Hair. Growth. Identity. My journey with my hair/self

Hair. Growth. Identity. My journey with my hair/self

Coleen ANTOINETTE

Monday, July 06, 2020

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I hated my hair as a child. It was big, coarse, and looked like tousled spikes when unplaited. On top of it all, grooming was a painful experience and I dreaded washing and the accompanying torture of styling.

After hours of broken combs, yanking of hair roots and endless tears, I would be rewarded with styles that were so beautiful, everyone would touch or comment on the beauty while I winced from headaches caused by the discomfort of hair combed so tight.

As I grew older and my hair got thicker, those tasked with grooming my hair found the solution of softening my kinks with an iron comb. Oh, how I loved the feel of silky soft hair and I was also convinced that I looked as pretty as those girls on TV. My hair moved from standing tall to falling almost at my waistline and if I was cautious enough to keep it from getting wet, it lasted me for at least two weeks. The drawback was the steam from the hot comb that scorched my scalp during pressing.

In my community, it was a rite of passage for young ladies to be rewarded with processed hair for their graduation from high school, and so at the age of 15, I got the ultimate gift of relaxed hair which meant straighter for longer. Unfortunately, my happiness was short-lived as my beautiful hair was damaged due to a lack of care. By upper sixth form,I was sporting the then-famous Halle Berry/Toni Braxton pixie cut.

Hair has always been important to black culture and the issues we have with it, rooted in our history of enslavement. Men who worked in the fields had their heads shaved and the enslaved women were forced to cover their hair with fabric as it was considered unattractive and offensive; in some instances, women's hair was also shaved. For a culture where hair was deeply symbolic, carrying multiple meanings of cultural, religious, and spiritual connotations, enslavement brought with it the atrocity of racialising black hair.

From a psychologically painful experience to a struggle for identity to a conscious decision to embrace the beauty of my roots, my hair story is a kind of 'Bildungsroman'. Whilst wearing relaxed hair was never an issue of self-hatred for me, it was simply more manageable and less time-consuming. Ignorance made me believe the lies that it made my features softer.

Thankfully, I was awoken early, by the time I entered university at 19. Black was in and natural hair was in style. I transitioned from permed hair with braids and sported a low, curly crop for my undergraduate years. I decided to grow 'dreads' as soon as I started working. I discovered then that dreadlocks simply did not fit into corporate grooming policies. I recall a colleague expressing her disappointment at how unladylike my knots made me look. The longer it grew, the more it seemed to upset their sensibilities and even close friends bemoaned the loss of my beautiful wavy hair, inherent from the relaxer.

My hair clearly meant more to them than it did to me and so by 30, I chopped it all off. Going bald was a liberating experience; attention moved from everything else to my face and the shape of my head. Of course, with it came its own labels and assumptions from the critics.

Fourteen years later, I am growing my hair, and growing along with it. I feel comfortable with my knots — I love its confidence, strength and the natural spikes that pointedly gesture towards the heavens. I am no longer affected by comments from others. My relationship with my hair is personal.

I am embracing my heritage, showing off my ancestry and demonstrating to the world that I love my black hair.

The journey continues…

Coleen Antoinette is a lover of culture and people. She is currently the Director of Marketing Communications at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts. Share your experiences with her at coleenantoinette@gmail.com.


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