Some call it a movement, some think of it as a personal journey. Maybe it’s just another trend, but for many it is a crucial matter of identity. Regardless of your perspective, there is no doubt that there’s a lot of talk nowadays about black women “going natural”.

It isn’t a particularly recent development, but if you take a look around, there are more black women today rocking buzz cuts, twists, braids, up-dos and of course, the ‘fro – in all its glorious variations.

Since my first relaxer in 1993, straightened hair (including weaves and wigs) had been a matter of convenience. I remember the day of my first relaxer like it was yesterday. When my beautiful, healthy hair tumbled down my shoulders after my sister was done washing and setting it in curls, I happily left behind the world of Sunday afternoon plaiting sessions and didn’t think I’d ever look back!

Until the Big Chop of 2011, I had not worn my hair natural in almost 20 years. I simply was not ready to embrace a natural look in, when my reflection in the mirror had been so different for so long. I had to take baby steps. First, I had to rid my head of the chemical destruction it had endured over the years, then I had to re-familiarise myself with the texture of my coils. Eventually, I hoped to step out in public comfortable in my skin.

natural-hair 3My decision to give my hair a chance was encouraged by some fierce sisters around me who were embracing all types of hair textures and lengths, staying true to their natural locks. They made it look so easy, but I still hesitated. Ultimately, what motivated me to put away the hair extensions and face the mirror with my tight, uncooperative coils, were my daughters. Specifically, my four-and-a-half year old whose keen eyes and ears miss nothing.

My little M has been very good at having her hair done since she was about 2 years old. As long as she has her pick of cartoons, she usually cooperates. In the last year, though, I have heard statements such as, “I don’t like curly hair” or “I don’t like my hair. I want [straight] hair like L’s”.

 My decision to give my hair a chance was encouraged by some fierce sisters around me who were embracing all types of hair textures and lengths, staying true to their natural locks.

I know that part of it was just a little girl wanting something that she does not have, like every child her age. I have been telling her all her life how beautiful she is, inside and out, and how her hair is wonderful in its uniqueness. I believe that I am teaching her to love herself, just as she is, but clearly, my words did not suffice.  After all, none of the dolls she owns, or the cartoon characters she loves have hair that looks like hers. Even her Mama had her hair straight a lot of the time!

I doubt that my daughter understood that my hair extensions were not “mine”, but I felt it was hypocritical to teach her to love herself and her hair, when I pranced around with straightened hair in the name of “convenience”. As my daughters’ first and (for now) most influential role model, I was failing them in the hair-loving department.

I have now been wearing my hair natural for about three months. My daughter, who stared me down critically when I first revealed my natural coils approved, remarking, “I like your hair all curly and crazy, Mama.” Her favourite style is my “crazy hair”, when I have had to let my hair decide for itself what it’s going to look like that day.

The first week “coming out” was rife with trepidation. I must have spent about half an hour trying to tame my hair into submission the first Monday. I remember looking at myself in the elevator mirror on the way up to my office thinking “What have I done?

It took a few days to really embrace my new look, but once I did, we started to bond, Hair and I. I have learned to accept the fact that the hairstyle I end up with looks nothing like on the YouTube tutorial. I will also never have an afro that looks like Solange Knowles’s, but my trusted “puff” bails me out every time. Today, I’m more prone to thinking, “Why didn’t I do this sooner?

natural-hair 2

Laziness aside, my reluctance to walk this road previously was because in my head people I know and work with did not associate me with nappy hair (I can say the n-word, it’s my hair after all!).

I was used to compliments every time I got new braids, a weave cascading down my shoulders or even a pixie cut.

My own husband had only caught glimpses of my “real” hair, in its wildly untamed glory, as I was undoing braids. By bedtime, order had been restored on the pillow next to him. The most radical hairstyle the outside world had seen on me was in the form of unruly yet defined curls with a flash of auburn.

I had to remind myself what I really looked like.

So I came out of the hair closet as much for myself as for my daughters. I’m not saying I will never straighten my hair again. The minute I get bored of my trusted repertoire of hairdos, I’ll be braiding with extensions to pep me up, no doubt. But for now, braids and weaves will be the exception, not the rule.

Hopefully loving my own hair will encourage my girls to embrace the versatility of their own locks – unapologetically.  I don’t want them to ever feel that their curls have no place in a boardroom. If they do decide to wear their hair straight, I hope that it won’t be because they are trying to blend in, but merely because it is yet another look they can pull off without missing a beat.

About The Author

Sifa Mtango

Sifa is a Tanzanian nomad, who today calls Sydney, Australia home. A practising solicitor, Sifa has represented clients from various industries conducting legal disputes in New South Wales and the Federal Courts. Outside her day job, Sifa is passionate about international legal and social issues and as a student, she published articles on human rights topics. Today she continues to engage with community and professional groups on issues of significant social relevance, particularly concerning the African diaspora. As a mother of two, Sifa’s greatest joys are her family and friends. She enjoys music, theatre and reading – making time to indulge in these activities as often as the “real world” permits.

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