By Christabel of Chys Curlz

I’ve been thinking of developing this story for a while now. It is the story of how girls were/are made to wear their hair shaved from grade to high school both in Ghana and in Nigeria.

A little back story, I was born Nigerian and grew up in Nigeria until I was 10 years old when we moved to start a new life in Ghana. Since I spent most of my formative years in Ghana, that became more home to me than Nigeria was. There are many similarities between the two countries and one is the rule to have young girls wear a TWA until they graduate from high school.I think the reasoning behind it is the same as there is for wearing uniforms. It ensures homogeneity,also, the girls who could not afford to get their hair braided did not have the pressure to spend the money and thirdly, everyone looked “neat” and “presentable”. Now, that is not to say it was right or wrong, just giving the possible reasons.

As far as I can tell, this practice was mostly the case in public schools. I noticed that many (not all) private schools permitted their female students to wear their hair at whatever length they wanted as long as it was braided up neatly.  The only girls who were exempt from this rule (public and private school) were those who were biracial. There weren’t many girls who were biracial, but those who were, got to wear their hair long. Again, as a little girl, you don’t think anything of it. You just knew that their hair was “prettier” and more “manageable” than yours and it wasn’t a big deal. You didn’t read meaning into it (at least not consciously), you just accepted it.

I remember our final year of high school, many girls (me included) will grow their hair out but will tie it down with a scarf overnight to encourage the maximum shrinkage to avoid being punished (spanked) by a teacher. We did this because we knew that once school was out, we were going to get our first relaxers…good times 🙂

That’s me with the bandanna and our senior year of HS 🙂

This practice did not seen like such a big deal to me when I was growing up, but as I get older and upon going natural, I’ve been thinking about how it affected my love or lack thereof of my natural hair. You see, most of my Friends are Nigerian or Ghanaian and most of them – if not all – sport relaxers and will not let go for anything (although I’ve convinced 7 including my mama to BC yay! #teamnatural). But why is this the case though? Why is it that after growing up without relaxers we hold on to it so strongly. Many of the experiences I read on blogs pertaining to natural hair are those of African-American women. They relate how they got their first perm at 4,5,6, or thereabouts. The stories go on to say that since relaxers was the norm for them, they just kept getting them until their decision to either BC or transition.

My question is this, why after having two very different and distinct experiences do African -American and African woman have this reluctance to let go of the relaxer?

Black Girl With Long Hair

Leila Noelliste, founder of Black Girl with Long Hair (April 2008). Social media, pop culture and black beauty enthusiast. bell hooks' hair twin...


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I would also like to add that I think most AAs think that africa and Africans have preserved their culture and it is still pure. That is why they get shocked when they go there. I don’t blame them but what they need to understand is that african cutlure and our mentality has been highly contaminated we have our history of being colonized and even after colonialism we still battle with infusion of western mentality and culture as superior to our own. For instance where I come from in tanzania there are places which have tribes which are highly arabic… Read more »
Coco Naturelle
I would actually wager that the practice of having school girls wear their hair short is an outgrowth of the practice of forcing newly enslaved African women to cut their hair. It all comes from colonialism and white supremacy. It was a way to destroy the pride and confidence that the colonists viewed as our arrogance about our crowning glory. It sent a clear message that we were unacceptable and ugly as is, in order to get us in the mindset of changing to suit the oppressor’s taste. Only those who where already acceptable (meaning mixed) were/are exempt. It was… Read more »
Subliminal messages is more extensive than you think. It’s basically everywhere. It’s true that there were 2 different experiences, but yet the message was the same. Afro textured hair is inferior, it’s ugly, and it somehow doesn’t measure up and have to remain hidden. Programming others from an early age is what this system is about. It can be passed on from adults who have been programmed to young ones who are now coming up, and it shapes their views about how they view themselves and what they have and even how they fit in. I remember someone saying years… Read more »
After living in South Africa for almost 6 years, in my personal opinion, most South African women or men for that matter, don’t know how to take care of their hair. This is not an attack, but a fact. My 3 year old son has 4C hair and no one understands why he has long, thick, healthy hair. I had to buy a detangler brush over the Internet in the UK, could not find one here that would not break his hair. In terms of products, same thing, so I had to end up mixing Shea butter and oils in… Read more »
Another Guy That Does Not Belong
Another Guy That Does Not Belong

I traveled to Senegal(West Africa) a few years ago. I was baffled by the effect our culture has on the young women there. YouTube and their own version of BET aided their quest to emulate what we do in America.

The great trade relationships between China and many African countries explained their source of low priced weave. Everywhere in the bigger cities, near half the young women had the $9.99 hot red/jet black weave sets.

I thought I was back in the hood.

It had me asking the same question though. Why?

The article is very interesting. “…why after having two very different and distinct experiences do African -American and African woman have this reluctance to let go of the relaxer?” It can be hard to break ANY habit as a human being, no matter where you’re from. After having had something most of your life (or even just a fraction of it), *to me* it’s understandable that separating from it can be difficult. Even if you’ve desired something for a long time and finally got it, I can understand the difficulty in letting go then too. Also, it could be a… Read more »
Mariana Gonçalves

Amo, amo Make Up ai esta um pouquinho do gosto de fazer!!!

I foud this article extremely intriguing . Im Canadian but my moms from south africa and my dads jamaican , now my mom is white so I have curly long hair. But growing up my mom had no clue how to do my hair, she never permed it or anything however she did take me to hair dressers both “african” and “carribean” and they always wanted to perm my hair or texturize it, my mom refused however I did get it straightened a lot and as a result my hair broke off and ended up to a bit shorter then… Read more »
Mariana Gonçalves

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Ivorian Sista
Agree Black is Black!… However, “You cant really compare Africans and African American hair practices without understanding the history, the current state of the societies and the people”… I am African: Dad is senegalese and mauritanian/arabic, mom is ivorian, malian and French… Grew up in Ivory Coast…I can say that it is not a generality that africans dont value their hair… Actually I would say that most would love to have long/healthy hair but dont know how to properly take care of the hair, and may have never seeing their natural hair healthy(so they may believe black dont have long… Read more »
i think the practice of keeping hair very short til after high school is practised everywhere in Africa save for the international schools because i come from Uganda and it’s the same story here. when i graduated high school, i was so eager to relax my hair though i met a lot of resistance from my relatives because all of them are natural. for me the pressure to relax my hair came from from my friends who felt it was cool to have relaxed hair and not otherwise. In Africa i would say people relax hair their hair mainly because… Read more »
It could be for many reasons. My mom never put a blow dryer to my hair till I was 10. I never got a relaxer. I also used a hot comb or a straightener. As an Black person, I love wearing my hair curly and straight. I frequently go back and forth between the two. I agree that there is a large number of Black women who do not know how to take care of it, I am still learning myself. I think the reason why, in my opinion, why Black women want straight hair is because of media and… Read more »
Monique C.
I have never thought of the differences of hair care between African women and African American women. I myself, was born and raised here in America. From a young age, my mom relaxed my hair & I never questioned it because that was just what I knew? It wasn’t until I got older & started to HATE relaxers & I did research that I realized that their are other alternatives. I was so happy to discover that I could just keep my hair natural & it will grow very happily. People look at me with crazy looks because of the… Read more »
Miss W
I grew up in Kenya before moving to the US. Here is what i remember. All through kindergarten and upto 2nd grade, me and my cousin had mid-back non relaxed hair. The regiment was that it was washed every weekend and hot combed or braided. One day when we were in 2nd grade, about halfway through the year, a school assembly was called grades 1-8. The principal then proceeded to call out all the girlw with long hair to the front. Wee were told that the PTA or something to that effect had decided that our displays of long hair… Read more »
Sherika J.

One can simply say that It’s about what we learn is beautiful. Some women are raised to believe that straight hair is “good hair” & only straight hair is beautiful. I’m glad that my mother didn’t raise me with a negative outlook about my hair. Since I’ve gone natural I’ve inspired two of my sisters to do the same. Being natural & loving your kinky hair requires a certain level of confidence.

Henrietta Bagazonzya
I went thorough the same thing while in boarding school in Uganda. I had grown up in Nairobi where having hair at school was allowed. Then we moved to Uganda when I was 14 and was promptly informed I had to shave my head for the next 4 years. As daunting and traumatic as this was, I had no choice. Upon arriving in New York City at the 19 years old, I had relaxed hair and hated it. One thing I did know is that I did not want to go natural. I changed hairstyles all the time, I had… Read more »

you’re so pretty.

I liked the article a lot. I’m Ghanaian British. I find African hairdressers and those from the Caribbean have a huge love of false hair. I would say the weave is queen here and relaxer comes a close second. The desired look seems to be length or bulk. I just got braids put in for the winter and still think they used too much hair. I also find these sisters seems to care less about the condition of their natural hair, I’m not saying all just the ones I’m coming across in salons and on the street. I’m not sure… Read more »

because both cultures require a homogeneity that supresses one’s love and acceptance of their own hair. the culture that the OP speaks of requires girls to shave their hair low so they all look the same, unless they are of mixed decent and maybe have “more manageable” hair. here in the states, although it is not mandatory, it cannot go unnoticed that a sense of homogeneity amongst black girls is attained by most getting relaxers, unless they have “good hair”. the experiences are one in the same, so the outcomes are that as well.

Very interesting story. I had no idea that Nigerian girls had to keep their hair cut short during their school years. I often wondered why most of the African women I know or see in the streets are always wearing weaves (just in my circle of the world but I still find it profound as beleive it or not RI/MA has a good size African community) With relaxers in the U.S. I think we all have been conditioned to an extent to love straight not kinky hair…even caucasian girls with very curly hair are conditioned to love straight hair and… Read more »

I think because the relaxer plays into the European aesthetics that we have adopted as our own, mostly out of the oppression that we have all faced by the european culture.

Um, this argument makes me roll my eyes because a lot of people ignore the class issue involved. There are a shitload of African women, working class and middle class who have always been natural, whether for religious or cultural reasons. The current trend of embracing natural hair, is all well and good (shoot I like it, so I don’t have to explain my hair to anyone)but it makes me roll my eyes that these women that have been natural all their lives are ignored. I feel that there is a certain way natural hair has to look in the… Read more »
Wow this is a very interesting conversation! I thought it was going to be about the differences of hair care techniques between African and African-American girls but I like this too! 🙂 I never knew that about Nigeria and Ghana so that’s very interesting! I actually kinda like the idea of everyone having to wear their hair short because it also discourages comparisons between young girls which we are plagued with here in this country. But I wonder though if the reason why so many African girls who end up with a relaxer hold onto it so much is because… Read more »

interesting! i always wondered why so many women had TWA’s in Africa.

do you think that holding on to the relaxer so tightly (for African women) is possibly … a subconscious rebellion? for so long [all of their school years] they were 1) told they absolutely could not grow their hair out, 2) no option of a relaxer [or so it seems], and 3) the biracial children were [at least when it comes to hair] treated better – they could do what they wanted with their hair.