Keeping It Natural – by Bernadette A Adjei
Children of African descent are born either with a head full of hair or bald. The hair is soft and smooth but for most children by the time they turn one year, the hair has turned coarse and kinky. I have often wondered if it is because of exposure to sunlight or the elements that causes this. African children wherever born go through the same process.
Children of mixed parentage may have softer hair and for many African Americans a child with soft hair has “good hair” and such a trait is much cherished. Many female African children, especially those who live outside Africa, have braided hair throughout childhood and in recent times there are hair straightening products for children of all ages.
When I lived in the UK, I came to the realization that a girl with short cut hair is a ‘no no’ and such a child may be teased at school; in fact keeping natural kinky hair is something that many pre-teen and teenage girls will not agree on with their mummy. Stories are told of single fathers who have learnt to braid hair in order to keep their girl child decent-looking and happy. The advent of hair dressing salons has brought some relief to parents who seek to braid their children’s hair.
As a girl reaches early adulthood and finishes secondary school, having straightened hair seems the norm and for many years, hair has been permed and styled right after in the name of beauty.
A new phenomenon has however emerged in recent years: keeping it natural.
Many women in various spheres of life from street hawkers to Chief Executive Officers have been keeping the natural kinky hair. Such hair style can be found in four basic styles: the down cut, the dreadlocks, the sisterlocks or the natural hair in twists or braids. Usually to start this trend, the woman must have a basic three to six month undergrowth of hair. This can be achieved by doing hair extensions and weave-ons intermittently for about six month without retouching and thereafter cutting off the permed upper hair.
For these natural hair styles, the down cut is done by keeping the natural kinky hair cut low – from less than an inch to about three or so inches. When not texturized, the hair stands well on the head and it must be stated that this style does not do well for all women. This is because the shape of the head stands out clearly.
The dread or sister locks are done by matting the hair together in either large or thin locks with new growth of hair being tightened periodically to give the hair a neat look and these locks may gain appreciable length. It can be done in lovely styles and the locks are of a permanent nature.
The other option is to leave the hair in its natural state with periodic braids done in the form of twists. The twists often give a short look to the hair and do not glorify hair length. The twists may be done with a gel for the wet look or with shea butter for the dry look.
In keeping hair natural, the true nature/texture of the hair often shows and someone with abundant hair growth will have a fuller head of hair than one who (as a friend used to say) “grows one strand of hair a year”.
However, whichever type of natural hair a woman decides to keep, it is basic to know that hygiene is important. The hair should be washed and styled nicely and in this regard many salons in Ghana have picked up on styling of natural hair. The hair should also be maintained well to keep it healthy.
Due to the kinky nature of the natural hair, it gets matted easily and a hair stylist who is sensitive to that and is gentle in combing and braiding natural hair is a treasured asset. It would be very good, however, if the hair stylists in Ghana pick up on the hair styles of our pre- and post-independence Ghana ladies and give the ladies who keep natural hair more variety of hair styles. Hair wigs may be worn periodically for a new looked, but the sleek look of retouched hair in pony tail is not an option anymore.
There are advantages to keeping it natural which cannot be underestimated. The avoidance of the use of hair straightening creams and hot hair dryers for some years is to be much encouraged. No more weekly salon visits! In my experience, there is less heat on the scalp of the hair and the scalp can breathe!
The disadvantage, however, is that kinky hair needs gentle handling and failure to do this will keep the wearer in tears during washing and combing time. Moreover, not all ladies keep a neat head of hair and some give natural hair wearers a bad name!
All in all, keeping it natural and keeping it healthy go hand in hand and is an option to be explored.