Views from Ess: On Relaxed hair and being "Unafrican"

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Why, hello Friendship!

How are you today? So by now you know that Kurly Kichana is all about those natural kinks and kurls. We love natural hair and, by virtue of you taking the time out of your busy day to read our posts (and for that we couldn't thank you enough... you rock), we figure you do as well.

At Kurly Kichana, we believe in choice; what is life without choice and the freedom of self-expression right? Well, a little while back we met with a few of our girlfriends and the topic of natural hair vs. relaxed hair came up. We were a table full of curls and locs so the argument was pretty much one-sided... To make a long story short, at the end of the conversation, we found that some people in the natural haired community hold some harsh views on women who choose to keep their hair relaxed. 

Before we met up with our girlfriends we had a shared opinion on natural hair - it's BANG-UP BRILLIANT and if you aren't natural, you need an intervention. Upon further reflection, we realized that it's no one's place to judge other people on their lifestyle choices... We are allowed to hold our views, but not instill them upon others (we would love to hear your thoughts on this).

And so we decided to hear it from a bonafide member of Camp Relaxed. We reached out to a fellow blogger Sharon of this is ess. And this is what she had to say about her relaxed hair journey..

1. Tell us a bit about yourself!

 Haha, oh the pressure of making it “sweet”. 

My name is Sharon Mundia and I'm a 23 year old girl living in her hometown Nairobi, Kenya. I run the site This Is Ess which is a fashion and beauty blog that has quickly become a great passion of mine. My favourite TV Shows include Suits, Modern Family, Sherlock Holmes and Touch (to name a few) and I can’t go a day without lip balm, my glasses and breathing (ha!). Oh and I never go a month without at least one slice of Dormans Red Velvet Cake!

2. When did you have your hair relaxed? Was it your choice or that of an authority figure?  What are your hair goals and what regimen do you follow?

I believe I was 13 years old when I finally relaxed my hair and I had basically done everything in power to convince my mother to let me do it! I so desperately wanted my hair to be relaxed because of all the pain I had gone through while I had natural hair. I never really understood how to take care of my hair then and in fact it has taken me 10 years since to put together a decent hair regimen. 

My long-term goal is to have healthy hair that reaches my waist while my short-term goal (till December 2013) is to have healthy hair that reaches my bra strap (the horizontal section at the back). 

I only started my real hair journey on October 17th 2012 so there’s a good chance my regimen might change as I get to understand my hair needs. I say ‘real’ hair journey as there were times in my past when I thought I knew what my hair needed but after all the research I’ve been doing lately, I realise how wrong I was! As for my current regimen: I wash my hair once a week, use shampoo only when I feel like my hair needs to get rid of all the product that’s built up, co-wash my hair, use a moisture based treatment and/or a protein based treatment depending on my hair needs, moisturise and seal daily, oil my scalp using castor oil once a week and only use heat once a month. Trimming off the split ends regularly is also part of this regimen. 

3. In the wave of the current global movement towards natural hair among women of colour, what has prevented you from being "swept away" by the movement?

To be honest I didn’t realise there was a movement until I started getting into my hair regimen and doing my research and that’s when I saw just how many women out there are going natural! I like my hair relaxed because I think that it’s more convenient that way plus sometimes I just like having bone-straight hair. If ever I want to go natural though, it won’t be because I want to move with the crowd but because for one reason or another, I feel that that’s the best thing for my hair. 

4. Some women with natural hair claim that women who chose to relax their hair are "less African" than those who maintain natural hair. What are your thoughts on such sentiments and what would you say to this?

If my African status was partly based on whether my hair was natural or relaxed then yeah, they’d be right! But I believe that’s a very shallow point of view – declaring someone to be “less African” based on how they treat their hair is very judgemental, not to mention a baseless accusation. I mean, what’s African? And how does hair fall into this definition? And to which extent do you consider manipulation of one’s hair dependent on their African status? Would colouring my hair make me less African? Blow drying? Using a straightener? How about if I texturized my hair, am I “more African” than the lady who’s relaxed her hair but still “less African” than the one who’s natural? 

See where I’m going? Being African is not dependent on your hair!!

5. Do you associate with the health implications of relaxing hair? If so, what precautions should someone who chooses to relax their hair follow? 

The only problems I know that come from using relaxers are scalp burns which occur when the relaxer literally burns your scalp and you’re left with a scab a couple days later. I’ve suffered from this a few times as my scalp is rather sensitive but I’ve learnt that: 

a)      You should always wait about a week (maybe even more) after washing your hair before you relax it. Your scalp needs to have built up some natural oils as a means of protecting itself. 

b)      Don’t sit with the relaxer in your hair for too long – this is disaster waiting to happen

c)      Understand your hair needs. If you can’t stay with relaxer on for too long then go with the mild option. If you’re scalp is less sensitive then you can go for the stronger options

d)     Avoid vigorous scratching of your scalp before going to get your hair relaxed as it only makes it more susceptible to burns. 

6. Would you ever consider going natural? Y/N kindly explain

At this point, no! I find that my hair is much easier to style when it’s relaxed plus it’s a little easier to deal with I guess (even though it needs that much more care to prevent breakage). 

 7. Who are your "hair idols"?

I am absolutely obsessed with Megan from U Love Megz, she’s the one who inspired me to start a proper hair regimen for my hair journey actually! And my friend recently introduced me to Chime Edwards who has gorgeous natural hair!

 8. We love your sense of fashion! Tell us about the look that defines Ess and what elements you cannot do without! 

Aww thanks ladies :) To be honest, I’m not sure I’ve really explored fashion enough in order to truly discover my sense of style but if I had to put it into words I’d say my look is usually simple, cute and a little adventurous! The items that I reach for the most in my wardrobe are my nude pumps and my black blazer – they almost always go with anything I put on (a dress, skirt, jeans) which makes it very convenient for me. I’m also really getting into accessories as I’m finding that they add the little extra to an otherwise ordinary outfit. So start building your accessories ladies!

9. Any closing sentiments?

I think with any hair journey the two things that will almost always help you realise your goals are consistency and patience. But if I happen to come across a miracle healthy hair growth formula, you can rest assured I’ll give you a shout ;) 

Thank you so much for allowing me to do this interview! 
Anonymous said...

Her hair is beautiful and looks quite healthy. I went natural about a month ago, but prior to that I always received comments on how beautiful my relaxed hair was. Many people even thought it was my natural hair texture (yeah right, my hair is mostly in the 4's). I went natural when I felt like it, and I'm loving it. However I do not feel that people should be upset if a woman wants to sport relaxed hair or question her self-esteem or "African-ness"/"Black-ness".

Kenyan Enterpreneur said...

I love meg as well.....go girl! I think natural or relaxed, the
Rocess of maintaining and caring is the same...I.e find what works for you and work towards it. I am also on a hair, hair discovery is more like it! Wish you all the best!

CIU said...

I Big chopped my hair a year and a half ago and my reason for doing so had nothing to do with the fact that i felt less of an african when i wore my hair relaxed but it was a decision made based on the fact that i really missed my hair,i have never really been a fan of relaxers so to me it was an easy choice , but at the end of the day relaxed or not has nothing to do with someone being less african. I believe that it has to do with what one identifies themselves with culturally and etc.

Nice post :)

Eve Yieke said...

If relaxing yuor hair makes you less African then I wonder why they have to wear there jeans...(clothes)totally not African :p....

Anonymous said...

Hi! I think her hair is lovely! Wish mine had that kind of body and length! I chose to go natural only after I realized how thin my relaxed hair was becoming. After a few years of being in denial with my thin, relaxed hair, I bit the bullet and decided to transition, after a year I BC'd, after another year I find myself with 2 textures, relaxed at the front and the rest is natural. Since I stumbled on your blog it has given me a whole new world on how to take care of my hair and I'm loving it so far!! Thank you ladies. And African is defined from within, not without. One man's meat ladies... :-)

pesh said...

So true that alot of natural haired bloggers love that 'makes me feel more African',which,if that's your reason,great as long as you don't get preachy about it. My African-ness is so much more than my hair. Also,Ess has really great hair,but that's one hell of a regime but no pain,no gain,right? Goodluck to her.

Anonymous said...

Awww my fav Kenyan blogger i love Ess discovered her through before that i only knew of Bikozulu and have gone on to discover more KE bloggers thanks to their comments with their URLs on her posts (yes bloggers we actually check those URLs out)! On to topic i think the whole team natural versus team relaxed ish which i must say is usually instigated by team naturals is rather silly. If your hair is healthy you are comfortable in it and it works for you then i have no problem with what you have on your head but please don’t leave the house with an unbrushed weave! I have been proudly team relaxed since I was 18 and while I have baby soft hair it is much easier for me to handle relaxed than natural so I choose to stay relaxed i don't see myself going natural at all i prefer my hair relaxed even when it was natural it was always hotcombed or blow dried real straight since that was the only way i could manage it. I self relax as the only other person i trust to relax my hair is my hairdresser cousin and we are not always in the same location when I am due for a retouch. I do it 3 times a year I stretch my relaxer upto four months once I start getting thick new growth which is usually around 10-12 weeks post relaxer the braids come on until it’s time to retouch and i have never had any problems i sometimes wash my hair upto four days before relaxing since i swim once a week but i don't manipulate my scalp (massaging/scrubbing etc) its more of a rinse than an actual wash i don't use any products at this time i just rinse out the chlorine and then relax a few days later but i usually oil my scalp - hello castor/coconut oil - and use a leave in conditioner before getting into the water that way my hair absorbs less chlorine. The day i see team natural girls in sisal skirts and coconut shell tops/bras without makeup and perfume eating only organic unprocessed food walking barefoot or wearing akalas living in a mud hut then we can talk about being African/unAfrican until then dare i spot any of you at a fast food joint all hell will break loose lol i kid i kid don't shoot me hahaha. Ess see i had to set up an account just to be able to comment on here see how much love i have for you girl:) LYDZ

Mary said...

Thank you for all your comments.

Ok, I'm about to go all 'Social Justice' on you guys. Please note these are my personal views and you may take them as you will.

I'm sure we will agree that relaxed hair mimics Caucasian hair and completely does away with the natural kinks and African appearance, that goes without saying. I mean, at the end of the day, I can imagine that most women sight relaxed hair as easier to maintain and care for moreover natural hair... Plus there are so many hair salons that cater to relaxed hair country wide, right? Not to mention the wide selection of products available in every store, kiosk and super market. So why not? I will use this as my first assumption as to why women who chose to relax their hair do so. Feel free to add on to this hypothesis.

Moving along, allow me to impart a few facts that I have personally experienced. Being natural, I have had my hair called ugly and unsightly by every race I've interacted with. The comments were masked with humor, concern and some were just blatant. The worst however, came from my fellow Kenyans. You see, natural hair goes against everything we have been taught growing up. From the media, to public figures and even to the dolls we played with as children. None (save for a chosen few) of these icons had our natural African hair. Majority of our hair professional hair salons don't know how to treat or style natural hair. We are parents and older sisters don't know how to deal with children who have natural hair. It simply wasn't taught to us over the years... You would be a fool to claim that this has had no impact on you or on us as people. I dare you to say otherwise. Double dare.

Being African does not equate natural hair. That's preposterous. Anyone who says differently is deluded. However, when we look at the core reason as to why women chose to relax their hair, I have sighted ease of maintenance and to the fact that relaxed hair is the norm in our culture. But what does this imply? First of all, being natural is not that tasking... Like anything else, all it takes is some getting used to and BAM! You're good to go. Secondly, society has taught us that relaxed hair is the best choice for African women, this implies that our God-given texture is substandard and unworthy. This is a watered down deduction.

For me, being natural openly defies this specific discriminating societal norm; it takes away just one of the many issues I have being an African woman in this day and age. We live in a society that tells us beauty is being light skinned, bone thin, and having straight hair similar to friggin Pocahontas. Anything else is considered less than up to par. Oh hell naw, I am not about that mess. May the good lord bless me with a daughter so that I may remind her each day that she is perfect as she is.

Now I noticed that some of you claimed that the way we dress is also a sign of our colonized minds taking over. And that to show we are truly free, we should dawn ourselves in traditional African attire. This is 2012 not 1800, you don't see Europeans and Americans walking around in corseted gowns now do you. Fashion evolves and so do we. To add on to this, African fashion designers are also trying to break the mold. With their Kitenge inspired designs, African prints and cuts that are unique to us, yet still highly marketable and trendy to the rest of the globe.

To close... (sorry about how long this is) I feel that in the next 5 years or so, we will see a new Africa where we will define our unique beauty and culture. I can tell you right now it will have global influences, but the core of it, it will be of African heritage.

Peace y'all

Jc said...

And the choir says Amen, Mary! You are right.......nothing more to add, I agree with it all :)

Muyoka Maina said...

Had you asked me two years ago when I first went natural about this I would definitely have argued that relaxed hair is a form of mental colonization. With time I've come to see that hair is just hair and should be worn in whatever way one is most comfortable with. However I must say that there is still an element of self-hatred in the way natural hair is perceived in Kenya. When I was home for the summer I got quite a few odd looks for wearing my hair out in an afro and 99% of my friends still don't understand why I cut off my relaxed hair in the first place. The ironic thing is my hair is the healthiest and best-taken care of it's ever been but because it's not bone-straight it's "bad hair". Anyway my point is: wear your hair in the most comfortable, convenient, and affordable way for you; but at the same time take a moment or two to consider WHAT your views on healthy/good hair are and WHY those are the views you have. In my personal experience, my opinion on my own hair and black hair in general changed drastically when I began to wonder who decided black women have to "do something" to their hair; and why the "doing something" more often than not involves making it as far away as possible from its naturally curly/coily/kinky texture

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