Picture a five year old little girl. There’s a towel or scarf of some sort around her head. The fabric is draping around her back. She’s parading around confidently. You can see, she’s feeling beautiful.
That little girl was me. It was one of the rare occasions in my prepubescent stage, that I remember feeling truly beautiful. It’s kind of scary that in my mind, at that young age, sleek long hair was the pinnacle of beauty as opposed to my head full of curls and coils.
I grew into a rather awkward, lanky, gawky youth. I had this bush of hair on my head that no matter how much heat I applied, protruded out of the ponytails and stood 100% on end. My uncle lovingly used to refer to these unruly hairs as ferns (lets just say, this girl knew nothing about edge control).
After years of sitting between my mothers legs as she attempted to tame the bush I developed a legitimate phobia of a comb and grew weary of trying to control my hair.
I begged, pleaded and reasoned with my mother to relax my hair. My mother (with relaxed hair) tried her utmost to persuade me otherwise. But I was not having it, I demanded the promises of straight hair that the “No Lye” boxes promised me. Reluctantly, my mother applied the creamy crack to my hair. The chore that was once wash-day diminished from a colossal job of taming and detangling to the occasional chemical maintenance.
In the year 2009, after having moved to the Western Cape, I discovered ceramic irons. At this stage, I was shedding worse than a cat with alopecia and made the decision to leave the relaxer life behind. My desperate self was willing to take my chances with subjecting my hair to temperatures far beyond the boiling point of water for the sake of blending in with the girls at school.
I wanted ‘styl’ hair.
Styl (adjective): straight hair texture, resembling the texture of Asian hair
When it wasn’t styl, it was considered untidy, unruly and too big. When it wasn’t styl, I was ugly. Heck I even felt ashy, literally, people called you ‘vaal’ if your hair wasn’t ‘gedoen’.
And best believe, I was “that girl”. On a Saturday or Sunday afternoon you’d walk into a room reeking of burnt but I’d be looking – or so I though- fabulous.
Funny story: I’m at hostel right, and it was one of those afternoons I spent ‘skroei-ing’ my hair. Someone came knocking on my door intensely. I legit thought something’s going down. I’m panicking. Why is this knocking so FRANTIC. I throw down my hair tools and head to the door. It was my neighbour. She thought something in my room had caught alight. The steam the straightener made was so dense and the smell so intense that my neighbour came knocking ya’ll (insert cry emoji)
I was shook. Honestly. I knew something had to change (as annoyed as I was about it). But I’d been conditioned. For goodness sake, I was dating a guy who literally had a hair typing system
- Perd-stert: straight hair
- Mister: kroes hair
- Halwe- mister: somewhere in between the two
And knowing full well I was considered a halwe-mister. I had a certain proximity to kroes-ness (coarseness) that I loathed. At that stage, I’d rather have put my tresses through the most than risk being called a ‘korrel kop’ or have my hair compared to steel wool. Mind you, by this time my hair was so damaged (another cream crack relapse, sigh) for so long that I had no idea if I had a curl pattern or what it looked like.
So in the year 2013 in a culmination of curiosity, rebellion and armed with the new found source of knowledge that was YouTube I shaved my head. Well the side of it atleast, I needed to see what my hair looked like when it grew out of my head untouched and unscathed.
I eventually stopped applying chemicals to my hair and come January 2014 I stopped applying heat to my hair. Cold Turkey. I took my behind out to buy some Dr Miracles curl elongating stuff and called it a day. With no solid plan and a couple of wacky attempts at twist outs and braid outs later, I resorted to chopping all the damaged ends right off.
I felt naked. Very weird. Yet strangely emancipated.
I didn’t know at the time that I was starting on a gruelling, liberating and exquisite never-ending journey of self-acceptance. I’m still learning, stumbling and growing. However while on this journey I’d like to share how I try to cultivate a culture of love within myself, towards myself, one strand at a time.