A GIRL’S QUEST FOR LONG HAIR: PART I

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It is probably the hair goal of many ladies: to have long beautiful hair. If there is a product that sells faster than the proverbial hotcakes, it is a hair product that promises extreme hair growth. Usually the advert has a picture of a model with before and after the product use and how rapidly the hair grew. One that amused me had the before lady within quite short hair and after three months the hair was shoulder length. Is it also a magic potion?

My quest for long hair started pretty early. If you are as old as I am, you probably went to a local primary school that required all pupils (no matter the gender) to have their hair shaved. My dad took the role of the family hair barber very seriously. When our hair had reached some length, we would all line up for a shave.

Once I tried doing the shaving myself. It didn’t come out as well as how the master barber did it. It was like strips and spots that ended at the centre of the head. I doubt my dad thought of me as an aspiring apprentice since he punished me by shaving my hair bald. I looked like the then famous WWE fighter, Stone Cold. I think I also acquired the name when I reported to school the following week. Kids can be mean.

The December holidays were long fully awaited for. This was not just because of the chapatti feasting during the Christmas celebrations, but also this was the time all little girls were plaited with long braids and colourful beads. I could hardly wait. My otherwise strict mum had agreed to have our hair braided. This was a Chrismas miracle by itself.

What a wonderful day when we at last were taken to the salon. I sat patiently at the chair as the hair stylist touched my hair and frowned slightly. I was prepared to tell her what I wanted. She would fix the braids and make sure they were long enough so I could look as beautiful as those photos from the newspaper cuttings that she had glued up on the salon’s wall.

“Your hair is too short,” she said matter-of-factly; the way hairdressers talk when they want to get rid of you.  She was half saying it to me, half telling the house help who had brought us. She left the work of consoling to the poor lady. I didn’t cry. But my little heart felt a pain. They were crushing my year long dream. Of course when my dad did a Stone Cold remake on my head, the hair took a longer time to grow. Now December would soon come to an end. My hair would be shaved and I’d have to wait until the following December holidays. I looked on as my two sisters’ hair got braided.

That evening, I went outside, far away from everyone (near the cow’s pen) and prayed, “God give me long hair.” I think I was embarrassed at my prayer. It was unreasonable, I felt. At the start of the year I would be probably bald again. I remember asking our house help if God answers prayers. That was pretty deep for a kid, right?

“If you believe He will, “she told me. We usually had pretty amazing house girls then. I don’t know about now. Uhm, it was not a comparison at all.

God answers prayers. At nine years, I went to a boarding school that allowed girls to grow hair. Alleluia! So with the help of other girls, I started growing my hair. We used to plait each other what we usually called ‘matuta lines’. For those unschooled, it is making a braid and joining it to make another braid and on and on to make a line. You had to learn fast so that you could also return the favour. During the visiting days, I had one of the older girls comb it and my mum marveled at how beautiful it was.

Girls. Is anything good enough, long enough or rich enough? Don’t read too much into that. I promise, I meant no pun. My school friend told me that there were ways to make my hair longer, straighter and generally more beautiful. Being a very weak kid to peer pressure, I was on board. I didn’t know what the exercise involved but I knew one thing, I wanted long straight hair. It was nearing the end of the term and I wanted to go home looking beautiful, hopefully get more compliments from my mother.

I don’t know how the girls acquired it but it was a tin with holes. Sharp were the holes that if you touched the surface, you could risk getting pricked. This was a practice in the villages, I knew, but I had never seen it happen before. They put red hot charcoal or firewood in the tin. I really don’t know how they got that too but they were set to work.

I was the guinea pig. Having been a very naïve kid, this is one of the prices I have had to pay. I think the tin was too hot or the holes, too big. You should have seen the top of my head, which technically was the only part styled. My hair got burnt and it was sort of grey. I could hear the giggles from my ‘stylists’.

My mum was dismayed. Why couldn’t I wait to come home and go the salon? What had I done to my beautiful hair? My dad was half amused and chuckled, “You decided to fry the hair?” He made what he still thinks is a joke. When someone goes to the salon, he asks them if they are going to fry their hair.

To reduce this kind of activity, my mum decided to take me for hair blow-dry at the beginning of every term. This seemed like a good temporary solution. I think it was, since my hair grew and thrived. My friends also didn’t have other tricks in their pockets or I had learnt a lesson that they weren’t to be trusted.

BEGINNING MY NATURAL HAIR JOURNEY

My hair before the big chop
My hair before the big chop

For someone trying to grow natural hair there is always one big question; to transition or do a big chop. Transitioning is where one lets the relaxed hair or heat damaged hair grow out and then cuts the chemically treated hair when the growth reaches at a length they are comfortable to wear it. For the big chop one decides to cut off all the hair and start growing hair afresh. Like many natural heads out there I faced this decision.

I loved my long straight hair or sometimes wavy after a visit to the salon. What I loved more is the compliments that came with the hair. But I had never experienced my natural hair texture and I really yearned for that. How could I have with the hot combing and blow drying which I started doing at ten years and later at thirteen graduated to relaxing? So I decided to grow out my relaxed hair. Excited at the new prospect, I shared the news with a couple of friends. They all were negative about it. How would I look? What will people think of you? Is everything alright? On top of that I was struggling with the new growth. Dealing with two textures is not a child’s play and sometimes, I felt, I looked horrid. So I gave in and went to my hairdresser and relaxed the growth. I was back again! Still there was that disappointed nagging voice. I had caved in. With each passing day my curiosity for natural hair grew. To quench it I watched millions you tube videos and imagined how it would be. I at last made a decision that I would always treasure. On December 6th 2014, I remember it because it was my 25th birthday; I visited my hairdresser and told her to cut it all. None of her words would bend me. She tried but I would not be moved. I was a woman with a resolution. She at last gave up and had one of her colleagues cut it. She gave me a birthday present, freedom.

I have never regretted doing the big chop. I actually regret that it took me such a long time to make the decision. I loved my new look. Of course one of my friends pulled me aside and asked me if everything was fine and if I needed to talk. She would not understand the joy I felt for cutting my hair. Apart from that I got so many more compliments. I loved it.

After the big chop (my 25th birthday)
After the big chop (my 25th birthday)

I am not an advocate for doing the big chop but I would highly encourage it for someone who wants to grow their natural hair. Watching your hair grow is an amazing experience. Also it gives you the chance to understand your hair, experiment with products and know what works for you. You will not have to deal with two textures and you will enjoy styling your hair in hairstyles that you would not have with long hair.

Whichever decision you make between the big chop and transitioning, enjoy the experience, love your hair and it will love you back. Glory in the compliments and ignore the naysayers.