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Letters to my locks over the years

08 Aug 2017

Dear Baby Curls,

I may be too young and too new to the world to appreciate your beauty, but my mother can. She appreciates each and every one of you, small and mighty as a seahorse’s tail. She kisses and lovingly brushes all your tiny, precious kinks. As she does, she rains smiles down onto you – these breathtaking extensions of her. Even though you can’t comprehend it just yet, she understands each curl’s infinite weight in gold.

Dear Afro,

You’re a crown of cotton candy, my play thing. I spring you, squish you, and scrunch you. I put flowers in you, only for your corkscrews to devour them. You put up with all my fussing and cheerfully bounce back. But I’m not the only one magnetised by you: friends, mums in the playground, and strangers are too. You become something of an exhibition, an abstract addition to my fair freckled skin and ginger hair. I grow up thinking it’s normal to have unfamiliar hands latch onto you, before their mouths even have the courtesy to ask for my name.

Dear Frizz,

How can something once so sweet, turn so sour? Is this what you call growing up? As my curls loosen, my hair grows and I meet you, my new nemesis. Frizz: the shrew that cannot be tamed and will not succumb to the curves of a brush. You are wild and unruly, a rose’s thorns. I see my friends with their flat, immaculate hair which does as it’s told. Why can’t you be more like them? How come you call the shots and not me? Why can’t you look more like the girls in the magazine? Little by little I start to resent you for knocking on my door, just as I was beginning to care about fitting in.

Dear Straighteners,

I’m infatuated the first time I see you work your magic; it’s addictive. Yet, the more I straighten you, the more discontented I grow. I want you razor sharp like a supermodel, not like a thick dandelion dancing in the wind. All the while, people still prod and ogle at you; I hoped investing in you would bring that chapter to a close. The baby curls stubbornly crowning my head expose the plain and painful truth: you were never meant to be this way.  

Dear Bleach,

My bittersweet. You’re the straightest thing I’ve ever known. The closest thing to the picture-perfect, bleach blonde image I’ve been striving for. But clumps of you fall out into my bed each night and accumulate in the bin. One day mum strokes you and says in a small voice, “you don’t even look mixed-race anymore.” It breaks my heart.

Dear Split-ends,

I can’t keep doing this. Energy, time, money, and resources. I’m done. It seems you are too; you’re so frail I think I’ve ruptured your soul with chemicals and heat. I go back to my natural colour and roots; feeling naked, unattractive, exposed. I don’t want any eyes on me but you’re such a statement you invite them. “Beautiful”, “You should wear it like this more”, “I wish I had hair like yours”, these are the words I hear that make me want the ground to swallow us whole. Still, I wonder – they love you – what really made me fall out of love with you? How come I love other people’s afro hair but not my own? Why is there such a disconnect between the strands sitting on their head and the ones on my own? I’ve started asking myself many things I’ve never thought to ask before. Questions I don’t have the answers to yet, but hope to grow wise enough to answer in time.

Dear Mighty Mane,

Forgive me, for I have sinned. I believed you were not worthy of me, when I was not worthy of you. You are unapologetically big, magnificent, and enchanting. I’m sorry I couldn’t take on all of your brilliance back then. I wasn’t the strong woman I’ve grown into today. I was weakened and mentally fatigued by the western beauty standards being imparted on me. I was left deflated, desperately trying to squeeze into a space that was never moulded for me. Now, speaking to others, with hair like yours, I discover we’ve all embarked on that same arduous journey from denial to acceptance. Our choruses of “me too” form an unbreakable solidarity. We were blindsided at the time, but now we are beginning to see the light. We are living in times where safe spaces are thriving, where we can validate our self-worth and sing each other’s praises. We lift each other up; we find beauty in one another and slowly we each start to see this reflected in our mirror image.  

Now on the days when I want to slink into my shell, I wear my confidence on my head. I take ownership of you and feel proud enough to tell people not to touch my hair. If I could take back all those years of straightening, I would in a heartbeat; the smell of you burning, your curls crying out for help. Now I lather you in shea butter, argan oil, and only the richest and most luxurious treatments. You deserve only the best for all the years of shame, turmoil and neglect. Now, finally, we’ve come full circle and just like my mother, every time I see you, I can’t help but rain smiles down onto you.