While on the internet I came across an article by Monica Mark written for the Guardian Newspaper called Curls allowed? No say Nigerian women. Click here for the link to the original article. Being Nigerian myself it immediately caught my attention. We often talk about the challenges black women face living in a western society. Growing up in the UK, I soon came to realise what was considered beautiful and what was not. Of course women of all races grow up with insecurities but it certainly didn’t help when every time you turned on the TV or opened a magazine there were very few representations of girls or women like yourself.
Children are very impressionable and when one of your favourite toys is a Barbie doll it isn’t long before you want to look like her. It is not a person’s idea of beauty that’s the problem. There is nothing wrong with having a certain preference or individual taste. However, it’s when our idea of beauty causes us to be biased or discriminatory against others that don’t fit those ideals, that causes problems. If society dictates that long flowing hair is beautiful where does that leave those who have coily, kinky curly hair? As a result people who don’t fit the western ideas of beauty may end up being made to feel inferior or may even be discriminated against.
So it may come as a surprise to some people that these same ideas of beauty could exist in Africa and that African women face discrimination from other African women and men. The article by Monica Mark highlighted the attitudes in Nigeria towards women with natural hair. It was almost as if natural hair was considered to be uncivilised or unkept. They refer to it as village hair for instance. I remember when I first went natural, my mum presumed I didn’t have money to do my hair. I often had to explain to people that my hairstyle was deliberate and no, my hair didn’t break off. It was like they were conflicted because on one hand they would compliment me on how thick and healthy my hair looked but on the other hand they would still ask me when I was going to get my hair done. The funny thing was that having a really bad weave was acceptable but having your hair natural wasn’t.
Something that struck me from the article was a comparison made between the attitudes of South African and Nigerian women. Salon owner Abogo Ugwokegbe said:
“South Africans like natural hair because they’re not fashion-conscious, but Nigerian women like the latest fashion,”
So having natural hair was not considered fashionable. Perhaps it’s not that South African women are not fashion conscious but that they are less ‘western conscious’. When you consider the history of South Africa, it is understandable that the women want to embrace their identities as black women, natural hair and all, as opposed to seeing western culture and identity as superior. That was the main point of the article. The fact that in Nigeria straight, European hair is considered better than kinky afro hair. The people interviewed in the article were brutally honest and extremely frank. Getting a weave was considered essential in order to be taken seriously in the workplace and even to attract a future husband.
“No rich man will marry a girl with village [unstraightened] hair,” declared Esther, 18, a rural migrant to the capital, Abuja.
These attitudes exist because many see western culture (especially American culture) as superior and a step in the right direction. For example many aspects of the American culture are copied, from music, fashion to even the accent. This includes the ‘western look’. I think this is a shame. I believe people excel when they embrace who they are rather than trying to be carbon copies of others. For example one thing they do well in Nigeria is braids. When I get braids done I like to go to an African hairdresser because I know that they will do it well. Braids are a part of African culture and they are a good way of managing our hair. When other naturals were interviewed for this article, one of them explained how girls have never been taught how to manage their natural hair. I think this is definitely at the root of the problem.
We admire the convenience of other hair types and enjoy that convenience when we wear weaves and relax our hair. Of course the burnt scalps and the traction alopecia that some women experience, when these styles are not done safely or too much, certainly isn’t convenient. It’s good to see more women going natural because it means that more of us will learn how to manage our hair and then teach it to our kids. I personally don’t like to see western culture ( and usually the negative aspects) copied and replicated into a very poor version. Articles like the one written in the Guardian will help to highlight these problems and encourage people to consider why these attitudes exist in Nigeria.
Follow the link and read it for yourself. What do you think about the attitudes towards natural hair? Where do you think these attitudes come from?