The first time
It took me a while but one day, all of a sudden, I loved it. I loved seeing how resistant its curls brushed against my comb. Curls no, coils. Every time pushing back firmly towards the coming dents. For the first time ever, I saw my blackness in sight, straighten right upwards, rested with pride. For now it has become a symbol, coiled up in strands, alien to all around me, my personal strength. My inner revolution. I love it. How it’s texture can be shaped and molded however I want it. I love it. The looks I get, the surprises, a sense of control that often I feel I lack. I also remember that very, very first time, that riot. I tried to dominate with my hands but simply wouldn’t, it couldn’t, and there it was, refusing to bend, anytime it won’t.
That first time I took my fro out I was in panic, shaken, inside out with self conscious. “What do you want to do with it?” asked the Nigerian hairdresser after the much hard work removing my time-consuming, lengthy, overstaying extensions.
“Ehh…”I answered, with no clue.
“Would you like to straighten it? We can also put new extensions if you buy more hair.”
“Actually I was thinking to just wear it like this…natural.”
“Ok, but how do you want it? … twist outs, cornrows, braids? Here,” she said grabbing her phone, “let me show you.”
As she passed the screen I was amazed and a bit overwhelmed to see all the things I could do with my hair. I mean, I always knew, but it never occurred to me before what was it that I liked or even wanted to do with my natural hair. The styles, they all looked awesome but somewhat still strange to me, like something that is cool from afar but once on you not really. Unable to decide, I chose to simply have it washed, combed and trimmed on its ends. I remember the indignation on the lady’s face as she watched me get up and leave with my fro all spiked out. That look—it pretty much set the tension for my way back home. For the first time in ten years, here I was, extension-less (which at the time was almost the same as being naked), stepping onto the street with an overwhelming feeling of fear and shame. As I cycled past the moving bodies, my conscious self kept screaming, hide. In my head, every face on the street that day was looking at me, comically replaced by an exclamation mark.
Now you may think, c’mon, it’s just an afro, now who hasn’t seen an afro before? Also, besides, afros are pretty cool. For me though, since a very young age I always knew my natural hair was not something you’d find in the cover of a magazine. Everywhere I turned I was indirectly or sometimes even directly told that. Like that one time a boy in elementary school shouted across the playground “Ei! Cabelo de bombril!”—in English, “Hey! Sponge hair!” Or later in university, when a close friend of mine started arguing with me about my extensions and much out of line told me: “This is not how you’re supposed to be! It’s not how you were born!” Although I remember moments like that as hurtful, I think most pain came indirectly, like when playing with dolls that looked absolutely nothing like me yet having that bitter urge to be just like them. Their glossy blonde Barbie hair, easy to part, easy to comb- oh how much I wanted that. I remember thinking that if I had three wishes, having cabelo branco, white hair, would be one of them. I grew up with barely any dark faces around me and when there were, to the outside world they always made sure to have their curly or kinky textured hair relaxed, straightened, or hidden under the mask of a wig or extensions.
After some time I came to realize that having that hair was not enough to feel how I actually wanted to feel. I wanted to be as beautiful as the white women I saw on magazine covers but I didn’t want to just try to look like them but actually be like them. According to my seventeen-year-old self, Beyonce was the “most beautiful black woman” alive but not just “most beautiful woman.” Trying to appeal for a kind of beauty that deep inside I knew I never in its full entirety could reach must have been one of the hardest things I ever had to face. But like most hard realizations, that also had the magical power of setting me free. That feeling surely didn’t come the moment my wanna-make-believe-hair came out, far from it. The first years without my extensions I found myself feeling insecure, unsure, and scared every time I stared at the mirror. Because this new appearance was a side of me I was never used to before, for a long time I didn’t know how to represent myself. It might sound a bit silly, but wearing my natural hair out must have been one of the hardest and most personally growing experiences I ever had.
I always thought of myself as lucky to have a hairdresser mother who could aid me with braids and extensions at zero expense (which in a way, I very much was). With a singular idea of beauty, that is, white with straight type of hair, being able to acquire that in my teenage years felt like the only way I could possibly be. With the low self-esteem I had at the time, being able to acquire that kind of hair was, sadly, one of the few things that actually made me feel good and beautiful. So for years: wigs, extensions, perms, braids yet never had I found that kind of “perfection.” Oh, how I wanted others to see me. That fairytale, that character: an aspiring Black Snow White- little did I know I’d never make the real part.
But finally, now I know. I know how you see me. You see me how you see me, you see what is in me, and I love it. Finally, I got it. I managed to master control with my hair.