That creamy crack…

Some of my earlier posts on this blog were stories I shared about my experiences going natural aka cutting off my relaxed hair,  aka coming off the creamy crack .

I haven’t shared much on my hair in recent posts but after many ups and downs, my hair has reached that awkward length where it’s too short to tie up and too long to look cute. I’ve found myself getting frustrated and considering relaxing my hair so, I decided to read the post below which I wrote (and never published) after a disastrous creamy crack relapse. Hopefully this will encourage me and those of you in a similar place to keep going. I’m not promising anything though…

crack
For now anyway…

– OCTOBER 2014 –

I messed up.

I was 7 months into my natural hair journey, when I noticed that my hair had developed a bad attitude problem. We were getting along just fine when one day I woke up, the honeymoon period was well and truly over and my hair had turned into a jerk! It was coarse, dry, brittle and rude. The only way that I could manipulate it (temporarily), was by massaging it with water and olive oil.

It no longer looked cute and short but rather like a mean looking tangled hedge. Lately, I’d noticed people no longer looked at me when they spoke to me but rather, at the attention seeking little hedge growing out of my head.
heish
So, after a particularly bad hair week,  I decided enough was enough and found myself at the hairdresser who used to look after my relaxed hair (schoolboy error no. 1).

“Oh wow, you cut your hair!” Dawn exclaimed a little too forced. I smiled politely. She ran her hand over my hair (over not through) and for a spilt second, I saw a flicker of panic on her face. But, she quickly composed herself. I chose to ignore this observation (error no. 2).

“So, what will you be having done today?”, Dawn asked.
Feeling a bit defeated, I explained that I was having a tough time managing my hair and that I wanted to condition it and make it more manageable. Immediately, she recommended a perm. She explained how a perm was a gentler treatment which would make my hair more manageable whilst also allowing it remain somewhat natural. Now, normally before I try a new product on my hair, I would research it to death. But on this rainy autumn morning, I didn’t feel like asking too many questions. I shrugged for her to go ahead (error no. 3). As soon as she started lacquering the cold paste onto my hair, I regretted it.

I felt the Ammonium Hydroxide, Ammonium Thioglycolate, Amodimethicone, Colorants, Fragrance, Polyquaternium-11, Styrene/Acrylates Copolymer and Water (apparently) eating away at my hair like an acid. The smell burnt through my nostrils. It smelt like a strong concentration of hair remover.

Had I done my research, I would have found out that Perm aka “PERManent” contains 2 of the key ingredients found in hair removal creams. The thing is, I wasn’t actually trying to remove my hair!

Over the next 2 hours, my hair tossed and turned as it was stripped and tortured. My scalp tingled and my head started to spin until I felt dizzy and unwell – sympathy pains perhaps. It felt like my whole body had joined the protest. Eventually the riot subsided and my hair emerged broken down to a more docile version of its former self.

image
Example Natural hair before and after relaxer

I touched my softer “more manageable” hair  which looked more ridiculous than before and the 1st wave of regret hit me. I realised my hair had been a metaphorical child – perhaps a toddler going through his terrible twos and I’d given up on it (OK, a little dramatic – but I was upset lol!).

The 2nd wave hit as it occurred to me that although it seemed the whole “perm thing” had “happened” to me, subconsciously I’d orchestrated it on account of the upcoming conference which 300 of my colleagues would be attending. I guess on some level, I wanted to conform and look “normal”.

conf

It’s funny because for me, cutting my hair was never about going “natural”  in the technical term or proving a point to anyone. It was more about me experimenting with my God given afro hair and hopefully feeling comfortable in it. It was not something I had intended to do forever but on that Saturday morning, I knew I hadn’t done it long enough to reach whatever earth shattering objective I was trying to achieve.

3c873772166b10323c4727b87261d53b

The next morning, I made a call to get my hair braided. At the 2014 October Conference, I had long wavy braids. I got a couple of lovely compliments in contrast to the curious stares. Sadly it felt good.

4 months later, I cut off all the permed hair. Back to square one.

Like a boy

I sat on the floor, probably painting my toenails with my phone wedged between my ear and shoulder. It would have been one of our fortnightly calls where my friend Mona and I would catch up and essentially download the events of the previous 2 weeks into a one sometimes, two hour phone call.
First, we’d discuss important things like the kids, work, love and as always, they’d be time at the end for AOB – all other business.
Lately, my hair had become a regular feature in the AOB section – this week was no different.
“Monaaaa”, I whined. “I really want to cut my hair but I’m convinced I’m going to look like a boy. I wish there was some way I could preview before I put a pair of scissors to my hair!”.
She took a moment to consider (for the 111th time) then thoughtfully replied, “Maybe you could look at pictures of when you were younger and had short hair? That might give you an idea of what you’ll look like.” Mmm, that could be interesting, I thought. 
After I came off the phone, I fetched my box of family pictures and casually flicked through them. Almost immediately, I was confronted by a picture of a sweet little boy in a pretty dress.

8f80c-img_7552

As a child, I had a deep, husky voice. That, combined with my boyish looks and unisex name meant that I was often mistaken for a boy.
As I looked through pictures of me as a little boy, I noticed I looked happy and at peace with myself. I started thinking about when my hair had become such a big deal and why this “boy thing” mattered so much – 3 things occurred to me.
bf7ab-tumblr_m5ms7c4pzm1qbiu5fo1_500
Number 1
I wanted to cut my hair because I wanted to. It was not for anyone else but me.
I’ve noticed that as I get older, my list of regrets grows with me. Most of my regrets are things that are now outside of my control. It would be a shame for me to one day find myself on my death bed carrying this actually, rather inconsequential regret which today, is 100% within my power to fulfil.
Number 2
My identity. I am a Christian and the bible tells me that “I am fearfully and wonderfully made”. When I think of that verse, I picture God holding me and trembling, in awe of this beautiful thing He has created. To me, this means there is not a single hair on me that is out of place.
I’m pretty much flawless and you better believe that if God has a man out there who is partial to a woman with boyish good looks, I’m not going to stand in the way of that – chop it all off 😉
Number 3
It’s just hair. As a black woman, my hair is an important part of my identity. For many black women the frustrations we have with our hair are embedded in our genes, or in my view, in the definitions of beauty birthed in media. However, at the end of the day, it’s just hair. Mine may never be blond, poker straight and grow all the way down my back but, it will grow back. Worst case scenario, I figured if I didn’t like it, I could put it in braids and weaves until it was long enough to start lacquering with chemicals all over again – hooray!
And that, is the story of how I finally made up my mind.

Journey to Peckham

Like an expectant mother rubs her swelling belly, I dug my fingers into the depths of my hair and smoothed my fingertips over the growing tiny coily curls.
I was curious about the surprisingly unfamiliar texture and fascinated by the density of my new hair. Every now and again, I would pluck a hair from the roots, stretch it out and delight at how it would extend to twice, sometimes three times its curly length – a seemingly odd ritual I’ve since discovered is not unique to me.
I planned to give my hair the best start. So, after spending some time researching the best styles to protect my hair during this transitional period, I headed to Peckham, an hour’s drive in London to find the best range of hair products.
6a06c-dsc_10111
To me, Peckham has always felt like a short haul drive to somewhere exotic. Somewhere where it’s not unusual to see an African woman in full traditional attire buying a TV in Argos. Somewhere where it’s not ludicrous to hear that song from back home being blasted through the windows of the local DVD pirating shop. I remain convinced the temperature is a couple of degrees higher!
13f60-rye-lane-peckham
As I walked through the streets of Peckham, I was enticed (occasionally assailed) by the smell of exotic foods from all over the world. From the unmistakable smell of salt fish, to the sweet aroma of overly ripe mangoes. I made a mental note to pick up a roadrunner chicken on my way home. After all, who doesn’t want to boil their chicken for an hour and a half before it’s ready!

a5d20-4141371530_4dfc7d3f70_z

I walked into the hair shop and was immediately overwhelmed by choice. There were only 5 aisles in the store but they were packed from floor to ceiling with all kinds of hairy delights. Whether you were in the market for hair extensions, hair food, perm rods or a durag, this shop had it all.
I ran my eyes over the rows of hair. I could be Beyonce, the wavy haired blond bombshell; Trina, the shy type in a cute dark bob or even Gerti, the sassy no nonsense minx in a mini afro. On this occasion, I going to be Auntie Lizzie, the not so plain Zimbo girl in wavy long braids (as recommended by my hairdresser).

 

 
After a respectable search to no avail, I decided to ask the sales assistant for help.
“Excuse me, please can you help me.” The tall Asian man looked over at me.
“I’m looking for a brand of hair extensions called Auntie Lizzie.” The man started walking over to me with a stern look on his face. He continued walking until he was standing so close, I could feel his breath on my face. His body language was confrontational. I felt intimidated.
He looked down at me with menacing eyes and for a second I thought he was going to throw me a punch. I looked back at him feigning confidence and added, “Do you stock this brand?” He glared at me for a few moments longer and in a split second, he had a personality transplant and broke into a more jovial and professional character.
“What is this Auntie Libby?” he asked.
Slightly taken aback by the bizarre personality transformation, I went on to cautiously explain that Auntie Lizzie was a brand of hair extensions for braiding.
To his credit, he put quite some vigour into the search for “Auntie Libby”. Through a dialogue of broken English, he asked me questions about “Auntie Libby” calling upon other sales assistants and offering me other (dearer) alternatives along the way. After about 10 minutes, he eventually called off the search party and concluded.
“The boss is not here, he knows everything. Me I don’t think so we have Auntie Libby. Our hair grow long you know, so we don’t have this problem and I not really understand what you looking for.” (he said in essence). He smiled politely.
I walked away with my head hanging slightly lower and like a dog eats his own vomit, I continued to wonder the aisles of the offending shop picking up basic supplies. I watched the male sales assistant interacting with other young women in the same aggressive style. Curiously, many of the younger women humoured this strange behaviour, squealing like silly schoolgirls. The flirting is something I had observed on many occasions in other similar stores. I had never understood it. After all, you don’t openly flirt with the sales assistant in Boots or Superdrug. Perhaps it was the prospect of the 5 – 10% discount. I guess everybody wants to look like Beyonce for a bargain.
I did eventually find my Auntie Lizzie hair in different store and also managed to pick up my roadrunner chicken before heading home victorious and humming to that song from back home.
Photo Credits
http://www.lizjohnsonartur.com

 

 

 

The Awkward Silence

So, 2 weeks ago I decided to cut off my relaxed hair off. It wasn’t breaking. I wasn’t going through some kind of mid life crisis. I just decided I wanted to experience life in my natural hair. After over 20 years of either relaxing my hair or wearing it with a variety of wild and wonderful attachments, it felt long overdue!
The feedback I have have had has been phenomenal! Phenomenally mute that is. I have had comments like:
“You look like a plain Zimbo girl” to “It will take some getting used to…”
Then of course, I’ve had my refreshingly enthusiastic “team natural” girls telling me, “You’re still killing it!” or a favourite of mine, “Short hair don’t care “…. Outside of these few comments, its been almost uncomfortably quiet…
Somehow, I had expected the reception Lupita N’yongo has received. But, it seems off the Oscars stage, our natural God given hair is still a little too… unconventional.
3e555-screen2bshot2b2014-08-302bat2b11-49-23
I have walked into so many rooms and felt like there is a rainbow coloured elephant in the room, complete with bows and whistles that no one is willing to acknowledge.
On the whole, most people don’t say anything. Occasionally, one person will say “new hair?” – something I have now come to understand to be a rhetorical statement, uttered purely to take the edge off how uncomfortable they feel about not positively acknowledging my new hair. So much for my most dramatic hairstyle to date!
Today however, was different. A male colleague I hadn’t seen for a few weeks walked into the office and commented “oh, new hair?”. I gave my standard response about “trying something different” and to my surprise, he started walking towards me to engage further in this conversation. I wasn’t prepared for this…
He wanted to know why my hair had changed so drastically and then, in an open plan office full of people (OK 3 people, but still) he asked me “so have you been wearing a wig all this time???”. After I regained my composure, I went on to nonchalantly try and explain the structure of afro hair and the process involved in relaxing it. I think he sort of understood because he took a moment to consider what I had said and thoughtfully replied “So you’ve gone natural!”.
At this point, I was beaming! I felt completely satisfied that in my own small way, I was part of the movement. The movement to unashamedly educate people about being black without westernising myself “to make you feel more comfortable working with me”. I felt pleased.
However, nothing could have prepared me for what happened next. Without any warning, my male colleague with whom I have a VERY professional relationship asked “Can I feel it?”. Without waiting for my response, he reached over and touched my hair… at work… by my desk… like he was stroking a rare African antelope or some other wildlife.
“Mmm. It’s soft”, he lied.
And that ladies and gentlemen is a summary of my first two weeks as part of “team natural”. Many people have asked me how I feel since my big chop. “Is it weird?”, “you must be feeling liberated?” So far, its been all of the above!