Some people think that experimenting with hair just means getting highlights or chopping off a few inches. I like to take things a bit further. In the past few years, I’ve had a relaxed ‘Anna Wintour bob’, Senegalese twists and a budget-Beyoncé weave.
Although I can’t speak for the masses, my personal hair journey has been one filled with envy and continuous attempts to change its natural state. Because, you see, the thing about afro hair is that it divides opinion. There’s so much conflicting advice on how to wear it, it’s enough to make you want to shave it all off – and even that’s a statement in itself (hello Lupita Nyong’o).
After years of sporting the same hairstyle, I had my mid-twenties crisis and decided to finally get creative with my barnet and embrace its versatility. Cue confused housemates at my wig drying on the balcony, constant requests to touch my braids, and people thinking that my weave will fall off if they tug at it.
So here are, from my experience, the things you only know if you’ve got afro hair:
Your mother needs to be a fully-fledged hairdresser
As a child, I always viewed Caucasian hair with fascination. I’d ask to plait my friends’ tresses in the playground and plead for one of those styling heads as a Christmas present (I had to make do with beheading my Barbie dolls instead).
My own hair always seemed like a bit of a mystery. It would shrink when washed and get plaited into intricate canerows by my mother. I didn’t get a look in styling-wise, so when I saw the black version of The Plastics at school with long braids that they whipped back and forth (even at age 8 that was a thing), I knew I wanted to do the same.
The kids at school may laugh when your braids go AWOL but try not to let it bother you
If any of my braids were to fall out now, I’d probably just shrug it off, but at age 11, it was a traumatic experience, ending with me weeping into a confused teacher’s arms.
I was the girl who sashayed into Year 7 with pick and drop curls one minute and a carefully plaited updo the next. None of my classmates really understood what was going on and I’d constantly have to explain that I was wearing extensions that would occasionally make an appearance throughout my years of schooling. Seeing as they’re now available in most salons, I like to think that I was ahead of the curve back in 1998.
**Relaxing your hair won’t necessarily make you look like a ****member of **Destiny’s Child
So 1990s TV has a lot to answer for. Whenever I’d see girls who looked vaguely like me, but with long sleek locks instead, I’d ask my mum what the deal was. Somehow I got it into my head that relaxing my hair would be the answer and I pleaded with her to chemically straighten my barnet.
In short, the process involves having a cream slapped on at the roots every 6-8 weeks, which can burn your scalp if you’ve given into the itch beforehand. This resulted in years of breakage, freaking out at any mention of rain (to avoid the dreaded frizz) and my nan proclaiming that I’d ruined my ‘beautiful’ hair whenever the subject came up. Ooops.
An afro hair salon has its own time zone
If I had a pound for every unintended minute I’ve spent in the salon, I could probably afford to own my flat in Dalston. My record is probably about eight hours and I’ve learnt the hard way that you can’t make any plans either side of the appointment.
Finding the right stylist is an art in itself. I use sites like No Scrunchie for recommendations, plus bloggers like Natasha Ndlovu and Shope Delano for advice. Sometimes I’ll feign shock when I see a shelf of afro hair products in Boots, as I’m more used to heading to the designated shops in ‘up-and-coming areas’ and deciding whether to buy yet another moisturising oil.
Eventually, you realise that your hair doesn’t have to be a burden
Seeing my younger sister with a full head of gorgeous natural locks was probably the catalyst in making me want to look after what grows out of my scalp. That, and the prospect of one day being compared to Michelle Obama.
In 2013, I finally put an end to my 13 years of relaxing and learnt about protective styling to help everything grow without too much manipulation. Currently I’m enjoying various forms of extensions, but who’s to say that I won’t be rocking a full on ’fro in a few years’ time?
Gradually, I’ve realised that most people want what they can’t have, regardless of race, and that a bad hair day stresses all of us out. My conclusion is by no means straightforward (I still have a regime to figure out), but I’m excited to keep trying things out in the process. I might fancy channelling Azealia Banks next...
In The Interim Here’s Some Hair Products I’d Swear By:
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Follow Kristabel On Twitter: @fashionknitsta
This article originally appeared on The Debrief.