Toronto, I've taken you for granted. My natural hair-friendly online spaces, I've taken you for granted. My self-confidence, I've taken you for granted too. Spending my weekend back home taught me these lessons, and really gave me a different perspective on the acceptance of natural hair in my hometown.
I was all "big hair, don't care" this past weekend when I went home to London, Ontario for the Labour Day holiday. I had done a cute dry twist-out that had flourished into a huge mass of curls, kinks, and spirals, and I was tickled with how well it turned out.
Quick tutorial alert: to get this dry twist-out, I detangled section by section with a little water and coconut oil. Combed through (again section by section) with a wide-tooth comb, and twisted with my Shea Radiance Maximum Curl Defining Creme with pure shea butter on the ends. That night, I pulled my twists back into a bun, and went to sleep. The next morning, I undid the twists, BUT - I had to learn to exercise a little restraint! I usually overly unravel my twists, and I find that this doesn't help the style to last as long. So Day 1, I only separated the twists (so they were still chunky and defined), then gradually separated them as the days went on.
Now - back to the story.
It didn't take long for me to feel like a sideshow act in my own hometown. No matter where I went, my crown of curls was met with incredulous stares, rude giggles, or disdainful glances. It seemed that my hair was both a traveling comedy show and a source of anger for a lot of the Londoners I encountered, and it hit me quickly. This was not normal. My hair was not normal. I was not normal. I hadn't felt that way in a long time.
You see, London is quite the conservative city. While it has grown more diverse over the years, it's still a cozy little place that only comes alive when the university and college students are in town. Racial issues abound - the Hells Angels run many establishments in the city, and they aren't the biggest lovers of multiculturalism. Hell, we even had a White supremacist run for mayor in the last municipal election. However, diversity was created when our parents' generation of Caribbean and African immigrants moved to London, which offered a safer place to raise families at a fraction of the cost of living in Toronto. Now, let me not get too deeply into the racial issues of my hometown - let's get back to the hair.
Growing up in London, I don't recall seeing any Black women wearing their hair in its natural state. As a little girl, I wore chunky plaits with colourful bubble ties, but I distinctly remember my thick hair being mocked as soon as I started school. I couldn't wait until I was old enough to convince my mom to let me get my hair relaxed. Once I hit the magical age of 12, I went where all of the other Black women in London went: to one of three Black salons in the city to get my hair fried, dyed, and laid to the side. As far as I can recall, any Black woman over the age of 13 either had their hair relaxed, braided with extensions, weaved, or wigged. The only time natural hair was exposed was in the stylists' chair - I remember the nervous smiles of women as they unraveled braids or took off wigs, almost afraid for anyone to see them before the stylist got to work. Hair was only grown out in order to give a "break" before relaxing again. Naps and kinks were not proper, not pretty, and definitely not the norm. That's what I remember from back then.
Well - it's 2012, and really, not much has changed in my hometown. While me and my boo were in my boo's coupe ridin', we pulled up alongside a slack-jawed White couple could not stop staring at my hair. When I went out to a lounge on Saturday night, a gaggle of Black girls walked past me and wholeheartedly LOL'd at my dome. Older Black women shot me discouraging glances - almost like they were upset that I'd dare expose the secret of our kinky roots that they preferred to keep hidden in the salons. Most people who spoke to me didn't make eye contact, they made hair contact. Have you ever spoken to someone whose eyes stayed firmly planted atop your forehead? Awkward. That word pretty much sums up my experience back home. Awkward.
This past weekend solidified my stance that natural hair should be regarded as an acceptable option for Black women's hair. Going back home reminded me that as forward-thinking as some of my other environments are with natural hair, there are many spaces that are not. Weaves, wigs, and relaxers are all available options, but I hope that more people start to realize that wearing your natural hair can be beautiful, professional, sexy, and accepted. I'll admit - I felt so uncomfortable at one point that I was ready to pull my curls into a more palatable style - but then I quickly rejected that thought. When it comes to palates, a new flavour is needed - and me and my curls are ready to bring it anywhere we go.
Whether you wear your hair naturally or not, is natural hair an accepted choice in your area? If you have natural hair, have you ever experienced some of the things I've mentioned?