Natural hair: A mother's tale
Many women grew up thinking that straight hair was best. Sleek, shiny, flowing hair was beautiful, and kinky, curly hair was the opposite.
Mothers – and their mothers before them – would tell their daughters to “fix” their hair. Fixing it didn’t, however, mean simply cleaning and brushing it – it meant doing anything and everything to get their hair to look sleek, like that of women featured in glossy magazines and on billboards.
Thankfully, hair conversations are slowly moving away from “how can I prevent my hair from curling” to “how can I make my curls pop?”
Unlike mothers in the past, today’s moms have the power to change the way they talk about hair and to empower their daughters to help them celebrate their natural hair.
I now have two daughters of my own, each with very different hair texture. Both very different to mine.
Five-year-old Alude has tight coils, while big sister Mia-Mae has loose curls.
I love their hair. Yet, as young as they are, they already have issues with theirs.
My eldest is a teenager who fluctuates in terms of how she treats her hair. She either leaves it curly and untamed or she blows out her curls to wear it sleek and straight. As versatile as her hair might be, she constantly finds fault with it. The curls are not perfect, she would prefer curls like mine, or her curls are too unruly for school.
My youngest is only five years old, she already has a complex about her hair, which she developed due to the teasing at school.
She constantly asks when her hair will be long like her sister’s and also wants it to be like her favourite Disney princess.
Because her hair is so different to mine, I had educate myself on how to care for it and style it.
When I asked people for advice, they would tell me to relax her hair “just to soften it a bit” or keep it very short as this equalled a “low maintenance” style. Needless to say, none of these options were, or ever would be, followed.
She’s slowly starting to love her growing afro and puffy little pom-poms.
I’m not the only mother who understands the need to teach her daughters to love their natural hair.
I spoke to Marchelle Abrahams about the hair struggles she faces with her daughter Layla.
“I never thought much about hair while I was growing up. For me, it was just something that needed washing every Sunday, as my mother counted us down as to who was having their hair done first,” says Abrahams.
“Then I had a daughter and everything changed. For the first year, I let her run around with a ‘bossiekop’, unashamed and oblivious. I got passing remarks like ‘you should tie that up’ or ‘try argan oil; it will take out the kinks’.
“I ignored them, because to me, her hair was the most beautiful thing in the world. I loved the way her curls shone in the sun and the way they framed her oval-shaped face,” Abrahams added.
“This year, she turned three. Gone are the curls and the carefree way she’d tuck her hair behind her ear. Now she wants to look like a Disney princess. Her young mind can’t comprehend why she doesn’t have long, sleek hair like Rapunzel or Frozen’s Princess Anna. I am also frustrated because, no matter how hard I try, my pretty little wisp of a girl would rather cry that she wants hair she will never have, instead of embracing her beautiful curls.”
Another mother, Megan Baadjies, says her biggest motivation to embrace her natural hair was because her daughter Mayah was born with thick, curly hair.
“The longer her hair grew, the more I wished my own hair could curl Iike hers,” she says.
“By 2015, the year Mayah was born, I hadn’t relaxed my hair in just over two years. However, I was still colouring and applying lots of heat by blow-drying and flat ironing my tresses. As a result, my curl wasn’t as defined as hers. I must admit, I had (and sometimes still have) serious hair envy.”
Baadjies adds that, as a child, all she ever wanted was long, sleek hair like the rest of her friends.
“Very few people had hair like mine and those who did were usually made fun of. My hair, just like Mayah’s, was thick, busy and very curly – I thought it was the worst thing a girl could have and remember feeling ugly because of it,” she recalls.
She was one of the lucky few whose mother never relaxed her hair, but that didn’t stop Baadjies from relaxing it as soon as she could afford to. However, she says: “I wish I had never tried so hard (and paid so much) to turn my hair into something that it was not. Thankfully, I am at a point where I am comfortable with my hair on both good and bad hair days.”
She adds: “Mayah’s hair is much longer now and even harder to manage, but I’d rather spend hours washing, rolling and styling than have my child believe that straight hair is good hair. I have to lead by example, so I embrace my own curls.”