I recently went to an event at Brighton & Hove’s Fostering Hub, to help out at their “Positive Hair Day” event, where my Godmother does amazing work to help with the placement of children with foster parents and carers.
It was a chance for everyone to come together in a non-judgemental and relaxed environment, a chance for foster parents who were otherwise slightly unsure about looking after Afro hair, to ask as many questions as they liked. There was even an opportunity for foster children to have their hair styled on the day, and the longer the afternoon went on, the more it felt like a celebration of the collaboration of different cultures.
The positivity that came with the event, meant that Afro hair wasn’t thought of as something to be controlled or managed, but as something we can have fun and be creative with. But unfortunately, and it goes without saying, this isn’t a message that easily translates through to the rest of society. “Frizzy. Coarse. A problem to be managed”; as Emma Dabiri affirms, there is plenty of negative dialogue around natural Afro hair. Demonised and belittled for doing something so “wrong” as to wear it in the way that it naturally grows, without chemically altering or heat processing it. As Maya Angelou famously says, We are “singing, caged birds” in a society which refuses to let us fly.
Thanks to inspirational women like Maria Borges (as well as celebratory, inclusive online communities), we are able to normalise the Afro. Incidentally, the fact that we now have to work to normalising it, is a problem in itself. Maria Borges was the first to walk a Victoria Secret Fashion Show wearing her hair in it’s natural Afro state. In an industry dominated by straighter hair and lighter skin, Maria Borges is unapologetically Black and succeeds in positively representing coarser hair types.
I loved the fact that the afternoon of the event allowed for an informal Q&A session, and in experiencing that, I realised that Afro hair is generally more misconceived than we realised. This brings me onto…
3 Misconceptions About Afro Hair: Let’s explore
- It’s disgusting not to wash it everyday
One thing that isn’t understood is the fact that Afro hair needs a lot of moisture; that’s not to say that it should go months and months without being washed, but it definitely doesn’t suit being washed as often as straighter hair types. Afro hair has a significant amount of ortho cortical cells that are irregular in shape and size, which is why (1) the hair is coily in shape and (2) it is more susceptible to damage and breakage. The follicles are oval/elliptical which further adds to it’s coiled structure. (I do actually want you to get to the end of this post without falling asleep. So instead, we’ll move on, but if you’re interested, I’ll reference a few websites at the end). To some, Afro hair may seem greasy and dirty, but in reality, our hair pattern doesn’t allow oil secreted from our scalp to travel to the bottom of the hair strand very easily. Each coil prevents the oil from completing it’s journey. We therefore need to (or should) compensate for this by adding in extra oils and moisture.
- It doesn’t like water
Water is the highest form of moisture and is great for any hair type. Although it shouldn’t be a lone source of moisture for Afro hair, other moisturisers can definitely be used in conjunction with it. What may have fuelled this misconception, is the fact that water can revert manipulated hair textures and the carefully thought out hairstyles those with Afro textured hair put a lot of time into. Because who really wants their three hours spent at the salon to end up as a waste of time? Where you had to spend the whole duration making small talk with the hairdresser whilst not able to move for fear of being burnt by the straightener and where you had to drink a horrible cup of tea because you were too polite to ask for another? So it’s a constant battle of moisture/health or appearance of choice. But who’s to say we can’t have both? Isn’t it just about balance?
- You can reverse breakage or split ends through the right products
I’m not a doctor but I’m pretty sure that this is scientifically impossible. I’ve seen many brands claiming their products can achieve this. Sure, it’s appearance can be improved and through the right care, you can slow down the process of further damage but if the hair strand is already damaged, can it really be magically repaired and made new?
A new movement of the celebration of Afro hair is long overdue and I’m hopeful that it will continue to become even bigger and better. (I love a good cliché)