I had my first positive hair salon experience at 25. Before that? The journey to loving my hair has been a long one, filled with bad decisions, too many haircuts, and a ton of terrible hair advice. But let’s start right at the beginning.
Natural Hair Journey of Alyx Carolus
I can’t talk about my hair without giving some context to my South African background. I identify as coloured* and grew up in a small coastal city called Port Elizabeth (also known as Nelson Mandela Bay).
*Do note, this is a racial classification/identity unique to Southern Africa and can be likened to mixed-race/Creole. It is not to be confused with the slur “colored”, in a US context I would be classified as black.
Coloured people can be described as a mixed-race ethnic group with a variety of skin tones and hair types. But thanks to centuries of colonization and decades of the apartheid regime, there is a large part of my community that places a high value on being light-skinned, having “good hair”, and looking “exotic”.
There is an ugly vein of colorism that permeates the community in the form of derogatory comments about your skin tone and your hair texture. It takes a lifetime of unlearning, reprogramming, and understanding that having “bad” hair isn’t a curse. After all, what does good hair mean? This harmful narrative even extends to your partners as elders will ask “but how will your children look?” if you pair up with someone darker than you.
My hair is 3c/4a and it was often called “kroes” (coarse), wiry, unruly, and “tough to manage”.
But thanks to my mother, I grew up with positive affirmations surrounding my hair until I felt the pressure to fit in. You can’t beat puberty and those feelings of inadequacy. My mom was artfully skilled in doing natural hair and growing up I always had my hair in protective styles. I kept it mostly relaxer-free until around age 12 when I wanted my hair done for my First Holy Communion.
From that moment, I struggled with my own hair throughout high school, because long straight hair was desirable. It was evident that people who had “good” hair and lighter skin were simply treated differently. They still are. Straight hair automatically meant you looked put together, looked good for the church and seemed more upwardly mobile.
So I ditched the protective styles and started relaxing my hair, and it was probably the worst thing I could have done for myself. My hair broke off and the hairdresser I went to gave me the worst relaxer burn I’ve ever had. Every time I went to a hairdresser, I could see how much they didn’t want to do my hair. I could see how tired they were and the comments that were made were not kind. “You’ve got a lot of hair, hey?” and it never being said in a good way.
However, I finally had the straight hair I coveted, but it still wasn’t good enough. I distinctly remember someone at school making fun of me for having my hair down and loose. I was feeling confident but soon realized that no matter what I did, my hair wasn’t ever going to cut it.
I became an expert at the blow-out and straightening routine every week. I avoided swimming pools, rainy days and kept a beanie around at all costs. I put my hair through the wringer with chemicals, hair dye, and lack of adequate care. There was a serious lack of education around thicker hair and the only solutions given to me by professionals were, relax and when you see a hint of “kroes”, relax some more.
I continued this routine until around my last year of university when suddenly I just got tired of doing my hair. I realized that no matter what I did to my hair it was never going to look like I had 2a hair. I graduated, moved cities and along the way, I threw out the flatiron. My spirit had simply had enough and I just started transitioning from relaxed hair to wearing my natural hair out. I eventually did a big chop, ditched the hair dye and haven’t put a chemical on my hair since.
The natural hair community welcomed me with open arms, I became very vocal about how natural hair was better and how I could never go back to relaxers again. Yes, there was still some unlearning to do because one extreme to the next wasn’t any better. I’ve now learned that black and brown women need to wear their hair however they see fit. It’s none of my business and it’s not my job to convince anyone how to do their hair. After all, doesn’t that make me as judgmental as people who belittled me?
I never thought I would love my hair texture, that anything else would feel foreign to me and that one day, I would love my roots instead of despising them. What’s been really great to see is how women around the world have dealt with similar situations regarding their hair. Unfortunately, hair discrimination is a universal concept and a narrative a lot of us are familiar with.
Growing up, I wish I had more exposure to hairstylists who knew how to work with my hair texture, like the one I go to now. I was 25 the first time I sat in her chair and I heard her say the inevitable, “Whew, you’ve got a lot of hair hey?” I stiffened and expected the worst, but instead, she caressed my hair gently and replied, “It’s really so beautiful”.
And reader, she was damn right.