I was at the salon yesterday (it was yesterday when I wrote this but that was weeks ago, sorry) relocking my dada… errr, sorry, dreads when a conversation started around me. I focused on my e-book reader trying to pretend to be invisible since the speakers had decided I was deaf and maybe even dumb. The topic was my hair.
Is that her hair? One lady asked the hair stylist.
Yes o. It’s her hair.
All of it? No extensions?
No extensions o. She has had it for ten years.
Ha, she try o.
I started to get piqued. You never have glossy relaxed hair, however long it is and however long you’ve had it and have anyone saying ‘she try o.’ But natural hair? They make it sound like manual labour growing out your hair.
I wanted to do dreads o, another woman said. But I will wait till I’m married.
Why, someone asked.
Ah, for my wedding now? How will I style it?
I tried to absorb this. And continued reading, the conversation continuing around me.
The stylist went, in fact, I’m begging her (that would be me) to sell to me if she decides to cut it. I can buy it from her for ten thousand Naira and sell it easily for thirty or forty thousand Naira (never mind that I’m sitting right there and hearing how someone intends to make three hundred percent profit on top of my head in my very before).
Sell it to who? The customer wanted to know.
Ah, people now? People are dying for this dreads o. In fact in south Africa, they kidnap foreigners with dreads and tie them up and scrape it off to sell. People love it and it’s getting more popular but most people don’t want to go through the trouble of growing it, they want already long dreads.
God forbid, the other woman exclaimed. How can I carry somebody’s hair and put on my head?
They treat it first, said the stylist.
Even then. Ha. It’s somehow.
Finally I’d had enough. I turned to her.
Do you feel that strongly about other kinds of ‘human hair’ – Brazilian, Peruvian, Indian… all that other hair that cost the price of a piece of land? Do you think they are ‘somehow?’
How do you mean?
I said, do you feel that way, ‘god forbid’, about foreign human hair?
That’s different, she said stiffly.
She was unable to tell me. I let her brood over it all by herself and returned to my book – or pretended to, my mind churning.
I am all for artificial things and enhancements – hair, hails, lashes, even cosmetic surgery, whatever makes you happy. What I cannot deal with is when you think foreign is somehow superior. You’re welcome to your preferences, but once you try to tell me foreign is somehow ‘better’ we definitely have a problem. I know there are some workplaces here in Nigeria that don’t allow natural hair styles like dreads and afro. However neatly maintained they are. What does that even mean? It’s the same with clothes.
I remember once I had a presentation and went to work in a nice Ankara dress. My boss pulled me aside and said she’d asked us to dress formal. I said I was dressed formal. Once my friend was shooting a movie and when he announced that costume was going to be purely print, the actresses threw a fit, in fact, he says one of them was so hysterical she actually broke down in tears. I have never been able to wipe that image from my memory. Of course, that was a few years ago.
In the last few years, things have changed but I would attribute it to the fact that Ankara and African prints and designs have gained international renown (shout out to all the designers who refused to give up, who have forced the world to recognise, accept and adopt this rich culture, showcasing our styles from Paris to Milan and I’m not just talking about African designers – Marc Jacobs, Givenchy, Eley Kishimoto, JPG, Diane Von Furstenberg, Kenzo, Paul Smith and several others have included Ankara and other wax print fabric in their collections although – some have labelled it social responsibility, I don’t care) and many foreign celebrities like Beyonce, Kim K, Rihanna, Fergie have decided that Ankara/print is the new cool. Suddenly, Nigerians are thinking ooh, Beyonce wore Ankara? Then Ankara has to be okay. Because we always want validation. So we’re #BringingBackTheAfrican.
But not enough. Things like dreads and other forms of natural hair remain the preserve of African ‘creatives’. Go to a writers’ workshop, roughly 85% of the female writers would be sporting natural hair. Go to a bankers’ seminar, that number drops dramatically to close to zero.
I cannot wait for natural hair to become ‘normal’ instead of the odd. I cannot wait for natural hair to become mainstream.