Amina’s Hair Story
I went natural on September 29th 2006. I wore my hair natural when I was in primary school in Burundi because a short cut was mandatory. Of course I did not know anything about maintenance: I never used a conditioner, I used a regular body soap to wash my hair daily and Vaseline, Dax or Blue Magic to grease my hair. I hated how my hair was so dry and combing my hair was so painful and traumatized me. Growing up, I rarely saw adult women with natural hair and I never questioned why we had to relax our hair. I thought it was completely normal.
When we left Burundi for Ghana in 1992, I started developing a passion for hair salons and hair in general. I remember when Toni Braxton’s song “Breathe again” came out and everyone wanted that hairstyle. Or Whitney Houston’s short curly bob in “I am every woman” which was simply fabulous. For me, relaxed hair was synonym of being a fabulous, beautiful and sassy woman. I was told that natural hair was ugly, unmanageable and an indicator of your social class.
Relaxers never lasted on me. First my hair is quite thick and I also have a sensible scalp. So when the hairstylist parted my hair into 4 sections and applied the relaxer to the first section, by the time she finished applied the relaxer to the second section, my scalp was burning so she would tell me to hold it. The following morning, my hair was stuck to my scalp and I had to pick the scabs. I tried relaxers with no lye or the ones for kids because they were “gentler” but I still faced the same issue. I also always felt the need to apologize for my hair and was often charged a higher price for services because my hair was “too thick”.
I went natural by circumstances, really. When I moved from Boston to Bloomington, I couldn’t find someone to relax my hair. When I called a recommended hair salon, I was told to come back in 3 months. Eventually, a new hairstylist was hired and was able to see me but she kept changing jobs every 2 months and I followed her blindly. At the end of the academic year, as I was heading to Zimbabwe, I told myself I either need to learn how to do my own relaxers or find a reliable stylist. During that summer 2006, it seems that everyone was locking in Zimbabwe. I was also reading several magazines from South Africa and seeing images of natural hair made me wonder if I could also do the same.
The Nokia Face of Africa was taking place and I tuned in frequently to watch it was amazed by the fact that several contestants were natural. The host even had a shaven head and she was so elegant and beautiful. I could not believe my eyes! I was convinced though that I could pull it off and I was also afraid because I didn’t even know where to start. One day, I went to a cybercafé to check my emails and a friend shared her wedding pictures: she was sporting an afro. I replied back with congratulations and asked her how she did it. She referred me to Nappturality and other hair forums in French. At that point, I knew I was going natural but still didn’t have the courage to do a big chop. I still did my relaxer in July.
The school year started for my little sister and I asked her to bring me magazines. One of them was the June/July issue of Elle Girl and it had an article about natural hair “going natural” by Tanesha Smith. I recently re-read it via Google Books and I was tearing up. When I read that article, I thought I was reading my own thoughts, fears, apprehensions and insecurities. That day, I knew that I was going natural for good.Before heading back to the US, I did braids extensions and kept them for a month and a half. During that time, I read more books and two books confirmed my decision “No lye” by Tulani Kinard and “Going Natural” by Mireille Liong-A-Kong. I transitioned for six weeks and on September 29th 2006, instead of getting a touch up, I got a big chop.
Location: Bloomington, IN
Profession: Doctoral student and Spanish instructor
What was the hardest part of your journey?
The hardest part of my journey was the emotional transition. I have always been self-conscious and struggled with low self-esteem. For me, long hair was my blanket and represented my beauty. It did not help that most of my friends were shocked and criticized me for my decision. A former classmate even called me all the way from Dakar, Senegal and she said “rumors say that you are now walking around looking like a boy, what happened?” I also struggled to find products that worked for me. I had no idea how to take care of my hair and it was always so dry and brittle! One day I called my twin brother and asked him to tell me how he maintains his hair since he has never relaxed!
What did your family, friends and co-workers say regarding your choice to go natural?
My siblings were shocked. When I sent them the picture of my big chop, my twin brother called me screaming in shock. My little sister was also coming back from Johannesburg and she screamed and told me that I look like Zimbabwean pupils. I took it as a compliment! My other sister was very supportive as I called her once in panic, telling her that I didn’t know if going natural was a good decision. She said “well it is only hair, it will grow back”. My mother was not happy at all and my father didn’t care.
Very few friends were supportive and most just criticized me especially the African community. Online hair boards were very supportive and it helped that several ladies were going through the same experience and were also facing negative criticism. My co-workers absolutely loved my hair and kept complimenting me! That made a huge difference.
Please share a funny hair anecdote that you will always remember.
A funny anecdote happened in the gym a year ago. One Nigerian lady and another Ghanaian and I were chit chatting. Then they asked me “so what are you going to do with your hair”, I told them well…nothing. Then the Nigerian girl told me “but what is your mom saying about it”, I replied that she’s not happy with it and I respect her opinion. She insisted “by why did you cut your hair? You used to be so beautiful with your long hair”. The other lady joined in unison “oh yes, you used to be so beautiful”. I laughed. I was tempted to ask “so am I ugly now?” but I smiled politely and told them I had to go to the kickboxing class. That situation taught me that I couldn’t make anybody happy. I just had to make sure that I am happy with my choices and I’ll be fine.
What did your journey teach you?
My journey taught me self-acceptance and self-love. By going natural, I had to accept myself and even though I still struggle with body image, at least I am happier with myself. My attempts at locking were actually very eye opening because I was free forming and I learned to be more patience and to let it go. This natural hair journey also taught me about ingredients and their effects on the body and overall health. Today I am vegetarian and only use natural products. I feel blessed to have embraced my natural hair and wished I did it earlier.
Describe your worse hairdo and your best hairdo and please, PLEASE, include a picture if you can.
Since I am very lazy, I always wear the same hairstyle: a shrunken fro. From time to time, I’ll do twists and it is my best hairdo.
Looking back, has your perception of your hair or black hair in general changed? Please elaborate.
My perception has changed completely. I used to think that only people with looser curls could wear their hair natural and now I have learned that black hair comes in all shapes, textures and everything in between. I also learned more about the standards of beauty and how they affect our hair choices. I also realized that I can inspire others to go natural by simply being myself. Both of my sisters are natural and my mother is even considering it.
What is your favorite hairstyle? A shrunken fro.
Before going to sleep, I do 6- 8 flat twists and in the morning, I undo them, spritz water and voila.
If your hair is locked, why did you start locking and why did you choose the method that you chose? Well,I took down my babies locs 4 days ago. I have tried locking several times but I just miss my loose hair so much. I usually start with two strand twists and then let them freeform. In the last set, I combined several of them and wrapped the loose hair among others. I never have a precise parting, I just grab and twist. Freeforming is liberating and such a pleasure for the eyes to see your hair change so much.
What’s your life/hair motto?
Go with the flow. It is hard sometimes because I love planning…ahem..I have 3 life plans, but I am learning that going with the flow is the best thing and will bring surprising opportunities.
Thank you so much for featuring me in the going natural hair stories. It is truly an honor as the stories on this website encouraged me to stay natural and accept what my hair can do instead of comparing it to someone else’s.
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