I’d find proper peace when it grew back out. I went to the barber and got my hack job neatened out. Walking around with my fresh fade I felt like the hottest bitch to ever do it. As my afro grew back over the next couple of years, I knew I’d finally accepted my hair just the way it was. Beautiful, unruly, Black and bold. Just like me.