A woman’s body seems to be the one thing everyone wants to control. Country, religion or even gender is not a barrier, everyone wants to tell a woman what to do with her body and that include her fellow women. No surprise there, even ‘gods’ seems obsessed with women, but really what is this growing trend amongst women who should know better, telling other women what to do with their hair and/or skin? Why are many black women focused on controlling other sisters’ bodies, hairs and skins? What is all this talk about black African women accusing other black sisters of not being African enough because of their choice of hair style or body cream?
Since the craze for Brazilian weaves, Chinese weaves and even human hair amongst black African women, with a large demand from Nigerian women, many African men and some women have come out to condemn this as a sign of inferiority complex. It is becoming mundane to come across yet another post from fellow women and some self-styled ‘Real Africans’, questioning the choice of black women who use chemicals on their hair or skin.
Recently, there was a furore when a respected, award winning female novelist of Nigerian origin was ‘mis’ quoted as saying:
African women wearing artificial hair attachments have low self esteem and inferiority complex.
I am glad that she didn’t use the words attributed to her but even the words she used are not totally free from the “If you do not do it this way, you have some underlying issues and therefore not a real African woman” tone. To quote her:
For many black women, the idea of wearing their hair naturally is unbearable.
Sentiments like these are unfortunately gaining grounds amongst black women. It is no longer surprising to read such comments from female friends on Facebook newsfeeds and even amongst a few male atheists, some of whom confuse non belief in God with a condemnation of colonialism, rejection of its Abrahamic God and so called ‘western values’.
Of course some of us find the idea of wearing our hair the natural way ‘unbearable’. No, this has nothing to do with inferiority complex or self esteem, it is just that for some African women, leaving our hair the natural way causes headache. If only I had a penny for the number of times women have said that when they start having headaches, they know it is time to bring out the relaxer and retouch the natural hair undergrowth underneath their weaves!
Also, some of us do not have fond memories of plaiting our hair. As a young school girl, I used to dread going to the local hairdresser, which btw is not a fancy hair salon, but just a woman down the street with a stool, and a queue of young school girls waiting to braid their hair in the style chosen for the week by their school prefects. Flashbacks of being squeezed between the laps of the hair stylist and my head forced under the sometimes smelly thighs of the ‘onidiri’ do not invoke good memories. I also remember tears falling down my face because plaiting natural hair could be painful. As soon as I had a choice, I decided to do away with plaiting my hair and immediately settled for ‘punky’ low cuts to see me through high school.
Yes, some of us find plaiting our natural hair “unbearable”, not because we hate it or its ‘Africaness’, but because the hard texture often makes plaiting our hair physically unbearable. Of course, strengthening it with chemicals makes it less painful to plait. Even now, I wouldn’t dream of braiding my hair without first applying relaxer to the undergrowth, to not do that would be pure torture! Men who really don’t know a shit about women’s hair should shut the fuck up!
Women who are advocates of natural hair should stress the importance of choice. Natural hair might be your pet project, do not present it as anything more than that, it is a matter of individual choice. You would be bigoted to present it as a right or wrong thing; opinions are a dime a many, stop forcing your opinions down the throat of others.
I must confess that I am not a fan of weaves. All that weaving and plaiting gives me headache. Also, I like to run my fingers through my hair and be able to feel my scalp; this wouldn’t be possible if I had weave on, as the tight cornrows, plaits and added weave covers the scalps. I am a ‘braid’ person, I find that long braids satisfies me in more ways than one. OK, I have a fetish for sensuous long dreadlocks in men and women!
However, I find it hypocritical that some black women condemn other black women for wearing weaves. You claim any African woman who wears weaves is suffering from low self esteem and not a real African, yet you make this claim while batting your false eye lashes, clawing with your fake nails, standing menacingly in your high heels, your pouting lips covered in red lipstick and your heaving boobs heavily supported by a Victoria secret’s padded bra. In what universe are these accessories African?
The hypocrisy surrounding the condemnation of skin lightening
While some black women vociferously defend the use of weaves, they however have no qualms about condemning black women who tones, lightens or bleach their skin. They gleefully accuse such women of suffering from inferiority complex. They claim that black women who use lightening creams hate being African. Basically, they throw the same words used against the use of weaves to condemn the use of skin lightening creams. Even though they reject and speak against using such condemnations to refer to women who use weaves, they have no qualms about throwing same words at black women who use lightening creams. Sounds like double standards to me. Those claims are in most cases absurd and definitely constitute a fallacy of generalization. What about white people who tan their skin or use tanning lotions to have a darker skin tone? Are they suffering from inferiority complex from nonexistent black colonialists?
Very high percentage of African women uses lightening creams. The use varies from mild toning to heavy ‘bleaching’ which I’d rather refer to as ‘skin lightening’ due to the derogatory and offensive meaning the word ‘bleaching’ has acquired within the black community. We must understand that people have a right over their body; they have the autonomy to choose how they want to treat their body. We might not like their choice, but it is their body. Yes, using lightening creams have side effects; it isn’t the healthiest choice out there. But then, so do smoking, drinking alcohol, constant consumption of fatty foods, fizzy drinks, wearing high heels and having consensual unprotected sexual intercourse. When adults make choices that do not harm others, we really should learn to keep our opinion to ourselves unless asked.
Many who condemn women who use lightening creams have little or no regard for the women’s health; they are just interested in forcing their unsolicited and unprofessional opinion down the throat of others. They are more concerned about expressing their half baked, psychoanalysis of the reasons they think the stranger they do not know is using skin lightening creams or wearing weaves.
There are cases where black men use skin lightening creams and those men do not have it easier. Recently, a colleague mentioned how he threatened to throw out a male friend who suddenly started lightening his skin. He speculated that the friend must have started using lightening cream because he was new in UK, had a white male lover whose family was not accepting of him and therefore must have felt he needed to lighten his skin so he can be accepted by his white lover’s family. I wondered if he actually asked the friend why he chose to use lightening skin before coming to his personal conclusions. Even if the friend made his choice to lighten his skin for whatever reason(s), why threaten to throw him out for a choice he made? As a fellow lgbt rights advocate, I had to remind him about the right to choose and about the tolerance and acceptance we preach. Imposing your views on another especially when their choice does not harm anyone is indeed another form of oppression. It is sad that people who know what it is like to be oppressed do not check their own privilege meter when they oppress others.
Who is a Real African?
This obsession with who is a real African woman seems to know no bounds. Where exactly do we draw the line? Who defines who is a real African? At what point do we draw the boundary? When do we admit that adult human beings have a choice to do whatever they like with their body whether or not we agree with their choice?
African men who claim African women should not wear weaves-on should ask themselves why they wear three piece suits and don ties in tropical weathers especially in hot climes like Nigeria. You sweat like a Christmas goat under your suits, yet you had the audacity to say an African woman who wears weaves or lightens her skin suffers from colonial induced inferiority complex.
When next you want to condemn a woman for wearing weaves or lightening her skin, think of how you smoke your cigarettes nonstop even though you’ve been shown the damage smoking does to your lung. Ask yourself how you would feel if someone accused you of smoking because you have inferiority complex and only wants to be like the Europeans who brought cigarettes to your colonized land. Does smoking cigarettes mean you suffer from inferiority complex? Does it mean you are not a real African man? After all, your forefathers didn’t smoke cigarettes; they snuffed ‘tabba’, why not go back to snuffing ‘tabba’, just to show you are a real African man.
You drink beer and boast about your champagne collections, but you steer clear of your forefathers palm wine and ‘burukutu.’ You stand in judgement with your glass of foreign wine in hand, accusing women who wear weaves or lighten their skin, of wanting to be like Europeans, is your beer, wine or champagne an African thing? You should know that your alcohol is not just only dangerous to your health but also likely to harm others when you are in an alcohol induced state, this is far worse than any harm weaves or skin lightening could cause. Whatever makes you think you can stand in judgment of the non harmful choice of others?
You worship foreign Gods and have pictures of a blue eyed, blonde white man hanging on your wall and a cross nestling on your neck while you firmly clutch the image of a pale ‘Holy Mary’ as if your very life depends on it, yet you accuse black women who wear weaves and use lightening creams of not behaving like real Africans and of wanting to be like Europeans. Why don’t you first remove the log in your eyes before you attempt to remove the speck in the other person’s eyes?
There are white women who wear their hairs in braids and cornrows; do they also suffer from low self-esteem and inferiority complex? Many women regardless of skin colour, wear hair attachments. Even to make the many African braids styles, you need hair attachments. Some African women also wear very short weaves; it is not about wanting long, flowing Brazilian or Chinese hair. It is about convenience and what suits one at a particular time or for all time.
I once dated a much older gentleman who was an ardent pan-Africanist, he wanted me to change my hairstyle to ‘Shuku’, a popular hairstyle amongst Nigerian women and Yoruba goddesses. I made it clear that unless I was contesting for Miss Osun state or the ‘Arogba’ of Osun river (which wouldn’t happen even if there was a hell that could freeze over), I wouldn’t plait my hair in shuku! Looking at his pleading eyes, I realized it was his way of projecting his sexual fantasy on me. He was just another male who wanted to use a woman to fulfill his sexual fantasy. As a pan Africanist, his sexual fantasy most probably does not evolve around Barbie dolls but around a curvy, African woman who looks and dresses like an African female deity, in this case, a river goddess!
But the thing is, it does not matter whether the man or woman directly or indirectly coercing me to conform to their peculiar sexual fantasy is African, European, or Asian, coercion is coercion, regardless of the gender or colour of the perpetrator. Nobody should be made to live as an object to fulfill the sexual desires or sense of righteousness of others.
Black woman hair is unfortunately seen most often as a political statement. Anyone, be it black or white, can make a statement with their hair. Some lgbt advocates dye their hair the rainbow colour to make a political statement, “we are lgbt and proud”. But sometimes, it is just about having fun. I used to think dreadlocks was about making a political statement, a symbol against oppression because I was influenced by great stars who had luscious dreadlocks like the legendary Bob Marley and super talented, beautiful musician, Tracy Chapman. When I started braiding my hair in dreadlocks style, I’d say every strand of my hair stands for struggle against oppression. But then, I broadened my horizon, and met people with dreadlocks that never cared for political ideology. Dreadlocks to them, was not a political thing but something they were born with or just the latest craze in town. Not every hairstyle of a black person is a political statement. We have the right to have fun with our hair without any political or spiritual undertone!
Do not berate other women for their lifestyle choice. We should learn to respect the right of adults to make decisions about their own bodies. Before you make that snide remark about a black woman’s hair or skin, check your bigotry, ignorance and definitely check your privilege.
Always remember: My Body, My Choice, My Right.