The phenomenon that is the Nigerian woman’s hair could be likened to balancing a basket of jewels on top of one’s head.
Nigerian hair is wonderful. It is precious. It is beautiful to look at. It is at your own peril if you touch it without permission.
(Seriously though, please do not touch a Nigerian woman’s hair without giving her prior notice, possibly in writing).
My hair is a big part of my identity as a Nigerian Woman. It currently gives me a lot of joy, but it has also been a source of a lot of distress. Let me explain why this has been the case:
- BABY TEAM NATURAL:
I was born with hair which is in general fuller and longer than usual, thanks to both of my parents. My natural hair as a child was cumbersome to maintain due to its toughness and thickness. I have suppressed memories of tedious lengths of time spent threading and pummeling the hair into submission.
Sometime after I turned 6 years old, my mother took me to the salon to get my hair chemically straightened or ‘relaxed’; this was absolutely necessary to maintain our collective sanity. All of a sudden, I had silky, easy-to-comb hair.
There was still the issue of maintaining the hair, which was a real chore. This was made more cumbersome by the fact that at some point, my primary school had the ‘bright idea’ of specifying a new hairstyle that girls were to plait for every new week (the boys had no similar requirements for weekly haircuts). This meant long weekends spent loosening, untangling and re-plaiting my hair.
This went on for a while until my mother had had enough. I’m not sure if she ever went to my school to make a formal complaint, but I know that I was never singled out for not complying with the weekly hairstyle rule (which served no purpose in my opinion).
From then on and up to when I completed my undergraduate studies, taking care of my hair was, to me, a chore and a burden.
- LIVING IN ENGLAND A.K.A I WILL NOT SPEND MY RENT MONEY ON MY HAIR:
When I moved to England for my postgraduate studies, I was full of thoughts about how to cope with my course and how to cope with my hair. I kept the braids I travelled to England with for much longer than I would have in Nigeria, and finally loosened them after almost 4 months (luckily, my hairline did not suffer too much).
I sought out African salons and asked how much it would cost to ‘retouch’ my hair. The prices which I was told had me screaming ‘WHAAAAATTT???’ in my head. Depending on the salon, I was told that it would cost between £25-£60 for the retouching process. When I did the mental conversion into Naira, it just didn’t make sense to me. I calmly went to the product section of the salon, picked up a box of Relaxer, and paid for it at the counter. I then went home and taught myself how to retouch my hair without causing too much damage.
I somehow managed to cope with the hair afterwards by plaiting it into cornrows and sometimes wearing a wig. When I was able to go back home to Nigeria during this period, I would make sure that I went to the salon to have it braided before I returned to England. I often picture my hair giving me the side-eye for the stress I put it through during this period.
- HAIR FULFILMENT-PEACE OF HAIR, PEACE OF MIND.
Now that I am back home in Abuja as a working woman, I have to make the reluctant effort to go to the salon at least every other month to make my hair look presentable-I wouldn’t want to alarm my co-workers by showing up with my hair in disarray.
We Nigerians are typically a nosy set of people. We might have good intentions, but the delivery is often very poor. I cannot count how many times when I have packed my hair back neatly, only to be asked ‘Ahhh, won’t you go and ‘do’ your hair? Maybe braid it? Or fix a weave-on? Is everything okay?’
I have given up on fixing weaves for over a year now, because I do not want to melt into a human puddle. The heat which the weaves caused was unbearable. And the itching; all that head-scratching and head-patting. It was just too much to cope with.
I considered going natural and didn’t retouch my hair for about 6 months. It was a stressful period, and I just went back to retouching my hair every 4 or 5 months.
Since I stopped seeing my hair as my enemy, I’ve noticed that it seems to look healthier, and I also feel less stressed. I oil my hair and scalp constantly, and braid it when I need a break from combing. I no longer feel angry about my hair.
Who knows, I may shave my head in the future in a moment of recklessness. For now, my hair is my pride, my joy, and my crown.
Does your hair affect your self-image?
Ivie M. Eke.