As a child, I dreaded getting braids – now they’re a key part of my identity


I love my hair, but I didn’t used to (Picture: Stephen Budd)

If I had £1 for every time someone stopped me on the street to comment on what’s on top of my head, I’d be raking in more than Blac Chyna does on OnlyFans – and that’s more than £15million a month.

I love my hair, but I didn’t used to. In fact, I’ve gone through somewhat of a traumatic process over the years in trying to embrace it.

When I was seven years old, I’d have my hair texturised every month, which meant applying a chemical relaxer from the root to the tip of my locks to straighten their natural kinks. 

Though I found the process incredibly painful, it made me feel like I had ‘white hair’ for a moment. And as a child, that meant that I could finally have similar hair to my Barbies and like all of my favourite characters on TV.

It made me believe I finally fit in – like this is the ‘right’ hairstyle and I could only be beautiful if my hair was straight.

But then a week later, my afro would pop up and say hello, and I’d want to be back in that hairdresser’s chair going through that awful, burning scalp sensation once more in the quest of straight hair.

You know what they say, no pain no gain.

In the period between my afro appearing and my next relaxation session, my hair would be put in braids.

It felt like the absolute worst thing in the world because they were cornrowed back with my real hair, which was so short and they wouldn’t touch the back of my neck. I felt like a boy.

I was shying away from braids because it reminded me of that feeling I had as a child of ‘otherness’ (Picture: Jackie Adedeji)

I wanted to feel a long mane down the back of my neck and beyond. I craved hair that I could swish around like all the white women I’d see on the telly shampooing their luscious, long waves.

Everywhere I turned – from adverts in magazines and TV – all the women had long bouncy curls and it felt like there was a huge push to conform to the Eurocentric idea of beauty. It was everywhere and it was the default. So what was I?

The only time I would see full representation was the Black women fronting the magazines in my salon and the women sitting next to me getting their hair done. If any of them had braids, they looked more like Beyoncé’s in the Say My Name video – not like mine.

I wanted them (long, blonde, with curly ends) but my mum said no.

So, instead, I turned to wigs and weaves during my teenage years. They made me feel like I could fit in.

I finally had long, wavy curls that I could swish, put behind my ears, curl or straighten – just like my friends.

I had fun with weaves and wigs, but I realise now that I was shying away from braids because it reminded me of that feeling I had as a child of ‘otherness’.

As soon as I felt represented, my relationship with my natural hair began to change (Picture: Jackie Adedeji)

This realisation came about after I started seeing more representation for people like me and Black influencers speaking up about embracing their natural hair.

My rejection of my Black hair came from the anti-Blackness narrative in the beauty and entertainment industries that is pushed onto us – that we have to conform to be seen as beautiful.

I quickly figured out that it was my responsibility to unlearn this toxic idea. My Black hair is my crown and it’s beautiful whichever way I wear it.

Perhaps if there was more representation for Black hair, I would’ve come to this realisation sooner.

As soon as I started to see it, my relationship with my natural hair began to change. I was also desperate to understand the historical significance and learn about my culture.

Evidence of braids among African cultures can be traced all the way back to 3500BC, with specific styles and patterns indicating a person’s tribe, age, marital status, wealth, and religion. 

For generations, elders would braid the hair of children, while young people would watch and pick up the intricate skill of weaving strands together. It’s a proud and rich history.

Braiding continues to be social art, mainly because of the time it takes to achieve the desired look. It can take around six to eight hours, but while you’re in the chair you build a bond with not only your hairdresser, but with the other women in the salon. 

Apart from being impressive aesthetically, braids have also been a method of survival for enslaved people throughout history. For example, hair braiding in Colombia was used as a tool of resistance.

To signal that they wanted to escape, women would braid a hairstyle called ‘departes’, described by Afro-Colombian braider Ziomara Asprilla Garcia as ‘thick, tight braids, braided closely to the scalp and was tied into buns on the top’.

Other styles functioned as maps of the roads they’d use to get free, while some patterns even covertly stored grains and gold to help their wearer survive.

It took seven years, but now I see the true beauty that goes into braids (Picture: Jackie Adedeji)

Even now, braided styles still don’t get the respect they deserve and are often deemed ‘unprofessional’ or ‘inappropriate’ for workplaces and schools.

You only need to Google ‘unprofessional hairstyles’ and images of Black women with their natural hair are the first few images to come up. In 2017 a Black woman was denied a job on the basis she wouldn’t chemically straighten her hair.

Meanwhile, young Black children are being sent home from school for having dreadlocks.

But things are slowly changing. Last year, The CROWN Act (Creating a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural hair) was introduced in California – making it the first US state to pass a law that makes hair discrimination illegal.

It took seven years, but now I see the true beauty that goes into braids.

With the events of this year particularly, I feel even more connected to my Blackness and I want nothing more than to have braids. My braids represent the journey I went on to finally start loving myself wholeheartedly.

My braids are the embodiment of versatility.

One moment, I could be channelling big Chaka Khan Ain’t Nobody 80s vibes and the next giving you a 90s Toni Braxton pixie crop. Then bam – Moesha-esque chunky braids just before the new week begins.

Our braids are artistic, they’re unapologetic and like my mere existence as a Black woman, they’re political.

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing jess.austin@metro.co.uk.

Share your views in the comments below.

MORE: The UK must follow New York’s lead in fighting racism by banning hairstyle discrimination

MORE: Meet the black women who are transitioning to natural hair in lockdown

MORE: Until school hair policies take race into account, they remain tools of white oppression



Black History Month

October marks Black History Month, which reflects on the achievements, cultures and contributions of black people in the UK and across the globe, as well as educating others about the diverse history of those from African and Caribbean descent.

For more information about the events and celebrations that are taking place this year, visit the official Black History Month website.





READ SOURCE

READ  The walls came down inside this Victorian terrace in dramatic revamp

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here