By Ife Olusegun
Posted on January 28, 2022
Letting out high-pitched screams, I try to stop the tears of pain that welled up in my eyes from falling.
“I do not want to hear you scream. Please be quiet.”
I obey my Nigerian mother — I do not want to re-discover a different kind of pain, the pain that happens when I do not listen sometimes.
“Your hair is just too tough…”
Here I am, a simple child, sitting on the floor between the legs of my mother as she gathers my hair into extremely tight knots, struggling to pull the comb through the roots to the ends. Those little clear beads that I no longer like, the ones that my mother is using, smack the back of my head. It hurts, my head throbs, my legs are shaking because I have been commanded not to scream, so I use this as an alternate way to expel my frustration and hurt. Why does getting my hair done cause so much pain? I thought it was supposed to enhance my beauty. My other friends do not speak of this kind of pain when they do their hair. I wish I had the same hair as those princesses I like to watch on television.
“Okay, you are moving too much. Next time, I am going to relax your hair. It will look nice, do not worry!”
“It is too early. Why must I be awake at 4:30 AM? School does not start until 8:00 AM! Why must I do this to myself? The birds are not even singing yet,” I think as I stare into the mirror to carefully position the straightener in my hand so that I do not burn my scalp.
My hair has been relaxed for a couple of years now, maybe too long for me to remember exactly what my natural hair looks like. I dislike using relaxers—it smells terrible, sometimes it burns, and for it to be presentable I have to do things like this—wake up extra early before school, and straighten my hair. But I would rather wake up early than have to go through what happened last week again.
I had my hair done by one of my mother’s friends. She had installed curly colourful cornrows for me, and admittedly, I was excited to show my friends at school my new hairstyle. Upon arriving at school I was met with hushed whispers, and mischievous smiles. They did not like it. Not even after I told them that it had taken eight hours for my hairdresser to finish it. One of my friends had said that he could not be friends with me with “my hair looking like that.” Once I got home, I took those cornrows out, despite the declarations my mother yelled at me, telling me to keep them in longer, since she had just paid for it.
I recall that incident as I sit in the principal’s office. One of my teachers got mad at me because I apparently took a quick snooze in her class. I tried to explain to her that I woke up so early, and that it will not happen again, but she was having none of it. How am I going to explain myself to the principal now? My teacher does not even believe me. I feel a tear roll down my face in frustration. I turn as I hear a knock on the door. The principal is ready to see me.
I do not recognize myself. I am so tired, the bags under my eyes are so deep, so dark. I no longer use relaxers on my hair—I am old enough to do my hair myself, and I am old enough to decide to stop using relaxers. It has been some time since I have used a relaxer, maybe just under a year. As I look into the mirror, I see the ends of my hair are extremely thin. There is no texture to my hair, no life. I run my hands through my hair, and bits of hair fall out, catching onto my nails, or simply slipping out with the simple motion, and falling to the floor. Looking down at my feet, I see strands of hair, sticking to my toes and the floor. A deep breath in. Close my eyes. Open my eyes. Now, with no hesitation, I grab the scissors that I had placed on my bathroom sink earlier, and use them to cut my hair.
Confidence. How can I tell if I am confident or not? Am I confident with my hair? I thought I was until a while ago. Actually until my last vacation.
I speak with my friend about hair over the phone. She tells me how she has not worn her natural hair out for almost a decade. I tell her the story of how I wore my hair out on a trip to Nigeria, and came back with a full head of braided hair.
“I was so excited to go and visit the motherland!,” I said,“I thought that there would be no stigma when it came to wearing my natural hair out—finally! I feel like I have gone through a lot in regards to my hair, and being able to wear it out is something that is so special. The thing is though, when I got to Nigeria, the ladies that ran the hotel I was staying at immediately wanted me to get my hair done. They had seen me, asked me where I was from, and had said that they knew a woman who would be available that night to do my hair for me. A Canadian girl cannot show up to Nigeria and be looking like this!”
I can feel my friend nodding on the other side of the line. She anticipated how the story would play out. We talk some more. She explains that Nigeria is very modern, not many people wear their hair out, not in the places that we are from.
Now I get it. I understand. I cannot go around wishing and asking for people to like my hair, to accept my hair, in any shape or form. If I like my hair, that is what should matter. I can say, with grounded confidence now, that I like my hair. Do you like your hair? Tell me your story.