The Natural Hair Stereotypes In Sierra Leone.
“Loving oneself isn’t hard, when you understand who and what ‘yourself’ is. It has nothing to do with the shape of your face, the size of your eyes, the length of your hair or the quality of your clothes. It’s so beyond all of those things and it’s what gives life to everything about you. Your own self is such a treasure.” – Phylicia Rashad
There is no question about it. Maintaining natural hair is not the norm for most women in Freetown, Sierra Leone. There is love flowing in abundance for that straight, “good,” “manageable” relaxed hair. And where does that leave natural hair? You guessed right! Natural hair is left out in the cold. Wearing your natural hair with pride and confidence is viewed by many as unusual, irrelevant and a bit absurd. Our natural hair, in so many ways, is sadly unwanted and looked down upon (And I would love to help change the perception Sierra Leonean women have towards natural hair and get more of them to embrace it).
So in spite of the rather cold treatment given to natural hair in Sierra Leone, I made the move in 2009 to start my natural hair journey while studying in the United States. Since my return home in 2012, I observed certain stereotypes my people hold towards natural hair and women who have natural hair:
Natural hair is not considered pretty by most.
Weaves and wigs, whether they be cheap or expensive, are given precedence by a great number of Sierra Leonean women over natural hair. You are considered beautiful and fashionable when you have a weave on. You are most likely going to be considered plain or “local” if you publicly rock your natural hair.
I think the love women have for weaves, in part, is fueled by Sierra Leonean men. A good number of Sierra Leonean men associate beauty with weaves. I was once told by a guy that he would not have approached me if I had my natural hair on display at the time of our meeting. Um…ok. *major side eye going his way*
But I do get compliments on my natural hair from time to time. So I feel there is hope in getting Sierra Leonean women on the natural hair train, with time.
However, the natural hair movement is progressively gaining traction.
Even though natural hair is not as popular in Sierra Leone as it is in Ivory Coast and Nigeria, I feel there are more ladies in my age bracket going natural. Yipee! Welcome to the club, my Sierra Leonean sistas!
And I do feel a good number of Sierra Leonean women in and out of Sierra Leone do not have proper knowledge on how to handle natural hair. And this discourages them the more from going natural.
Hence, I will be writing frequents posts on how to maintain and pamper natural, full beautiful natural hair.
Natural hair can define your financial status.
Most Sierra Leoneans do not believe you have natural hair just because you want to. Yep, they just might be thinking you are seeking a cheaper alternative for maintaining your hair. Weaves and wigs can become costly for the average Sierra Leonean woman. Thus, you are believed to be financially incapable to buy weaves on a regular basis when you choose to have natural hair.
Or they feel you can afford it but you just choose to be frugal. So while you might be thinking you are flaunting your thick, beautiful natural hair, a good number of Sierra Leoneans might be using your hair as a way to assess the size of your bank account. Bwahahahahaha.
Natural hair is not worth it
We natural hair girls love our hair right?
I mean we love to pamper it and style it and watch it grow, right?
But we do have days that we feel like our hair is at war with us, right? It just refuses to cooperate!
Well, most Sierra Leonean women feel that the “stress” associated with maintaining natural hair is just not worth it. Plus, it does not help her in getting a guy anyway…so, for most, there is no “advantage” to keeping natural hair.
Fact: Natural hair is referred to by most as virgin hair.
Your hairdresser will refer to it as virgin hair. Your friends will refer to it as virgin hair. Your coworkers will probably refer to it as virgin hair. Family members will definitely refer to it as virgin hair. I know…you get it now! My people call natural hair, virgin hair. Lol! Why do we? Well natural hair is hair that is pure, unprocessed, innocent. Lol. That is why it is called virgin hair.
*sigh* Dealing with the natural hair stereotypes in Sierra Leone really got me thinking about the general hair stereotypes. I mean people begin to wonder why you shaved off your healthy, beautiful hair. They sometimes boldly ask if all is well with you. “Are you having problems with your man?” “Are you sick?” “Are you stressed?” You respond while rolling your eyes, “No, why do you ask?”
You have had natural hair for a while now. People begin to morph your identity for you. They try to impose certain traits on you. Deciding to have natural hair means you look down upon your fellow black woman who chooses to relax her hair. And woe betide you if you decide to rock a weave every now and then. They begin to question your identity further. “What does she want?” That girl is confused. Choose a side! You are labelled as fake and indecisive…wanna have your cake and eat it too.
You love your weaves! You love your wigs! You love to wear them year round. Your “blackness” is called into question by people within and out of your race. They wonder whether you are ashamed of who you are. They make comments like, “Girl, she wants to be white. Wearing all these blond weaves…self-loathing I tell you…self loathing.”
You have dreads! You are expected to adore reggae music. You are believed not to wash your hair. People come up to you (and aggressively too!) to tell you that only Rastafarians have the right to grow dreads.
It is astonishing that people use hair to generalize attributes. It is irritating and sad that the state of your hair can be used to dissect your personality into bits and pieces! It is a bit scary that people make negative assumptions and draw conclusions about you based on how your hair looks. It is disheartening that people try to force their expectations on you.
Hmmm regardless of what you do with your hair, people of all colors, races, nationalities, socioeconomic statuses, academic statuses, religions are always going to have something to say, whether it be positive or negative. Thus, with that in mind, is it not better to just do you? And do you proudly and freely, not giving a care in the world the assumptions and stereotypes others will try to place on you? And because of what, hair? Please, life is way too short! And besides, in the words of India Arie, you are not your hair. You are a soul that lives within.
I would love to see more and more Sierra Leonean women (and African women in general) get to a place where they embrace their natural hair. And for the right reasons too! Not because natural hair is more acceptable and trendy now. Not because they feel subtle pressures to do so. But because they are just moved to do so. Because they just desire it. Because they find natural hair beautiful, empowering and unique.
How is natural hair perceived in your country? Do you have a funny story on how people treat you because of your hair? Let’s talk!
Remember, always be sincerely you!