The return of natural African hair


YOU may not have noticed it, but Zimbabwean women are beginning to look more and more natural in their hairstyles.
If you walk down the streets of Harare, you will see so many natural short hair styles.
Some of it is twisted, but most of the hairstyles are simply worn in natural dreadlocks or plaited in beautiful intricate patterns.
Three years ago, this writer observed women at the shopping centre and counted the number of women wearing wigs.
Only one in 10 women had natural hair.
Seven out of 10 had wigs of various types.
Some women wore long wavy Indian hair.
Others wore wigs with artifical curls.
The wigs came in various shapes and sizes.
Artificial hair was very much in fashion among Zimbabwean women.
What had happened?
Why do African women or Zimbabwean women in particular, hide their natural beauty and imitate the looks of European women?
The reasons for our feelings of inadequacy go back to the time that Europeans came to Africa.
African women’s beauty was measured on the bench mark of white womanhood. When colonial writers described the Africans, they denigrated African physical features.
The opposite of a flat African nose was a long and straight nose and the opposite of thick lips were thin European lips.
When it came to describing hair, African hair was short, kinky and hard, whereas good hair was long, smooth, shiny, silky, black or brown European hair.
This rule of comparisons and opposites between the black race and the European race caused African women to feel inferior.
The use of black as opposed to white was to suggest or infer that black was bad and white was good.
And yet, there is not one completely black person because as Africans, we have various shades of dark, brown, light, chocolate, golden types of beautiful colours. White people are not white either.
They have a pink like colour which becomes quite red when burnt by the sun.
The damage caused by this inferiority complex in hair and skin colour is most tragic.
It is the highest form of mental colonialism that African women are still experiencing.
But we cannot point fingers at Europeans for making us feel inferior all the time, because, in the end, the decision for looking the way we do depends on us.
Looking back to the past, we find that the woman behind the global expansion of the Westernisation of African hair was an African-American called Sarah Breedlove Walker.
Sara Breedlove Walker taped into the inferiority of her own people.
Like many women, she realised the potential of turning black women into looking like white women because this was the accepted look by the white establishment. In the 1900s, Sarah was a poor single mother.
She supported herself and her daughter as a washerwoman.
At the age of 20, Sarah developed a hair straightening cream and other beauty products.
Over the years, her business grew and was headquartered in Indianapolis, Indiana. Sarah became rich and she was the first black woman millionaire.
While African American women were adorning European style hair, back here in Rhodesia, African hair continued to be seen, measured, compared and graded on the yardstick of European society’s standards of beauty.
Kinky natural hair suggested that a woman was not civilised and not Western enough.
Not only that, it revealed that the woman was from the village and her hair probably smelt of kitchen hut smoke.
Such perceptions also denigrated the village and our rural cultures.
The variations of Madam Sarah Breedlove’s relaxing hair products arrived in Zimbabwe after independence.
African hair dressing shops opened everywhere.
Then extensions also came and enhanced the styles.
The plaiting was a continuation of our cultural inheritance.
However, the wearing of wigs, hair relaxing, weaving and gluing of foreign hair increased.
Over the years, Zimbabwean women have added to the amount of money that is being taken from African women in order to line up the pockets of hair companies from India, China, Brazil to Africa and all the places where black women live, goes into billions.
A research done in Nigeria noted that there are 155 million people and 56 percent are between the ages of 16-54 years old.
Among this group there are 40 million women.
Each one of those women on average spends US$1 a week on hair to buy a wig or hair straightening stuff.
This means at a minimum, around US$40 million per week is spent on hair so that the women look more European.
Out of 54 African countries, how much is spent on adding European hair to our scalps every day?
The researcher noted that, “Throughout Africa, women spend billions of dollars every week, to import Brazilian hair, Peruvian hair, Korean hair, Asian hair, European wigs, weaves, eyelashes, artificial nails and many other stuff, all because the African woman does not appreciate her God-given natural beauty anymore.
“She bleaches her skin and spends so much on her hair because she wants to look Asian or European.
“The result: Cancer and other numerous untold consequences.
“This is so because the African woman has been brainwashed to look down upon her identity and to boycott her natural beauty for someone else’s.”
Globally, millions of black women spend time and money to maintain the weaves and wigs.
In a movie by Chris Rock called Good Hair, he traces the hair industry from India to Los Angeles.
He says black women in America pay as much as US$1 000 for a single hair weave.
The movie explores the lengths black women go to get long, straightened looks.
A woman without straightened hair, a weave and a wig is not fully groomed.
But, African women are beginning to put the colonial perceptions of beauty behind.
These days, you increasingly see a woman adorning a natural short hair style.
You may see a shaved head complimented by big earrings.
More and more women are wearing their twists, locks or teenie-weenie Afros (known as TWAs).
Although we still have a long way to go before we can look more African, times are changing.
Down in South Africa, you only need to look around a little and you will see the most beautiful African hairstyles adorned by women at the airport, in the bank or among young and old female lawyers, market women or waitresses.
As we begin 2015, Zimbabwean women are saying, let us embrace who we are as a people.
We want to look natural and promote the beauty and dignity of the African woman.


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