For women, the struggle with their hair is a very real one. It is more real than we could ever imagine. As men, we go into a barbershop every second week or perhaps every week if we so wish; short back and sides or a fade; and we’re out of there in less than an hour. Women spend hours in front of mirrors and at the hair dressers to get the desired look, and if she is not happy with her hair, the chances are very good that the potential date that she had planned will be off. “There is no way that I am going out looking like this,” is a phrase often heard on a bad hair day. And when the heavens open up or there is a little extra moisture in the air, and the hair starts to ‘mince’. Oh my. What a nightmare.
So why is it then that women are so, dare I say pedantic about what their hair looks like? I dare not answer that question but I’m going to attempt to anyway. Pressure. Pressure from just about any direction. “Ooeee jinne, kyk hoe lyk jou hare”, “kam tog net daai kop”, are phrases I often heard my aunty tell my cousin when we were growing up. She, my cousin, didn’t particularly fancy having to brush or comb her hair. And she was, and still is not the only one. Young girls with kinky, coily and curly hair often endure torture to get a comb to go through their hair. “Die kinners huil snot en trane maar gekam word sal daai hare gekam word”. And if the comb struggles to get through the kinks and coils, then it’s off to the hair salon or an ‘at home’ DIY relaxer.
Relaxing hair comes with a warning: remember to put some Vaseline on your skin so that the chemicals won’t burn. And those chemicals in the relaxers burn like nobody’s business. Leave it on for too long on a spot not covered by the Vaseline and it feels worse than accidentally rubbing your eyes after handling chillies that could easily measure more than 2 million heat units on the Scoville scale. I know, I’ve experienced it myself in the good old days of greasy perms.
Some women endure all of that because society has imprinted on them that straight hair is more beautiful than kinky and coily hair. On a Saturday afternoon, my grandmother’s house in Ficksburg where I grew up, used to get filled with the smell of hair burning. The primus stove was blaring in the kitchen, heating up the stretch iron with which my grandmother used to stretch her hair. That was in the days long before the chemical relaxers were introduced. So for decades, perhaps even centuries, straight hair has always been seen as more beautiful.
And it is still like that. Celebrities like Beyoncé and the Kardashians, and other women from all walks of life will spend hundreds if not thousands of Rands for a weave or hair extensions. The buying and selling of human hair have become big business. I’m not going to go into detail about how big a business human hair has become, but if you google it, you will understand what I mean. It has become a multimillion dollar industry. But it is almost always the straight hair that is sought after, and never the coily and kinky African hair. That, in my humble opinion, is purely because there is still the sad perception that straight hair is more beautiful. The ugly truth about that, is that people get labelled and judged for not having straight hair. Derogatory words like ghoema-hare, bossiekop, kroeskop, afkop, gets thrown at them all the time. And it hurts deeply.
At an event recently, which was organized by a company called “Cape Town Naturally”, one woman broke out in tears when she recalled how her own mother refused to accept her kinky hair. “Doen tog net iets aan daai hare van jou, kyk hoe lyk jy?” her mother told her. This is sad because her mother basically refused to accept and see the true beauty in what she herself gave birth to. My own girlfriend, Amanda Cooke, one of the founding members of “Cape Town Naturally”, had a similar experience. I was photographing her for her blog posts, when a group of curious kids gathered around. It must have been the big camera in my hand that attracted them. Amanda is very well known for her huge natural hair afro, so one of the kids remarked how beautiful she was, “pity about her hair though”, he added. Loaded words for kid whom I estimated was around 8 or 9 years old.
Over the last couple of years however, the idea that long straight hair is better or more beautiful, has started to change. More and more women have started to realize that their own kinky, coily, curly, frizzy, ghoema, bossiekop, kroeskop hair is ALSO beautiful. (I am writing that word in capital letters to dispel any thought that would suggest straight hair is not beautiful). This realization has started a global movement, The Natural Hair Movement, that has taken the world by storm and is steadily growing here in South Africa too. The movement, of which “Cape Town Naturally” is part of, encourages women to accept and love themselves for who and what they are, regardless of the texture of their hair. To put it in their words, “Cape Town Naturally would love you to embrace and take care of your natural hair through self-love, self-acceptance and self-empowerment”. The thought process is if you love yourself first, you will learn to accept yourself with all your flawesomeness. (And yes, that is a word, at least amongst naturalistas it is). The whole movement is like a huge global support community where like-minded people share thoughts, ideas and tips on the care of natural hair with one another.
“Cape Town Naturally” is the brainchild of Amanda Cooke, Chantel De Kock, Eleanor Barkes, Kasuba Stuurman and Simone Thomas. These five ladies have established a social media community that lives primarily on Facebook, where people with natural hair can share ideas and tips and support each other. The support is vital, because without the experiences of like-minded people who have made the transition to natural hair, people’s own individual journeys can be quite traumatic. To go from chemically treated hair to natural hair, most people must do a “big chop”. This is cutting off or getting rid of the chemically treated hair, to allow for the natural hair to grow. The idea of cutting your hair to only a few centimeters is surely traumatic for most women. On top of that, are the stares and slurs they will have to endure. Not easy at all. The big chop is a traumatic and painful experience, yet at the same time so liberating.
Apart from the social media support platform, Cape Town Naturally hosts regular events where naturalistas get together and learn from one another and from industry experts. The most recent event, The Cape Town Naturally
Masterclass, which was held at the CAB conference center in Bellville, on Saturday 28 July 2018, featured hair gurus like trichologist Elma Titus, natural hair care specialist Brian Warfield, entrepreneur and social media influencer Candice Fielding, as well as owner of Afro Pride Hair Care, Precious Kyriakides, as the guest speakers. The Cape Town Natural Hair Festival on the other hand, is an annual event that brings the South African Natural Hair Community together in one space. This is where curly girls (and boys and whoever identifies as curly), get to be up close and personal with their favourite local and international hair, beauty and fashion brands. This year the festival will be held at the Cape Town International Convention Center on 16 December.
The Natural Hair Movement, and in particular Cape Town Naturally, have changed people’s lives. It has changed the narrative of what is being perceived as beautiful, regarding hair. Through ongoing engagement, people have learned to love, respect and accept themselves with all their flaws. This applies to all people, regardless of hair texture, but mostly to people with naturally kinky and coily hair. They have always had to endure the mockery and the scorn, but that must stop. They are beautiful too. We are all beautiful. We all have beautiful hair.