by Anthonia Omeiza
I have decided. A resolution has been made and plans are underway for it’s implementation. I am joining the revolution. The natural hair revolution. My hair has not been tainted by any concoction in the name of ‘relaxer’ since November of 2015. Is anyone familiar with the story about monkeys in a cage? I shall indulge in a retelling for those who are not familiar with it. The story goes thus:
There are five monkeys put in a cage and some bananas are placed at the top of a step ladder, placed on a pedestal if you will. Every time that one of them attempted to climb the ladder to retrieve the bananas, they were all doused in water which of course did not sit well with the rest. This went on for a while until the monkeys formed the distinct habit of ganging up against anyone foolhardy enough to embark on the climb up the ladder. Eventually it came to be that none of the monkeys in the cage attempted to climb up the ladder. One monkey from the original tribe was replaced. The new member was of course enticed by the bananas and having no reason to have any reservations immediately attempted to climb up the ladder. The punishment for ‘climbers’ was swiftly administered and he in turn towed the line. Another monkey was replaced and then another. The same thing happened, with the rest subjecting whoever tried to make it up the ladder to a beating (bearing in mind no water pouring had been happening anymore to act as a deterrent). Things carried on this way till all the monkeys from the initial tribe had been replaced. It had at this point become something of a tradition amongst the tribe to rough up anyone who would dare to start up the ladder. Therein lies the point of the story. None of the monkeys currently domiciled in the cage knew exactly why they mustn’t ascend the ladder. They just accepted that it was the way things were supposed to be in their caged family: attempt to climb, prepare to be beaten. But why? No one knew.
I am inclined to liken this to the phenomenon of putting questionable chemicals on the hair in a bid to achieve what I am now realising is a European standard of beauty. When I was growing up, I honestly thought that people with natural hair were weird, an aberration. I believed that relaxed hair was ‘normal hair’ and those who had their curly fros sticking out were just deviants. This however was not peculiar to me as most of my friends and virtually everyone I came across nursed this same notion; it was the norm. We never got the chance to know what our natural hair looked like as it grew from our heads as it was equated with looking unkept; ergo must be kept out of sight at all times. Most people around the world have their hair as it grows out of their heads and that’s normal for them and by most people of course I mean those of a lighter hue with hair of silkier textures. Thick, curly haired girls like me for example did not know exactly why we had to keep relaxing our hair every time we had roots. For us , it was just ‘normal’.
For as long as I can remember, every month my mother took me to the hair salon to get a touch up of relaxer on the roots (new growth) of my hair to straighten it out like the rest. So of course I thought it was normal. It burned my scalp at times, a lot of times. I simply took the pain because ‘no one else was crying at the salon’. About two years ago I’d finally had enough and I found my voice enough to say “never again”. I was crying too much and I was tired of feeling like was not part of the norm for something that quite normally grows right out of my scalp. I decided to grow out my natural hair…even though I had never really be much acquainted with it in all my years on earth and of course didn’t know the first thing about taking care of such hair texture. That being said, I was not to be stopped. I cut off the relaxed ends of my locks immediately and I grew it out for about a year and naturally I hated it. It was tough to comb, unsightly, didn’t conform to nice hairstyles the way relaxed hair did, and was just plain unattractive… to me. I kept it hidden with sew-in weaves, closures and wigs. I hated those too but at least they looked better than the monstrosity that lay underneath. I didn’t want a relaxer but I didn’t want my hair to look unbecoming either. Why couldn’t sister have both? Hair that was both natural and beautiful.
A year of growing out my hair later and I cracked and went back on the hair crack. I went back to relaxers. My hair actually looked a bit healthier than it was prior to my hiatus. My relapse lasted for a while; that is till late last year (2015) when I discovered the afrotastic world of natural hair channels on YouTube where experienced girls spoke about how they take care of their natural hair and opened my eyes to key things I never would have known and they had good results too! This time my decision was made not based on curiosity about natural but a genuine desire to break from shackles of the negative stereotypes associated with natural hair. It is my hair and it is beautiful.
Edited by Lota Ayogu-Eze
Cover Image courtesy of www.claudiatremblay.com, where this beautiful piece and more can be purchased.