More Than Just Hair: The Politics of Natural Hair2 minute read

With art by Laylie Frazier

About seven years ago I noticed that my relaxed hair was thinning and generally looking rather unhealthy. A friend suggested I go natural because my hair would become stronger in its natural state, and hopefully would stop falling out. Fearing I would be bald by the end of the year if I did not act, I stopped relaxing my hair and even refrained from getting it braided or installing weaves. I then proceeded to cut off the relaxed sections of my hair, leaving only about half an inch of new growth. At the time, I only knew one other natural person, and together, we ventured on into nappyness, untethered by any rules about what it meant to be truly natural. No one ever accused us of not being natural enough, if anything people were confused as to why we would choose to walk around with what seemed to them like unkempt hair. I’m certain some people even chuckled at the sight of the untamed mess that was our hair. Indeed, I think I would have joined them in laughter if my hair hadn’t been falling out.

Flash-forward to 2017; natural hair is all the rave, nappy is real, and apparently to not be natural is to hate yourself, and to hate your roots, (pun intended). But is it really? Is it really true that to have straight hair is to go against who you are at the core? As Indie Arie aptly puts in her song “I am not my hair”; straight, wavy, curly, kinky, 4C, it’s just hair people! Sure, we may choose to wear it as a statement, much like clothes, but expecting everyone to wear their hair in its natural state, is like asking those of African descent to wear Kente cloth, or African attire all the time! African clothes are beautiful, but being African does not mean one wearing western clothes such as Chinos, Fascinators or polo shirts, is self hate. Therefore, it follows that one remains free to choose to have their hair kinky, straight, in braids, or even coloured blue, without it reflecting back on their roots (yup, that pun again)!

For those that choose to use their hair as a statement, more power to you, knock yourself out; in fact, I have recently joined your ranks. Although I may have started my journey to avoid going bald, I continue it because I actually love my kinky locks, they suit me and speak for me when words fail me; but that’s me and there is no obligation on anyone else to do the same. I was no less proud of my African heritage when I relaxed my hair, than I am now. So, more than just hair? Sometimes, but only if you intend it to be.

 Artwork “Bantu Blooming” provided by Laylie Frazier, contact artist for prints.

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Tendai Nzuma is a part time editor for ‘Of Africa’. Zimbabwean born, she currently lives in Edmonton, Alberta. She is a social entrepreneurship enthusiast who works in the health and wellness industry where she researches and develops standards of practice for different health practices.