By Hannah Eko
Though from outside appearances, it may seem like I did. I am the daughter of Nigerian immigrants. We have some interesting relations to our natural hair. When I was about five years old, my mother started perming my hair. The reasoning? The hair then becomes “easier”, more pliable to twist and braid at will. Saves time from combing. Looks “neater”. You know the drill.
I took after my mother and always had thick, wide-teeth comb resistant hair. When I grew my hair natural, it looked like one of those topographic shots of the Amazon forest. After Good Hair and other mainstream discussion, it was supposed that all black women hated their hair, were obsessed, and eternally vexed by their hair. The reason that black women were buying Indian (or Persian or Brazilian or Columbian) hair was tied to an ever-present self-hatred. Of course, there are women who truly did (and do) hate their hair. There were women who saw the lack of nappy or kinky hair in mainstream magazines as testament to their own hair’s ugliness.
But for me, it was different. I was always proud of my hair and I was pretty chill about how it looked. (I’m sure this was why lots of the black girls I went to school with made fun of me behind my back.) I always looked forward to the time right before the new perm when the roots thick and extra nappy. I would place my fingers into this forest and play. I was always proud when the assortment of aunties and hairdressers would cluck their tongues at it. Most of them would express dismay when they realized just how thick it (sometimes even wanting to charge my mother or myself more money). I loved that my hair texture tied me to my mother. I loved that my hair could stand up at will.
For most of my years, due to playing sports, I was always wearing some sort of braided hairstyle. More often than not, my hair was enclosed within hundreds of ropes of Kanekalon finest. 1B of course. On special occasions, I might wear a weave. I wanted my hair to be easy and quick. No monthly trips to the salon for this girl. My hair was never the main drama in my life until I went to military school. Due to new mental stresses and constant physical exertion, my hair suffered. Plus, I’m sure all those perming years had finally taken their toll. It started losing its thickness. I also had trouble fitting my hair into military grooming standards, which at that time disallowed braided extensions. It was the first time I saw my hair as a problem to be solved.
But after some time I was cognizant enough to know this “problem” emanated from outside me. When I graduated from military school, I was again doing my play dance with curls on my head right before a perm. Why don’t I just let it grow out? And just like I was deciding on an ice cream flavor, I decided never to perm it again. I understand that for some black women, the choice to wear their hair natural is a monumental one. There is a reason so many women detest natural black hair and it’s not just a personal preference. I know I am a lucky one in this regard. While I definitely wasn’t spared my share of body image woes, my African hair was never a source of loathing.
I like to remember my hair when I’m having a “bad body” day. We all have them. I remember the uncomplicated love for my hair to remind myself I’m not deficient in how I see my body. My hair reminds me of the potential of acceptance for other parts of myself. Is there a part of your body you have always treasured? What is it? What would it feel like to carry that love into a body part you don’t exactly cherish? Today, as my hair grows out in locs, I love her even more. I almost never rush to a re-twist. I still love to play with the new growth too much.
Hannah Eko was crowned Miss Tall International 2014 and is the goodwill ambassador of Tall Clubs International. She currently lives in Brooklyn and is a graduate of Penn State's Community and Economic Development program. Hannah loves Great Danes, Wonder Woman, and walking around cities with her headphones on. She blogs at hanabonanza.com.