Extension

A friend spotted the book my nine-year old daughter was reading, she pointed at it and had a giggle. It was a book for teaching children steps to do simple braids such as French braid and ribbon twists for colourful clip ons.

She shared a story of her Indian friend who was married to a Jamaican guy. Like many mixed race children, the girl’s hair was banged in the middle, neither here nor there – it takes getting used to for the mother and finding what works best to keep the hair healthy and the wearer happy.

Her friend says dealing with the girl’s hair was the most challenging part of raising her daughter, now said daughter is grown and away from home – no longer Mama’s problem.

Finding balance in dealing with black girl’s hair is as important as instilling self esteem, I think.

At the Southbank Centre the other month, there was a stall asking people to share their hair stories; black hair stories. Many people wanted to share their hair stories, most importantly about how to move from blaming society for their definition of good hair to the place where one can wear whatever ‘do’ it is that they liked and be happy with it.

While at the stall, a few of us were sharing stories, a lady who coincidently is from Nigeria blamed her years of dealing with relaxed/ hair extensions on her mother as the mother started her on the ‘path’ before she could make any decision of her own.

Five years ago she started braiding her natural hair as it makes no sense to spend so much time and limited resources on hair extensions, and the worse of it was the handiwork of relaxer ‘that thing is the most dangerous of all, strips her hair off too many times to count.”

About a year ago, my daughter talks about relaxing her hair to make it easier to manage. I looked on listening to how she would only have to do it once a year and how being mixed race makes it easier as her hair is not as coarse as mine.

This I later learnt she heard from her gymnastics teacher, who had children about Yeye’s age. The lady is very nice so I saved my breath and said “Everyone has rules in their house. In our house, I am sorry Yeye, we have different priorities, our hair is not one of it as it is just perfect. And when you grow up, you can make all that decision by yourself, for now, we are not going to relax your hair.”

That was the end of that. That was easy. 

So I thought.

December last year, Yeye and her friends decided to do a group talent show. It was four girls, one black and three Oyinbos. She was excited about the show, then 2 days before the show, she said her friends asked that she get her hair braided so as to look the part.

‘We can do single braids like we have done several times, but we are not going to put hair extension in your hair like the girl in the video. No, can’t take that hair to school, it is silly.’

Yeye broke down and it became a big deal, she left the group and show cancelled.

“Am I the bad cop here?

Living outside of Nigeria, it is a lot easier to put things in perspective and understand the importance of adjusting to the environment that one lives in to benefit fully from opportunities around.  A child that swims, cycles and skis – how on earth would you fit in bulky hair extensions under helmet and secure it in place?

Alternative action is to not wear activity cap/helmet the right way and gets upset when adult in charge makes comment about the fact that you may not be able to participate if they are not comfortable the headgear is securely fitted.

My girl’s hair at 32cm long is much longer than my hair had ever been. Why would primary school girls want to relax their hair? Peer pressure? Perhaps.

But what could be one good reason for doing so if not that their hair is not good enough? I had to explain to Yeye that she will thank me and her dad later, not now, but later when she is grown old enough and started reading all about black hair politics.



Categories: Nigeria, Women

Tags: , ,

14 replies

  1. Folakemi,

    I’m Black Nigerian and my wife is White British. We have a boy and a girl who is now 4.

    Reading your story makes me slightly anxious of what’s to come with my dear little girl. When we had our children my wife was immediately concerned of how she’ll bring them up and hair was one of the big ones. Their hair have changed from straight to curly to very dry to frizzy. It’s still changing as they grow.

    I have to admit that the last thing we want is to relax our children’s hair. I’m a bit of a geek and have read quite a lot about hair and relaxing. It’s not the road we’ll like to go down. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing for others it’s simply not for us. I see it like having a tattoo – it’s almost permanent that once you go that way it takes years to get back to where you were. And sometimes it’s not even possible.

    I can see some arguments with my daughter when she gets older. She’s already mentioned a couple of times that she wants her hair like mummies. At each point my wife chimes in that she wants hair just like my daughter’s. So far it’s working and she’s starting to love her natural curly lurks – but I think it’s only a matter of time before she’ll want to try something different – hey ho. For now we’re pretty happy how her hair turns out after the marathon 2 hours wash and shampoo my wife puts her hair through in the weekends.

    There are two parts to this hair thing. One is that people should have the flexibility to try different hair styles just like I know my daughter likes to dress up. One day it’s Elsa and the next is Anna. And then she wants to go sporty another day with high heels that same evening. So we’re not really against her having her hair straight at some point. It’s just that doing it now could damage her hair and could take years to restore if she changes her mind.

    Then the second part is that most black/mixed celebrity women have extensions or straighten their hair. Again, not a bad thing but it’s a bit one dimensional. Not many have their hair natural apart from good old Lupita. This makes it likely that children (who look up to celebrities) will want to do that as they are in the copying stage of their lives. Hopefully this will change in the future.

    On a related note, I have to confess that my wife and I created a company that stock mixed race products. Because of that are somewhat privileged to try many types of natural hair products to find what works for our little kids. So we don’t need to spend much to get the natural products we want to use on our kids hair. We started the company because in the UK (and other countries) companies don’t usually make products for mixed race hair (dolls, etc). Black products are somewhat handled but not mixed race. People don’t invest in it.

    We’re hoping that soon we can find the perfect nonintrusive product that can straighten your hair one day, and curl it the next without the damage that comes with it.

    John

    P/S: If you’re curious this is the company my wife and I started – http://www.mixedstreets.com.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you John for your contribution to this discourse.

      Firstly kudos to you, I don’t think there’s anything more appealing in a man, any man who is a father to black or mixed race girls interested in learning about his daughter’s hair, this I wish many of our men could emulate – it will help us greatly. Secondly, good job on both you and your wife for taking practical steps by creating your company.

      I love your selected books, my girls are bit older for most of the books now but I really like the ‘I’m Chocolate, You’re Vanilla’ so I have ordered it but from Amazon as I was able to get used hardcover (sorry, I hope to buy some things from you in future)

      I like the the varieties of your stock, I am familiar with a few of your hair products, we use both Shea Moisture and Mixed Cheeks when their is not braided and have been happy with them for a while now.

      Interesting you mentioned celebrities, my daughters love both Beyonce and Alicia Keys, they came up in hair talk quite a bit, here is where I explain to her that once they’re adult and capable to ‘own’ their actions, they will never need any permission for anyone.

      What I have seen with my girls was that immediately they started school, they talk about lots of stuff that adults have grown used to, not necessarily negative stuff. Often they are just curious and wanted to clarify. I have grown more and a lot mature in dealing with some sensitive issues, also this has opened both mine and their dad’s eye to the importance of kids being brought up in the way that they love and appreciate who they are in its entirety.

      Like

      • Hi folakemiodoaje,

        Nice to see your response. I really don’t mind that you bought from Amazon. I’m only glad that looking at our website helped you. I hope you love the book. When it comes to books few people can compete with Amazon. We only hope to organise specific types of listing on our website for now. And cater for a specific set of customers. As our kids grow up we’ll stock products for older kids as we hope by then we’ll understand more of the challenges of older mixed race children. For now we’re focussed on baby and toddler products as these are our challenges too. And we stock the odd one’s for parents like the book you spotted.

        Speaking about hair and books, a good book about black hair that is quite comprehensive is called ‘The Science of Black Hair’. We don’t stock it as it’s for adults but I think you can find it in Amazon. I’ve read a few others but that one is one of the better ones.

        I know what you mean about Celebrity influence. Thandie Newton whom I’ll love my daughter to look up to has said a few times she’s been asked to change her hair for some roles to a ‘relaxed’ style. And when she was younger she struggled with identity as to how to wear her hair. I love her hair when it’s natural and curly. She’s a beautiful person and anyway she wears it is great but I’m a little biased 🙂

        By the way, my cousin follows your blogs and once in a while sends me a link on the one’s he thinks I might like to read. This one is one of them which I enjoyed reading as it struck a nerve.

        Best of luck to you and your family.

        No doubt I’ll be back to comment on another one of your great topics.

        John

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I admit that I grew my hair the way most parents do it – as convenient as it can be for them. I pity my mother raising four girls and trying to braid them for a new school week. We all had relaxed hair by the time we were 10. I tried last year to go natural. Too much stress. I’d rather relax my hair.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kudos to mothers… no small job. I agree with stress associated with going natural, I think things are changing gradually that blacks can wear own hair and be comfortable in their skin, we certainly need more role models, more inventions of hair products that complement our natural hair to make it easier to manage especially for kids.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. From ‘Emotan77’

    Dear Folakemi,

    Thanks v much for this always-on-front-burner issue.

    I think you are doing what is right by and for your little girl, and I’m sure she will come to appreciate your approach when she’s older and can choose her own path in hair styles.

    Personally, I’ve gone through the old gamut as can be expected in seven decades of life as a female who lived in the United States for several years and am still on and off there and your area of the world a whole lot. In the States, especially and because of what I’ll call “The African-American Hair Angst” – actually White America’s Hair Angst transferred to the AfrAm females.

    I cannot justify myself as, despite years of living in the States, I was not born there and could always sense the better deliberate treatment non-native born blacks get from institutional authorities – at least as I know it.
    If you input “hair angst” in the search box on my blog, and even the very latest post, you’ll find what my hair has gone through but even in the States, I have always been able to do exactly as I like, including “Calabar” style even though I am near zero in weaving for others not to talk of doing it on my own head. I must have gotten loads of stares but those who did – as there must be – were the ones suffering, not me.

    In effect, what is v important is help your daughter develop a sense of self worth, confidence and poise that derives from who she is and what she’s achieving rather than her hair. While we cannot run away from the overpowering influence of the Western world, we must ensure we help our girls decide – based on their cultural heritages for multi-racial kids – what beauty really means and calls for.

    One of my girls decided to wear dreds several years ago, and she’s found not only convenient but it has actually given her hair in excess of 18″ while another whose work is in high-profile environment has gone natural for many years. She just washes her hair, dry it and weaves it round in the twinkle of an eye. She’s elegant and carries herself very well – pardon my being the one saying so – and will stand out in a room full of young 30-somethings.

    Right now, your little girl has too many influences trying to force their ways into her acceptance but don’t worry; once you show her by your own actions and encouragement, she will find her own path.

    The last 25 years have seen me taken a final stand: I wear my low afro and wigs interchangeably now – just
    as I would change my eye make-ups, shoes …

    It’s our lives; let’s live the way we feel most comfortable.

    Thanks,
    TOLA.

    ESSAYS LIKE BELOW CAN BE FOUND ON MY BLOG: input “hair angst” in the search box.

    https://emotanafricana.com/2013/09/06/white-americas-obsession-with-hair-issues-angst-outflow-cut-off-your-dada-elementary-school-tells-little-girl-tola-adenle/

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Mrs Adenle for this comprehensive and insightful comment.

      The linked post was an interesting one especially with Tiana Parker being the subject of tease because of her dreadlocks.

      Even her dad agrees now that black hair is a big deal and I don’t want to be uptight about simple hair talk and definitely don’t want my either of my girl to focus too much on hair than their friends because it is just one thing and as you said in no time she’ll find her own path.

      Like

  4. I have what American black women call good hair. My father was Spanish my mother southern black, mixed with American Indian. My hair is curly. I was able to have an afro in the 70’s but I wanted long straight hair in 80’s. I was grown and just learned about relaxers. It was the greatest thing to happen to my in between hair. I just cut my hair last month. All my relaxer is out and it’s almost an afro. I have since learned that I can blow dry my hair and get the straight band well behaved hair if I want.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I guess young girls have a thing about their hair. Our younger daughter decided she was going to shave her head at one point. She started on one side and went up to the top of her ear. It was a “fait accompli” by the time I saw it. We live in a cold climate in the winter and when I saw that bare little head I nearly wept. Thank heavens she stopped there. This happened long ago but we survived that one.
    Leslie

    Liked by 1 person

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