“Why do you wear extensions don’t you feel fake?”
Solange’s 2016 hit song “Don’t Touch my hair” quickly became the black woman’s anthem. Ask any black woman, she will tell you her hair is her best friend and simultaneously her worst enemy.
In an interview with the Evening Standard, Solange spoke about watching the transformation of neighbourhood women in her mother’s home salon. “I got to experience women arriving in one state of mind and leaving in a completely transformed way. It wasn’t just about the hair. It was about the sisterhood and the storytelling,” explained Solange in the Evening Standard
My name is Halle, this is my story.
I’m 23 Years old and born to Eritrean Immigrants. My mum has relatively loose curls whereas I have much tighter coils.
Growing up with an Afro my mum would often spend hours before school tugging and yanking my hair into braids. If my scalp could scream, it would. The whole process of doing my hair took at least one hour. It was a hard routine to maintain for my busy working mum. So Mum had to take extra measures.
The BANE of my existence.
Mum would apply the creamy concoction to my hair strands. At first, it had a nice cooling effect like a leave-in conditioner however within minutes the burning sensation began to kick in. I still remember my first perm I CRIED. It was so painful. I was 6. The most pain I had endured up until then was when I would graze my knee on the concrete after playing tag. This was a whole new level. The tingling burning sensation lasted about 45 minutes. I was then able to finally wash it off. It was such torture, but the results made me smile. I went to school the following few days and would come home elated because of the compliments I received from my white schoolmates. “Woah it’s so pretty” “It’s long and wavy” “You look like a princess.”
For the first time ever, I felt accepted. I got addicted to that feeling. Months went by and my once wavy hair became brittle and started falling out, quickly. Perm contains many chemicals that force curly hair to become straight, however it eventually breaks down the hair follicles, causing it to inevitably fall out. Nonetheless, Mum would retouch what was left of my hair.
The Big Chop
It was the summer of 2005. Whilst brushing my hair Mum noticed was a confused combination of brittle, wavy and coiled. After a long, hard discussion Mum thought shaving my hair and starting fresh was the answer.
Mum and I were sitting in the backyard. Mum went inside to get Dad’s shaver. She held the shaver to my head and asked “Are you sure, we’re good to go?” I let out a sigh, all in the name of beauty right? “Yep” I looked down and saw chunks of my hair on the ground. The more I saw, the more terrified I was to see my head. “Okay, we’re done, go inside have a look”
I went inside and glared at the mirror, yet again I cried. I looked so ugly. Everyone at school was going to bully me now. I liked the compliments. I didn’t want to go back to being the outsider. Mum and Dad tried their best to comfort me calling me “Beautiful” and “kind-hearted”.
Two weeks later school started and so did the name-calling “where did your hair go?” “you look like a man” “you have such a big head” but probably hands down the worst thing said to me was “do you have cancer? you look like a cancer patient”. That particular comment was an unfortunate portrayal of how cruel and candid 12 year old kids were.
I sighed was this what my life came to. Thankfully hair grows and within two years I had restored my medium length hair.
I am a Perm-again woman
It was 2010, a good four years passed since the big chop and I was proud of myself. I maintained my hair alternating between straightening and braiding.
2010 was a busy year for my family, they were about to buy their first home, both Mum and Dad did overtime at work to make ends meet. Of course, Overtime also meant Mum was not at home as much, especially to do my hair. Even bringing up the question after seeing her exhausted seemed selfish.
For a while, I wore it out natural. I was too insecure to wear it natural too many times, because when I did people would say “you look like you electrocuted yourself”
The head of students even had a discussion about MY HAIR with me. “Um Halle.. this is a private school, our image both in and out of school is very important, please do something about your hair, it’s very distracting.”
It was ironic the same school that lectured us on bullying, was victim-blaming me for the hair I had naturally. Alas, I just requested an easy way out, Perm. I permed my hair again. I felt I truly failed myself I had done so well without relying on perm but lack of hair knowledge combined with a lack of self-confidence meant quickly reverting back to familiar ways. I continued to perm and perm and perm until 2017.
You need to cut it.
I had enough. I wanted to grow my hair out and wear my afro again, this time with pride. After a lengthy discussion with my little cousin, she got out the scissors and cut it all off leaving only 2cms of hair, I was ready to grow it out and have fun along the journey. I smiled at the mirror. It was time.
Freedom of expression
Queen Latifah said it beautifully “Having Black hair is unique in that Black women change up styles a lot.”
I now choose to wear my hair in weaves and braids because they’re low maintenance and also don’t require heat. My decision to wear extensions doesn’t mean I’m ashamed of my natural hair! (PLEASE READ THAT AGAIN). I love my past, I love my present and I love my future.
“You know this hair is my shit, Rode the ride, I gave it time” -Solange