Sunday, 2 December 2012

Hair Today - Part 1

I have got a lot of hair. Not only is there a lot of it but it’s thick. Thick like, could support a family of woodland creatures without me knowing, thick.

When I was a kid I hated it. I didn't have hair styles back then, I had my mother battling my hair into submission. When my dear mum plaited my hair we should have had one of those stripey-shirted referees hitting the floor, bellowing "one-ah, two-ah, three-ah!".

I have many memories of my head buried in my mum’s skirt as she attempted to control the unwieldy beast that was my barnet with painstakingly tiny plaits, all the while me finding it unbearable that I had to face away from the TV. I couldn't just listen to the Muppets, I had to see them. “This ain’t no damn radio show, woman!”, I’d have said if I were a 65 year old African American. As it was, I just mumbled, “Awwww” into her dress.

Anyway, after several years of this enjoyable weekly battle, me and my mum agreed that for an easier life, the mop had to go. I was delighted. Even at that age I loved the idea of a new hair style, even if, with my new Afro, I looked like a microphone. I'm surprised one of my brothers didn't tap me on the head and shout "testing, testing. One, two. One, two". 

It didn't take long before I let the locks get long again though and by secondary school, the hot topic was who was getting their hair relaxed. That was to say, who was going to have their hair permanently chemically straightened and enter that hallowed territory of having “manageable hair”.

When I was at school the only way for girls with Afro-Caribbean hair to experience anything vaguely resembling manageable hair was to have extensions (artificial or real hair plaited in with your own) or get it chemically straightened (Nobody had dreadlocks and straighteners were a thing of a science fiction future we could only dream of). To say Afro hair is difficult to control is an understatement. You’d have more luck herding a pack of cats.

The avant garde alternative was flinging a towel over your head and flicking it around like you had a flowing movie goddesses mane. I longed to be rid of my difficult locks and get me some of that 'good hair' that you could run your fingers through without fear of breaking it.

My mum attempted hair extensions on me, even throwing in a few beads on the ends for good measure. Unfortunately this technique needs practice... and skill. My mum made me look like a Floella Benjamin mini pop with a crack habit. I loved it. Why? Because the weight of the beads made my hair “swingy” like European hair. For this, I was willing to let the clattering of beads ringing in my ears, slide.

My first attempt at having my hair relaxed will forever be etched on my soul - and my scalp for that matter. This technique requires incredibly harsh chemicals to breakdown the structure of the hair.

I was 14, self-conscious, very nervous and completely uncomfortable in this alien environment called “the hair salon”. Just a few minutes after the cream was applied, the tingling began and shortly after that, the pain. It's an indescribable agony only people who've been through this absurd process can truly know. Men, this is our "being kicked in the knackers". It's like your brain is on fire and at that age, I had no sense of decorum or styling out my discomfort. I was squirming in my seat, eyes like dinner plates, watching every minute pass. At one point, I think I started talking in tongues. All the while, the bastard hair dresser laughed my ‘hilariously’ low pain threshold. In the end I could bear no more and I begged her to wash off the relaxer cream. Even though it hadn't completely 'taken', it was game over for me and if I had to cry to make it happen, so be it.

When I got to school on Monday the other girls looked at my half-processed locks asking with bemusement, 'what happened to your hair?' 'I had it relaxed'. I said proudly and stomped off. I was a woman and no one was going to take that glory from me, even if my head looked like there'd been a bush fire on it. But what's a little melted hair between friends?

This began my journey into the regular and unwinnable battle with my rapidly growing head shrub over several years. At first me and mum would relax each other’s hair then one day I mustered the bravery to break free of the pact venture back to the hairdressers. (My first words through the door were, "I've got a VERY sensitive scalp!". When I couldn't afford to get my hair did, I experimented with every way of styling my hair. Rollers, heated rollers, rag rolls, plaits, curling tongs, blow drying and I can safely say I never really mastered any of them. I did OK but my hair styles always looked like they were in charge of me rather than the other way round. The most compliance I ever got was a little bit of calm between leaving the house and arriving at work but over the course of the day, there'd be frizz bombing or stray strands poking out in all directions. My hair was a place clips and slides went to die.

But then for me came the epiphany, the revelation, the decent hair cut.

Next week, shaved heads, straightening, dyeing and of course, "The Badger look"




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