Isn’t it tiring to still be talking about hair prejudice in 2020? Especially in South Africa where the majority of hair texture is kinky? It is, but the reality is big corporations like Clicks are a reflection of what young black girls in particular are dealing with, experiencing the hate for their afros from a very young age.
Black hair is tainted by ghosts of a system that paints white attributes, including straight hair, as being superior. According to an article by BBC, for centuries black women around the world have been discriminated against because of their skin, hair and culture. Growing up there wasn’t a Zozibini Tunzi to look up to as a role model. The media didn’t advertise afros as the standard of beauty. Beauty then was always associated with a weave or relaxed hair; I knew early on that I had to assimilate.
Clicks isn’t the first controversy about this issue. In 2016 learners at Pretoria Girls High protested against staff that always told them to straighten their hair and that their afros were not allowed. I remember my first time being told my hair was not the standard that was accepted in society, not through words but through actions of a system that was created against not only me but my ancestors as well.
Growing up I didn’t relax my hair my mom described as, “the most stubborn texture ever,” but when I started out in primary it was a rule that we had to straighten or cut it. Mind you, this was a township school, but all girls either had relaxed hair or short hair. While the boys cut all their hair too. During that time, I accepted it, but when I was starting high school, my family didn’t have the money to maintain straightened hair and I decided to cut it, so it could grow back naturally.
I was bullied for being bald and that year was the worst in my life, so I decided that I wanted a weave, to gain acceptance. It’s surprising how accepting the world is of black women wearing weaves rather than them wearing their natural hair. In Jamaica a court ruled in favour of a school that told a child to cut off their dreadlocks, as they didn’t fit the image of the school. How is that acceptable? Why are these institutions policing black hair?
The following year my mom saved enough to buy me one. It wasn’t the best-looking weave but I did fit in with the crowd. My high school policy was against any afro looking hair, of course they didn’t say that out loud but we were always told to, “relax our hair as it was dirty and doesn’t fit the school image.” The weave damaged my hair as I had it for the whole year, I couldn’t afford to constantly change my hairstyles, so I had to chop my hair off again.
I had a very low self-esteem growing up, the issue wasn’t beauty anymore but it was that I had to change something about myself to assimilate into society. When I got to varsity I had so many issues that I was dealing with and my hair was the biggest. It was slowly growing at that point but varsity was another beast, there really wasn’t any system about my hair but the issue was the environment I was in. I think that self-hatred is a big thing in the black community. You can tell someone they are not good enough so many times that they start believing it. It was my own people that were telling me my hair wasn’t acceptable and that I had to wear weaves often.
For two years, I stopped looking at myself in the mirror. I started wearing weaves so much so that I felt exposed and naked without them. How damaging is society to break you down purely for things that you were born with? Honestly, I hated my hair, I hated it so much that it made me hate myself. It doesn’t help that there wasn’t any representation in media about people that looked like me, or stories that felt like mine until 2016.
I remember where I was, I remember what I was doing and I remember the goose bumps I felt when I saw Zulaikha Patel on ENCA proudly showcasing her afro. Her story was hers, but it was also mine, it’s still a story of millions of girls who have been told that their hair was and is still an insult. I don’t know what Zulaikha said but I resonated with her without her having to say a word. I started growing my hair again, it was an emotionally exhausting process. I had to teach myself to love my hair, I started looking in the mirror again. To fight systemic racism against our hair for me means releasing myself from the mental cage that told me that beauty isn’t my hair.
The clicks ad that describes black women’s hair as damaged and dull is triggering for me but it’s also the reflection of how much hasn’t changed. Imagine I was in school during the early 2000s until 2014 and we are now in 2020 and it’s still an issue. That ad is damaging to little girls and young women. Seeing that tells them that their hair is unacceptable in society while flat and straight is what they should strive for, as that is the only way society will ever accept their hair. After that, the #Iamnotmyhair started trending on twitter, as a way for women to proudly showcase their natural hair, but the truth is we are our hair. Its beautiful, its textured, it coils, it puffs and it makes people feel uncomfortable but that’s our hair.
I want people reading this article to realise something: we are all going through something. Now imagine going through all that you are and having to fight racism, prejudice and discrimination. That’s the reality that your black friends are going through every day. Check your privilege and use it to protect those that don’t have it.
If you enjoyed this, read about the importance of representation of all people in the media here
Tell us: Have you ever felt pressured to wear your hair a certain way because of society’s beauty standards?