Even though I love my hair, I’ve always been acutely aware that some people find it ‘difficult’, ‘untidy-looking’ or ‘hardly manageable’. From early on, as young as five, I understood that there was some sort of stigma attached to my hair type.
I was questioned about my hair constantly in the playground, but I also received comment from adults. One day, my teacher’s colleague burst into the classroom and made a spectacle of my hairstyle: ‘I had to come over and see your hair, someone in the staff room just mentioned it.’
She then told my teacher, who’d been in the middle of reading to the class, that my two braids looked ‘just like toasts, popping out of a toaster!’ I was five and really embarrassed.
I am mixed-race and my mother (who is white) didn’t initially know how to take care of my hair. I remember she’d go to the black hair store in the town I grew up in, for products and advice, and be met with an awkward, sometimes stand-offish atmosphere.
Members of both the white and black sides of my family would also offer advice on how to take care of my hair, though none of them had the same hair type as me. Despite their best efforts, it was difficult to take their advice seriously as their tips didn’t work. My hair is not black, it’s not white; my 4c hair is a unique, needy mixture.
I grew up not seeing myself represented at all and watching strangers stop my mother in the street to ask her questions about my hair – about how she ‘deals’ with it.
Seeing her annoyed by those type of comments made me understand that something was wrong with people’s approach, and also that I was different to other children in a way that would make adults walk up and make a fuss.
Even if the comments were complimentary or the conversations came out of innocent curiosity, they always ended with everyone feeling or acting awkward. I wouldn’t change my hair type, but I’d go back and change some of those experiences.