Learning to love my natural hair was the first step towards self-love

Just google professional hair, then google unprofessional hair, said a Facebook status. I gasped in disbelief at the results staring back at me through my phone. I was perplexed by the blatant racism displayed by the number one search engine in the world. “Are there no black women working for this company? ” I questioned internally.

An article written by The Guardian asked: “Can an algorithm itself be racist? Or is it only reflecting the wider social landscape?”

The final argument is that “Google Images was conceived in response to what people most wanted to see.” whether Google will change that to what we “need” to see, is yet to become known.

In the meantime though, black women continue being policed on their skin, their dress code, who they date, what they eat, the work they do, things they spend their money on, their hair and just about their entire existence.

“It’s just hair,” they say. “There are bigger problems in the world right now, shouldn’t we be discussing those instead of talking about hair?”

There’s something triggering about the constant ignorance or passionate dismissal of black pain and the black experience.

You can literally feel the desperation, exasperation, and exhaustion black women experience when having to explain why this is isn’t “just a hair thing.”

For centuries, black hair has been viewed as ugly, unkempt, inappropriate and as already mentioned above, “unprofessional”. This made black women and girls hate or feel uncomfortable with their natural hair and ultimately feel less beautiful when wearing it.

Think Zuleikha Patel, a whole 13-year-old who had to fight and stand against old-fashioned, racist school policy that still, to this day, alienates and sidelines black girls.

So, yes black women accepting, wearing and embracing their natural hair is a movement and a very fat big deal.

And yes, having them plastered on our television screens and our favourite magazines is a big deal too.

Representation matters. If we didn’t have the likes of Pearl Thusi, Lupita Nyong’o, Maria Borges, Kaone Kairo and others, paving the way for self-love and self-acceptance — we’d constantly be questioning ourselves because unfortunately, we live in a world of mainstream media consumption. Yeah sure, the regular folk can inspire you, but not at a greater scale as someone in the public eye.

That’s why articles like the one Pop Sugar published early July are problematic. You simply cannot write about a black story without including one black woman. How is it empowering to talk about embracing natural hair and yet the people doing the talking have zero understanding of the said topic?

Growing up, I attended a Catholic high school in KZN. We had to cut our hair in a brush-cut. Then, I didn’t think anything of it. We were beautiful and content with the way we looked. We were happy. I was happy even though I had to cut my shoulder length relaxed straight hair in order to get into the school.

Two years later, I changed schools and attended one where we were allowed to wear whatever type of hair we wanted. That’s when I reunited with relaxers. Everyone had really nice straight and “clean” hair. Fast forward to my second year at university when I just woke up and decided that I was tired of having my scalp burn from the chemicals in relaxers.

I cut my hair, kept it short for a while until it grew to a tweeny afro, I switched it to dreadlocks. I was watching the likes of Claire Mawisa, Samkelo Ndlovu, Nambitha Mpumlwana, etc, and I just loved how beautiful they looked with their locks.

But I couldn’t relate completely because mine were shorter and I didn’t really feel beautiful in them. So, I had the locks for two years before ditching them in favour of an afro.

While many people loved my locks, I was not feeling them at all and I kept asking myself “could my hair be the reason that I am not getting a job, I mean I’ve been to a 100 interviews with no results.”

I made an impulsive decision to cut my locks and put on protective styling. It was then that I started my research on taking care of my natural hair. I fell in love. Not only with my hair but with myself, for the first time, I knew there was a way to just be myself and be beautiful without any alterations.

This is not to say it was easy, it isn’t, and even today I encounter some challenges. You go to a salon and you have your own black sister utter words like “ah my sister, why don’t you relax your hair? Your hair is too big and hard to handle” and to add the cherry on top, we are asked to pay more than our relaxed sisters because ours is “too hard to handle.”

That’s one of the many reasons I don’t go to salons anymore, I do my own hair because the lack of black hair training, maintenance, and care from the salons is appalling. I’m not saying all salons, but right now there is a huge gap in this field.

I’ve been told by an acquaintance that I “look better on weaves than braids.” Since then I’ve made a subconscious decision not to wear any weave.

I’ve instead focused on my natural hair. On finding ways to make it healthy and strong.

During my journey, I have learned and continue to learn the gospel that is finger detangling, using loc (liquid, oil, cream) method, deep conditioning, and moisturising. Most times wash day consists of kitchen items such as eggs, avocados, olive oils, etc., making me question whether I am baking or trying to nurture my hair.

I’ve been through it all, failed braid/twist outs, failed Bantu knots, curling creams that leave a white residue, moisturisers that make my hair dry, the shrinkage but I am still experimenting and testing products to see which ones my hair will embrace.

And with the support and overload of information from hair bloggers and vloggers, I am sure I am on the right path.

I am now two years- two months natural and I feel beautiful. I also made my now 14-year-old sister go natural, she is a year seven months natural. We both fall in love with our hair more each day, even on the days it refuses to do what we tell it to.