Growing up my hair was a struggle. Well, that’s the best way to describe all the attempts made by my mother and myself at trying to figure out what perfect hair product would finally make my hair super soft and manageable. I’m talking the kind of manageable where a brush or fine toothed comb would never stand a chance at experiencing even the slightest resistance when gliding through my hair that would have turned into the finest Ancient Chinese silk.
‘Unrealistic expectations’, I hear you say? Not when I was completely unaware of even having a curl pattern or what it looked like. I believed that my hair should ideally be straight, because the closer you got it to looking straight and sleek, the better a job you were doing at looking after your hair. I knew my hair was big and puffy and had to be blow-dried before it could possibly be put into any style. I knew it would mess up quickly, become wild and dry and not stay in place – ever(!), but the possibility of somehow keeping it curly was something I had never contemplated.
I am mixed raced. My father was German/French and my mother is Ugandan, which is often perceived as the more fortunate mix for the sake of my hair; with my mum being black and supposed to know how to handle curly/afro hair. I can tell you now…It is not that easy. Especially when you are subjected to the expectation of flopping out of your mother’s womb with bouncy, shiny curls because that’s what mixed raced hair is supposed to look like – ‘I woke up like this’ and all that Jazz.
I’m not knocking my mother’s efforts at all by the way. She did often keep my hair in ‘doo doo’ plaits and buns, which we now all know is excellent protective styling and allowed my hair to grow.
As I got a bit older, I started to realise that ‘doo doo’ plaits were not so cool anymore and I longed to be able to simply brush my hair and put it in pony tails like my peers with straight hair. I didn’t like putting any hair products in my hair because no-one else had to and having greasy hair was a bad thing.
My hair started to become dry and break unevenly. So my mum came up with the idea of putting my hair into braids with hair extensions.
Unfortunately, extensions never really agreed with me. I would get major headaches, an unbelievably itchy scalp and the weight of the braids did my hairline no favours.
My unevenly broken off fro needed some serious rehab and I agreed to let my mother cut my hair, which was the beginning of a cycle I remained in…Attempting to grow my hair, not treating it particularly well and then cutting it.
I can remember feeling quite liberated when getting my hair cut because it was a lot easier to deal with until one day towards the beginning primary school, a little girl asked me ‘why are you not over there playing with the other boys’. I instantly knew that the only thing that differentiated me from the other girls was my hair.
You see, I spent my first ever few months in primary school in Uganda. It was the norm for everyone – including girls – to get a level one haircut at the beginning of term. Quite frankly, I felt stupid being the only one who had my fro growing and just wanted to fit in. Being told I looked like a boy back in Germany with my (even if not so shapely) high top was yet another blow to my quest to fit in or just be comfortable with my hair.
Years went by and as a pre-teen my mum agreed to let me have my hair relaxed. Unfortunately, my mum has the visual evidence in Germany with her, lost in our life hoardings but anyway… I loved it. My hair was straight, soft and shiny and all I wanted to do was stand in the mirror all day brushing through it without any problems.
The lady in the salon gave me pink lotion to use in my hair but I knew I wasn’t going to put any products in my hair to make it look greasy. A month went by and my hair started to look like straw. A few more months went by and my regrowth started to cause unwanted volume at the roots and my relaxed hair started snapping off in chunks. A few more months down the line and I had the above hairstyle, just with some straight hairs hanging off at the ends- not a pretty sight. It was time to get my hair cut again and the cycle started afresh.
Fast forward to my late teenage years. The first time I ever straightened my hair using a straightener was when I was 17 years old. Oh the addiction. I would spend hours taming my fro by frying it into shape. I say frying because I was not too bothered about heat protection, often using whatever I could find in the house, be it a hair lotion or some vaseline…As long as my hair would be straight.
I became insecure about my afro hair and thought it only looked nice when straight.
I carried this on until I went to uni in 2008 but it soon proved to become rather annoying when I would enter the club with my hair looking like this:
And very quickly end up looking like this:
My hair would not stay straight for very long and all the straightening started taking its toll, causing it to become damaged and break off at the ends. I did not know what to do with my hair and started to resent it once again for giving me such a hard time.
It was not until my third year of uni when I started to really hate my hair to the point of me once again becoming very scissor happy. I cut my hair into a short bob, which of course could only be maintained by straightening it, defeating the whole point.
One day a group of us girls were sat in one of our rooms in uni, talking about life and everything under the sun you can think of (as we always did), when we got onto the subject of hair. Davina started throwing out all these facts about looking out for bad ingredients in hair products, heat damage, how to maintain curls etc. and I was hooked. I went on Youtube that same day and discovered an array of tutorials for how to care for natural hair no matter what length and texture or state of health your hair is in. And so my Natural Hair Journey began…
Now let me get back to sorting through my tonnes of pictures documenting exactly what happened to my mane after I started applying my new found wisdom. Stay tuned 😉