How travelling to Africa help me liberate my hair
Growing up in France, my hair was always in braids. All the celebrities and princesses that I obsessed over had long silky straight hair. Most of my friends in school too.
I understood that my hair was different, and from a young age, I also understood that my hair was not seen as beautiful as my white friends’ hair. I also internalised, because my mom would always braid them, that something was wrong with my hair
I mentioned my mom but it’s not her fault. Unfortunately for us and like many other middle class black families growing up in predominantly white neighbourhoods we just had to try our best to assimilate and “look good”.
“Looking good” in this case implied looking as white as we could, and trying to align as much as possible with whiteness. But this constant proximity to whiteness also meant somehow that we were internalising some anti-blackness. And for me, as a teenager, it really showed through my hair. I simply started to dislike them so much. I became obsessed with hiding them at all costs.
My haircare routine mostly consisted of spending hours getting my hair braided so tight that I would have headaches for days. In between getting my hair braided we would not really let my hair breath. Me, by fear that someone would see me with my real hair and be horrified, my mother mostly because of lack of time and awareness.
But yes, for years through my teenage years, mostly until I reached my twenties, I was mortified by the idea of my white friends seeing me with my real hair.
My journey of liberation and emancipation from those oppressive beauty standards really started as my advocacy journey started. But even though I had some blockage. Learning to love yourself in a system that oppresses you is a challenging journey. But the more I understood about oppression and saw the consequences on black people, and understood my own internalised racism, the more it became important for me to liberate my hair.
How could I continue living hating a part of me ? Knowing that that hatred did not come from me as well, but that I had been conditioned like this, to dislike myself and want to look as “white as possible”, and to fit unrealistic expectations and beauty standards.
Living like this did not feel comfortable at all. And for my hair, it had been so damaging so far. They were cases where I would travel for work and would let my hair in braids for up to 6 months without changing them. My edges really suffered from that.
And even though my journey of liberating my hair really started in Europe, it wasn’t until I started travelling to Africa that it really reached a peak. Now I can truly proudly say that my hair is free from oppression and that I haven’t felt the need to hide them or make them look longer and puffier or whatever. I have not braided them since last year and have been wearing them naturally. And for me, this is truly liberating.
Travelling to Africa
Travelling to Africa with my daughter and seeing everywhere people wearing natural hair with beautiful styles was truly liberating.
Being surrounded by people that know your hair, having more than affordable options when it comes to salons that know how to deal with your hair. In the village where we were staying, all the women in the neighbourhood knew how to plant hair. I even had men doing my hair which in Europe just never happened.
It allowed me to not only feel comfortable taking my hair out but also to let them breathe for days. I knew that whenever I would be ready there would be someone available to do my hair. And since everyone around me was literally doing the same and had the same hair I did not feel judge or urged to do something with my hair.
At first I was braiding my hair with extensions, seizing the chance of it being so cheap, then I decided to experience planting with only my hair, and since then I have not go back yet.
I tried so many different styles, and more than just this, I felt beautiful, attractive, wearing just this: my natural hair.