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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NaturalSweety
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 »
fluffy-in-flight
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 »
Nykam
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?

Collette
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!!!

stianna
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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ASHLEY

TO SUM IT UP. ALTHOUGH WE ARE IN DIFFERENT PLACES WE ENCOUNTER THE SAME STIGMAS AND NEGATIVITY. SO TO ARGUE ABOUT THIS IS INSANITY SEEING AS TO HOW WE ALL EXPERIENCE THE SAME STUFF. SOME WOMEN TAKE CARE OF THEIR HAIR , SOME DONT SOME LIKE THE COLOR GREEN SOME DON’T ETC ETC.….. TO GET A TRUE SOLUTION YOU MUST TRUTHFULLY FACE THE PROBLEM. BRAIN WASHING.

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 »
Karungi
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 »
JaNelle
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 »
merry

you’re so pret­ty.

Angeline
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 »
sarah

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.

shahidah

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.

Jasmine

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.

eyes
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 »
Alexandrea
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 »
salathia

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.

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