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 def­i­nite­ly long.


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.