Phumuzile Mabasha



“Hair is one of the defining characteristics of mammals” via Wikipedia

When I was 4 years old my mother relaxed my hair for the first time. It was a traumatic experience. An experience that I would continue doing for the next 21 years. I hated everything about straightening my hair. I hate the process and the smell but the result always seemed to be worth it. My hair was thin, long and silky. What more could I have wanted from this? Everyone loved my hair. Everyone complimented it and believed that this was the standard of beauty. Their minds were colonised like mine. I can’t blame them because long, sleek and silky hair was the ideal. No one in my sphere ever asked why they just conformed and wanted to fit in.  It was what it was.

I went to a predominantly white school where people always wondered why I patted my hair and how I could effortlessly change my hair styles. Questions about my hair I never asked my mother but continued the dreaded experience of relaxing twice a year. It was grueling and I was always in tears during the process. I hated it but still managed to look so damn good by someone else’s standards not mine. In all honesty I was child I had not figured out what made me feel beautiful. I always knew I had beautiful hair and not to brag I still do.  For a long time, I did not see or understand the politics of hair. It was strange to me when I met girls with natural hair. Everyone more or less looked the same but to see someone’s hair in its most natural form was groundbreaking to me. No one in my family looked that way. 

As an inquisitive person, I always wanted to try something new so I decided to transition my hair in high school. I naturally have thick hair so transitioning did not look good in my twists. One girl even went as far as to comment that “I would not let my daughter leave the house with hair like that”. I laughed it off but in private I reflected on this comment. Did I look a hot mess? Is natural hair untidy? Am I presentable? The school I went was very particular about image. In the end I gave in and relaxed my hair. It was again controllable, long, silky and conforming to those damn beauty standards.  In my early 20s, I tried again to transition and it was going well. Now I understood the hair politics but was only transitioning because my friend said we should do it together. As much as I understood hair politics and even wrote a research paper on it. My mind was still colonised and I just kept thinking do I look unkempt. I had a job interview and gave in and relaxed my hair. I was a little disappointed in myself but I felt that there was no way I could look presentable with my natural hair. What also made me give in was the fact that the natural movement had started and I just did not want to follow what I thought was a trend at the time

September 2015 was the turning point, I relaxed my hair like I usually did and I got burnt beyond comprehension. I was in so much pain that I could not sleep and all I thought about was my scalp. I could not believe how much of the relaxer was stuck on my head. My mom put Vaseline on it but she said something that stuck with me. She said “yes you were really burnt but you hair looks so beautiful. It came out really well.” I was shocked by this because I was in pain and these chemicals were stuck on my scalp. I wondered to myself is this process that I dreaded worth it. How many more times will I get burnt? From that day on I have not relaxed my hair. I just could not get over the trauma of the month in 2015. 

I transitioned my hair for over a year until I did the big chop. It was fantastic and liberating. It has almost been a year since my big chop and I am head over heels in love with my hair. I won’t sit here and lie but looking after my natural hair is challenging in most cases. The washing process and styling still vex me but it an interesting learning curve. It is a fantastic way for me to learn about my hair and what it does or does not need. I spend so much time online just trying to figure out what does and does not work. The thing that surprised the most was that my hair is even more beautiful in its natural state than it was. It’s not long because it’s still short but it has personality. I still can do many hairstyles and I still get those you have beautiful hair compliments.

Hair is hair and supposedly having naturally hair is a political statement. It really could be but at the end of the day having natural hair is my decision to express my beauty. Yes I followed the movement but I decided to look like this and make that decision each day because I could relax it and have been tempted to. I sometimes miss relaxed hair. I miss the comb moving smoothly through my hair but I still love my hair. I sometimes feel that I look unkempt in certain spaces but I still love my hair.

2 years of no chemicals and 1 year since the big chop I feel great and proud of my hair. Having natural hair is how I decided to express my beauty and that isn’t going to change anytime soon.  Society lied to me about their standard of beauty and how my hair is suposed to be.