“Hello, my name is Tholakele and I have only recently learned how to love and look after my hair.” Words like: tangled, difficult, uncombable, wiry and tough crept into the fabric that wove the foundations of my understanding of my hair and created ugly holes filled with frustration, confusion and ambivalence.
My father used to sit me between his knees, spray water on my hair and brush until I had grown exhausted from protest or tears. In later years, he would give me a letter in which he would explain his need to brush my hair. ” Dear boebs, I never wanted people to think that you were the same as the other children on the hospital grounds, sickly and unkempt.”At the time though, the attention, love and care he gave my hair just brought me pain.
As I write this, I recall hair brushing becoming a prerequisite in order to be able to go to parties in primary school. By late primary school, I had won the fight, I was allowed to brush my own hair rather than sit through the torture of having my father tear through my tight, protesting locks.
I went to a hair workshop a few weekends ago with a friend of mine. We were invited to release our hair trauma. I had no idea that I even had hair trauma. We were given one piece of orange paper on which to write down words and memories related to hair trauma. I filled 3.
I realised how my hair has informed my understanding of my sexiness and my femininity. I recalled going to a pool party in grade 7 and being told that the way that I wiped the water off my face was funny and then seeing the white girls ( I was the only black person in my class) wipe their faces in that way that sends the water smoothly cascading back onto the head and lazily down the straight strands.
My hair, with its perfect little coils and spirals, holds the water droplets like diamonds in black velvet. I could wipe and wipe, but the droplets would just bounce and find a new coil to rest in and then eventually drop down onto my face, not heavy enough to drop but big enough to somehow not be sexy.
I learned that I was not sexy at the age of 11, all of this because of some white boy who had never seen a black girl in a magazine making water look like sex ( I still haven’t seen a black woman with natural hair making water look like sex in a magazine).
High school came along and I had to endure hook-ups in which boys tried to run their fingers through my air whilst kissing me. I styled my hair so that people didn’t have to touch my real hair and could rather marvel at my new do. There was even a sexcapade which concluded in a braid falling out and onto this unsuspecting face. Wow. The shame of it all.
Last year I decided that I wanted to start loving my hair. I wanted to start knowing this part of my body, investigating it, watching how it responds to the rest of me. And so my journey began. I stopped using plastic fiber braids when I wanted to grow out my hair in a protective style and began using wool. The plastic was breaking my hair and not allow my scalp to breathe.
I was gifted a package from Groomed by Earth, by a wonderful human being who entered my life just in time to encourage my hair journey and hold me as I stepped, timidly into the completely unknown. I have taken the time to learn what my hair needs and how it responds to the care that I give it.
A few months ago I decided to include my lover on this path. We shared a bottle of wine and he sat at the edge of the bath while I slowly explained what was necessary in order for my hair to be washed, conditioned, dried and moisturised. I taught him how to isolate movement in his fingertips from movement in his entire huge, bear-sized hands. I taught him to use only his fingertips when following the strands of my hair in order to prevent pulling and pain.
It has taken time, and multiple bottles of wine, but he is now the only person in the world who can wash my hair without causing any kind of anxiety. Having my hair washed by the person I love is one of the most deliciously sexy things I could ever ask for. He loves it, he looks so proud of himself, and I feel amazing afterward.
I’m still on my hair-love journey. I am definitely still learning about my curls and colour and texture. I have stopped forcing my hair into painful styles and smearing harmful substances onto my hair in order to feed it or alter its natural forms. I am proud to say that I do not know my hair fully. How could I? Nothing in society has encouraged me to.
But I am not alone, my world has begun to slowly unglaze and I am surrounding myself with human beings who are filled with knowledge and open to learning with me. My hair is where I hold my anxiety, I know this now and I can work to irradicate this habit.
At the moment, my hair is an incredibly, strong, nourished, black and bronze halo that sits around my skull, bringing me happiness, confidence and a deep sense of pride. Is this not what our hair should be doing?