Tuesday, 29 March 2011

But it's just hair... ( a discourse on the psychology of black hair)

 *Disclaimer. I want to make it clear before I get someone's hackles up that I understand that 'race' is to some extent a sociolgical construct, not neccesarily a genetic one, that not everyone who perms their hair or wears a weave has a deep hatred of self, and that some people will disagree with what I've written and they are perfectly entitled to do so.

I remember when that India Arie song came out. " I am not my hair....I am not my skin", and everyone was extra deep and concious in their realisation that "they are the soul that lives within". Therefore meaning that being natural or permed or weaved didn't really define who they were.Cool. I understand that. I can dig that ideology.... kinda. It's a nice idea. Comfortably toted by the kumbaya chorus who scream at you 'there's only one race, THE HUMAN RACE!' whenever some kind of topic of racial difference is brought up. Again, nice idea, but when we woke up out of our rainbow coalition dream, in the cool air of Tuesday morning....
Your skin colour (unfortunately) has a significant impact on the course of your life, and your identity as a human being (no, not only if you 'let' it, it just does.)
The choices that black people make as a race (as a general group) about their hair, demonstrate that the issue is far deeper than hair, and that hair IS an issue of identity .I would love if it was just a 'styling choice', if the decision of perm vs weave vs extensions vs fro was as simple as choosing between  balsamic or apple cider vinegar at the local Tesco's. I'm going to try and prove my point.
Let's look a little bit at the history of black hair.
People of African descent throughout the diaspora have an interesting relationship with their former colonisers, slave owners etc. The European standard of beauty, has for the past 400 years or so, been the standard by which the majority of the world judges attractiveness.  In the slave world, the lighter skinned/ more mixed slaves would  work in the house. They were given more 'privileges' by the master, and were seen often as being in a more favourable position than the darker skinned or field slaves. (In all honesty, both groups had an equally hard time in my opinion, just a different experience..but anyway..). Lighter skin was often (not always) accompanied with more loosely curled hair. The closer you were in blood to the master, the straighter your hair was, the more privileges you had. Post slavery in America, the historically black universities had paper bag tests, and comb tests. Skin darker than a brown paper bag meant a NO ENTRY, from a lot of universities, as did hair that was too kinky for a fine toothed comb to be run through.
In colonies in Africa and the Caribbean, the same connections between straight hair, light skin and privilege were being made. Who wouldn't want to more like the more beautiful, more civilised Europeans??
Unfortunately,  black people had made an interesting discovery. You didn't have to have a good helping of non-African blood to get the desired straight effect, sodium hydroxide (aka lye, aka relaxers) could give you the sleek, shiny, blow in the wind locks you deserved. So what if it burnt your scalp a little and was strong enough to clean toilets? Make your way up that corporate ladder, honey .
As time went on, we went through the the black power, afro phase of the 1970's. The 80's brought the jherry curl, and by the 1990's we'd decided that hair was more or less a matter of styling choice. After all, we'd all worn sky high fro's in the 70's so all those psychological shackles of slavery and colonialism had been broken in 10 years, right? Wrong.
Because in 2011, I'm unfortunately still hearing people say they'd be 'upset' if when they go natural they have a certain 'nappy' texture. That they don't want to marry someone with 'bad' hair that will mess up their 'good hair' gene pool. That afros are unprofessional. That I'd look nicer if I straightened my hair. (Anyone ever heard someone tell a  white person they'd look better with an extra tight curly perm?).
This is why it's not just hair. This is why my natural hair is, to some extent, a statement. I'm not saying that everyone should wear an afro for political reasons. I'm not even saying that straightening your hair ever, is 'bad' persay (although heat does damage hair..that's another post). I am saying that before we dismiss something as just a styling choice, we need to examine the roots of where the choices come from. If you can comfortably say that you are satisfied with your natural hair texture, you don't have any notions of good' or 'bad' hair, you don't have hang ups about your natural hair being unglamorous, unprofessional etc, then cool. Do you. From what I've seen and heard, the majority of black woman can't say those things. Therefore, it's not just hair.

ETA: Thought I'd throw in some opposong points of view just for discussion...

Soul singer Beverley Knight balks at the notion that black women who straighten their hair, or wear weaves, are in some way ashamed of their ethnicity: "If there's one thing that will raise my hackles, get my back up and make me angry, it's that particular assertion. There is nothing more insulting, degrading and malevolent than to throw that in the face of someone," says Knight. "It's just a hair choice, nothing more, with no other connotations."

After all this time, people read ­ statements into how we wear our hair," says Mikki Taylor, beauty and cover director at African-American monthly Essence, which has a readership of more than eight million. "That's unfortunate. Some days if you want to wear your hair curly, why can't that just be it? It's got to be, oh what are they trying to say?"
What do you think?? Agree? Comment! Disagree? Comment.
Peace, Love, and Hair Grease folks!! xx

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Letting Go

This is another non-hair blog post. I had a really good conversation with an older friend of mine today. We were talking about bitterness and revenge, and whether it is as 'sweet' as that old phrase claims. He shared some funny stories and a lot of wisdom. One thing that he said was "When we hurt someone because they've hurt us, we're allowing them to make us change into a person we don't actually want to be." Another conversation with one of my other good friends was funnily enough along the same topic. In her case, she had fired some slightly ego-damaging words (and apologised), but the offended party responded with the nice old facebook/ twitter/ life deletion.

I'm sure that we've all been in situations where someone has hurt us, and we feel that the only thing we want to do is send epic sarcastic and witty emails (I'm now revealing my own preferred fantasy revenge methods), that make the person feel about the size of a pea. I can safely say that I've not being in a situation yet where I've acted on my fantasy (let's pray that never happens), but I understand the desire to do so. Our ego doesn't usually respond very well to being knocked, our feelings don't like being hurt, and our pride is generally averse to being wounded.

Taking the moral high ground is a lot harder than it looks. It often takes a lot of prayer, a battle with yourself, and a phonecall to a good friend who tells you that no, Jesus does not condone sarky text messages or evil glares. It's a day by day process where, as we become more comfortable with ourselves and our Creator, we let go of the pride, self righteousness and bitterness that makes us feel that anyone 'deserves' our anger or harsh words. We begin to see people who have hurt us as people that have a plan and purpose on this earth just a much as we have. We begin to see that all of us have the capacity to hurt others, just by virtue of the fact that we're human and fallible. We begin to see that the pain others inflict on us often results from their own problems or is simply an unavoidable part of human relationships. Sometime when people hurt us, they've actually done nothing wrong, but nontheless, it still hurts.

As we realise this, our response to hurt (hopefully) gets better each time we experience it. Yes, the pain is still there. But we understand that the desire to heal our own wounds by inflicting wounds on others is an unhealthy one, as well as one, that, if realised will probably result in more pain for everyone involved.

This quote from Jane Eyre sums up the struggle between what we often feel, and what we KNOW to be right. The moments when we want to say an angry word or lash out

"Laws and principles are not for times when there is no temptation; they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour; stringent are they; inviolate they shall be. If at my individual convenience I might break them, what would be their worth? They have a worth-so I have always believed; and if I cannot believe it now, it is because I am insane-quite insane, with my veins running fire, and my heart beating faster than I can count its throbs."

Ephesians 4:31 
Make a clean break with all cutting, backbiting, profane talk. be gentle with one another, sensitive. Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you.

Easier said than done right? Let's get there together :-) 

Peace, Love and Hair grease xx

Monday, 21 March 2011

Anti-Comb Coalition

Do you remember having your hair combed by your Mum as a little girl?? For me, it was always in the living room, in front of the T.V. Mum would be watching the news, the remote next to her on the sofa, me sitting in between her legs with that good 'ole pot of green Dax hair grease on the floor, and that red plastic comb in my peripheral vision- looking angry and aggressive. My head would be dragged in one direction as she pulled the comb through my hair, and there would be the familiar yelp of 'OOoowwww, You're HURTING ME!', as we came across a particularly tough section of knots.

Ok, so I haven't combed my hair in like 6 months. Like, seriously. And it's not because of my traumatising childhood experiences.And I don't have dreadlocks. And I haven't brushed it either. 

There are some of you who are already screwing up your nose and writing me off as a lazy hobo, but hear me out - I have a very, very good reason for this. There is deep science behind my weird and wonderful ways. Deep and complex science. Which I will explain....

Hair structure:Your hair is made up of three main parts.
1) The cuticle
This is the covering or coat of the hair strand, made up of dead cells. Afro/ curly hair has more cuticle shafts than Caucasian or Asian hair and the cuticle shafts are more raised. This is why it isn't as shiny as other hair types, and also why it's often more fragile.

The cuticle controls how much water enters and leaves the hair strand, making the health of the cuticle essential to maintaining the correct moisture levels of the hair strands.

(damaged/ raised cuticles)

2) The cortex
The cortex is the main body of the hair strand and gives it the unique colour and curl pattern, as well as strength and elasticity.

If the cuticle is the door that lets moisture in, the cortex is the room that holds the moisture. Afro/ curly hair has a thinner cortex than other textures which is another reason our hair is more fragile, prone to breakage and can often be dry.Damaged hair is hair that has the cortex exposed.

Once hair is damaged to this point, the only solution is to trim it. Split ends and breakage are sings of a damaged cortex, and a cortex that does not have enough moisture to withstand manipulation.

3)The Medulla
This last part of the hair strand doesn't appear to have much function that we know about, but it is documented that heat application destroys the medulla of the hair, meaning that many black women have extremely damaged or non-existent medullas.

The more you touch, play with or and generally manipulate your hair, the more damage you do to the cuticle, the easier it for moisture to escape from your cortex, and the more likely you are to get split ends and breakage. Most brushes and combs have sharp ends and edges that damage the already very fragile cuticle of afro hair, and the harsh tugging and pulling (remember that sore head after having your  hair combed as a child? - ouch!) that often comes with combing literally snaps off the ends of our hair.
You're probably thinking, 'so if you don't use a comb or a brush, how do you get rid of dead hair?'. Quite simply, finger combing.

Every couple of days, I divide my hair into sections, spray a mixture of water and conditioner on it and gently detangle using my fingers. While the hair is damp,I plait each section to prevent it shrinking up. It might seem like a long process, but I've noticed a massive difference in hair length and damage since doing this.

If you really can't step away from brushes or combs, the best method is combing gently while your hair is damp and loaded with conditioner. You really don't need to comb your hair every day, or even every 2 days.

When I do feel the need for a good brush, I really like the Goody Add Shine Jojoba infused brush. The bristles are super super soft and it's really gentle. The downside is that it costs 8 to 9 quid, aaannd I think it's discontinued in the UK. I hate when companies do that with my favourite products, it's just plain unforgivable - messing with a black woman and her hair stuff should actually be against the law. *sighs* I'm sure there must be one that's just as good that's cheaper..if anyone finds one gimme a shout!
Peace, Love and hair Grease xx

Wednesday, 16 March 2011


Growing natural hair is probably about 60% correct styling and handling methods and 40% correct products. That's my extremely reliable statistical analysis after my nearly 21 years of having natural hair. Up until the age of around 14, I had ear-chin length pretty damaged hair. I got tired of my hair looking busted and decided after looking at all my cousins who had mid-back length hair that it wasn't in my genes or destiny to have raggedy locks. (side note: short hair is great too, just counteracting the myth that black girls can't grow long hair  unless they have 'good' hair)

Like most black girls, I grew up being deceived by the lie that Dax, Doo-Gro, or other poorly spelled (because black women all speak like Chicken George from Roots (duh)) products would make my hair healthy, strong and long. Just like the cartoon woman on the front of the green tub. The combination of bad hair products (Dax, Sulphate shampoos), blow-drying and harsh combing meant my extra fragile hair was never going to last.

I did my research, and have finally got a few core products down that really work for my hair. Before I do some reviews of them here are some tips for finding products that work for you.
Generally with curly/ afro hair (or even if it's relaxed) there are some key ingredients to avoid:

1) Sulphates - e.g. Sodium Lauryl/ Laureth Sulphate, Ammonium Lauryl Sulphate  - these are found in most commercial shampoos, and they strip curly hair of it's much needed moisture.

2) Mineral Oil/ Petroleum -  somtimes labelled on products as Paraffin Liquidum / Petrolatum. This coats the hair and traps moisture inside, but also doesn't let moisture into the hair strand, leading to dryness and breakage. Most of the products we call 'grease' have mineral oil or petroleum in them. They are literally glorified Vaseline with food colouring. Don't waste your £1.99 on them, give it to charity.

3) Silicones - e.g. Dimethicone. Cyclopentasiloxane, Amodimethicone. The problem with these are that although they do work for some curly folks hair, they have to be washed off with sulphate shampoos, as natural shampoos aren't strong enough to remove them,  leading to dryness. Using too many silicones also leads to product build up.

Sooo now onto the products I use.

Shampoo: Dr Bronners Magic 18 in 1 Castile soap. (yeh it's a mouthful)
I dilute this 1 part shampoo to 2 parts water, with a teaspoon of olive oil or an oil I got from http://www.afrocenchix.com/ and shake it up in a bottle. This lasts for aaaaaaggges. It's £8 a bottle, but one bottle lasts me 7 months maybe, and all the ingredients are completely natural. At first, my hair felt weird when I used it, but I got used to the feeling after a while and I highly recommend it. Get it at: ebay.co.uk or amazon.co.uk or britishcurlies.com

Aubrey Organics Honeysuckle Rose Conditioner

After I shampoo deep condition with this conditioner and it is aammmaazing. Pricey, but in my opinion 100% worth it. Get it at: ebay.co.uk or amazon.co.uk or britishcurlies.com

Moisturising/ Leave in:
Castor Oil
Cheap, cheerful, from your local Asian food/hair shop or from Sheabuttercottage.com (I'll do a controversial blog on the economics of black hair and why we should support black business another time) Note: This isn't the castor oil that you get in a tub, it's 100% pure and in a bottle.

 Other leave ins/products:
Bee Mine Deja's Moisturising hair lotion - This is really good, use it as a leave in after I wash, and as a day to day moisturiser.
 get it at: www.britishcurlies.com

Vo5 Moisture Milks conditioner -From some 99p stores ;-) I use this for co-washing, or when I run out of my normal conditioner, or when I'm between blessings (i.e. broke). I usually buy my usual conditioner in bulk though so I don't run out.

Hope someone found this helpful. If there's anything you want me to blog about, write in the comment box below or get at me on facebook if we're friends!!
Peace, Love, and (non petroleum) Hair grease!

Monday, 14 March 2011

Texture Troubles

Sunday! In my 7 year old mind, Sunday was one of my two favourite days of the week. (the other being Saturday). Sunday meant no school, no piano lessons, good Sunday dinner, and hair washing day. I loved getting my hair washed. Me and Mum would have fun in the mirror shaping my afro into a million and one different shapes with the help of Johnson's baby shampoo (don't ask me why we used that particular shampoo- it's just a family tradition). Cones, mohicans, to the side, flat back ,spiky, curly - yup, wet hair and shampoo gave me the ability to do my hair in the styles that an ordinary kinky haired black girl couldn't do without the help of a hot comb.
I can't remember when I started comparing my hair texture to other people's. I probably couldn't give you the exact day when the phrase 'coolie hair' came into my vocabulary, but I do remember by around the age 10 realising that black hair came on a spectrum. At the top of the league table was the elusive 'coolie' hair, for those black people who had a white parent or good helping of Indian ancestry (which everyone insisted they had because their great great great great grandmother was Indian (duh)), and at the bottom was 'nappy' or 'peppercorn' hair which was always short, picky, and gave you a direct connection to the ultimate cuss of 1999- being African. I knew that my hair was somewhere in the middle - nappy enough that people knew I wasn't 'coolie', but with enough curl to give some level of credibility to the traditional 'great great great great grandmother' claim. 
I come from a family where my Dad always told me that my hair was fine just the way it was, that dark skinned girls were just as pretty as light skinned girls, that my Nigerian name was given to me to remind me that I should be proud of my African ancestry, and that God made 'nappy' hair just as good as 'coolie' hair. Unfortunately, like 90% of black people, I just didn't believe age 10 that all hair textures were created equal. I always wished my hair was longer, curlier, more like Tia and Tamera, or Claire from my Wife and Kids.
Around the age of 13 or  14, we started studying the Trans-Atlantic slave trade in school. I don't remember if that's the reason why I began to take more and more of an interest in who I was as a black person, but I do remember reading a million and one books, and having a million one debates at school about what it meant to be 'me'. My parents always taught me to be proud of who I was, but I began to realise that I really wasn't proud at all. I didn't like all of me. I had a standard of beauty that didn't put myself or the vast majority of black people anywhere near the top of the ladder. I associated straight hair with 'special occasions' and although I didn't relax my hair, I definitely didn't want that fresh from the boat, kinky, peppergrain African texture. 
So I began a journey. Through different websites, books, pictures and a growing relationship with God, I began to really believe what the Bible said - "And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good" (Genesis 1:31). I found websites that taught me how to take care of my hair properly and that showed pictures of beautiful women with all kinds of hair textures. My hair was very good. White people's hair was very good. Asian people's hair was very good. African hair was  very good. And all the hair types that were a combination of all three were good too. There were no disclaimers, brackets, footnotes or addendum's.
Simple message of this post is: Your hair is very good! If you have back length 'coolie' hair, it's very good! If you have a teeny weeny afro, it's very good! If you're like me and your  hair is a big fluffy bush on your head, it's very good! Who are you to say it isn't??

Tuesday, 8 March 2011


So this post isn't about hair, it's just a thought that's been lingering in my mind the past day or so. My brother is putting on a gospel concert, and the title of the whole event is Restoration. It's a powerful word.The word restore in the dictionary means :
1. to return (something, esp a work of art or building) to an original or former condition
2. to bring back to health, good spirits, etc.
3. to return (something lost, stolen, etc.) to its owner
4. to reintroduce or re-enforce to restore discipline
5. to reconstruct (an extinct animal, former landscape, etc.)
return to its original or usable and functioning condition
 *preacher voice* turn to ya neeeighbour and say 'functioning' mmmm....no seriously. Are there ever days where you just feel like you're not functioning?? I mean, yes, you're alive, and all your body parts are intact, but mentally, up there, you're not functioning? You just want to be restored back to that place of peace. You want to return to something you knew you had before - that state of mind where you felt right, settled, centred or however you want to call it. Life sometimes has a way of knocking us off our feet and making us feel dysfunctional. In fact all of us are dysfunctional in some way. That's what sin does to us. That's why Christ came. To restore us back to to relationship with God where we are whole, complete and satisfied in him. Today I had one of those days. In fact, this past month or so has been one of those months. Despite the drama, I'm comforted by the fact that God has promises of restoration in his word. Everywhere. My favourite one at the moment is in Joel chapter 2 "
 And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten, the cankerworm, and the caterpiller, and the palmerworm, my great army which I sent among you.
 And ye shall eat in plenty, and be satisfied, and praise the name of the LORD your God, that hath dealt wondrously with you: and my people shall never be ashamed."

 Locusts can be anything that causes you to regret the past or look at the future with less hope than you should. It could be a sin that has eaten away at you for so long that you feel like you've 'lost' that time. It could be people that you've allowed into your life that hurt you, and caused you pain that you feel will never go away. 

When locusts go through a crop or piece of land, they completely and utterly destroy it, to the point where it looks like there is nothing left. Nothing left to work with. Although we all have to face the consequences of our actions, God promises that he can he can use every and any situation for good. He can restore. The same God that can make the universe literally from nothing,can definitely restore your life, not matter how broken, or messy or empty it may feel at the moment. *smile*

Peace, Love, and Hair Grease xx

Saturday, 5 March 2011

To weave or not to weave??

It's that time of year where the weather is cold, so are my feet and hands, and so is my hair. So like 89.3% of black girls (according to my stats) I decided it's time to hide the hair under some form of  1B Remy/Marley/Janet/ Expressions or whatever weave or extension brand of your choice. I have a lot of hair, and on Thursday, after ripping and attaching my way through 3 bags of Janet Marley braid (Colour 1B with some 2 for excitement of course), I ran out.
So I asked my kind Father to buy me some more hair while he was doing his weekly Yam and Sweet Potato shopping. Cue a passionate rant from said Father about how 'wrong' it was for me to be putting 'all of that fake stuff in my hair', and 'why wasn't I happy with all the hair I already have?' and so on and so forth. I was quite taken aback mainly because:

1) Who said it was anything to to with me not liking my hair? It's cold!! My hair doesn't like cold!

2)I didn't know my Dad was so passionate about this issue to the point of him actually refusing to buy it for me..

3) I was rather tired and not really prepared for the verbal battle.

Second scenario. I was talking to two of my friends via skype, one girl and one guy, who both said that extensions were different to weaves because extensions aren't deceitful, you're not trying to pretend it's your own hair, but weave 'is a lie'. In fact my female friend said ! "Nowadays, you can't even tell anymore , I see people and compliment them on their hair and then I feel deceived when I find out it isn't theirs!"

So my question to you is...what is your opinion on women with natural hair wearing weaves or extensions? Or even women with relaxed hair?? Does it go against the principle of having natural hair in the first place? Is it 'deceitful'? Does it just look bad anyway?...Comment and lemme know!!

Why natural??

Natural hair  is the latest fashion kick. Everyone, like, everyone..well a lot of people, seem to be embracing the natural look. Is this just a phase? Like jheri curls??? Or legwarmers? I hope not. So why am I natural?

1) I believe that God made me juuuussst right, so although I have the freedom to do what I want with my hair, it's important for me to be acceptant of what I do have and not change it due to insecurities about who I was made as.

2) The chemicals in relaxers are not healthy. Dude, anything strong enough to melt cans is NOT cool to be on my head. 'Nuff said. 

3) Natural hair is so unique! Every single hair texture is slightly different and the diversity is so cool.

4) I like not being fearful of rain, sea, swimming pools and water fights. (Swimming pools do gross me out though. Stagnant water, potentially unwashed bodies..not my thing)

5) That freshly washed afro smell and feel. Mmmmm.

It's arrived!!!

Greetings, citizens of the universe! (or the one person apart from me actually reading this)...For a while now people all over the world, (my friends) have been clamouring for me to start a blog, mainly about my hair..I've finally succumbed and convinced myself that unlike all my other hobbies, this one will NOT  die after 2 weeks. Pinky promise...