Revisiting the ‘I am not my hair’ conversation

While natural hair is considered the new aesthetic, five professionals tell us about their relationship with relaxed hair

SIPHOKAZI VETI, WRITER
What made you choose a relaxed pixie cut?
Becoming comfortable with my body also brought the life-changing awareness that I could do whatever I wanted with my hair. I can and will relax my hair, despite society insinuating that women who do so are trying to assimilate Western culture.

Your writing tackles the topics of self-image and self-awareness. Does the way you look empower you?
For us black women, our hair is our crown. When I first cut my hair, it was a way of detaching myself from this limiting definition of self and beauty. It was important for me to do it so that my hair wouldn’t define my identity. I’m more than my hair and this is the message I try to disseminate through my writing.

 

THULI MOLA, OWNER OF STYLE ALERT SA

What’s your personal hair journey been like?
My mother’s been a hairdresser for 30 years, so hair experiences have been part of my life for as long as I can remember. This also helped shape my own hair decisions.

Did other people’s opinions influence your decision to relax your hair?
I’ve never been one to take other people’s opinions of me into consideration. I chose to relax my hair because I’ve had natural hair before and this is how I want to look right now. I’ve never felt judged because of it – and even if I did, I still wouldn’t be swayed.

Do you feel that having straight hair enhances your beauty?
Of course. Everything I wear – be it makeup, hairstyles or clothes — enhances my beauty, but it doesn’t change who I am or make me less African.

 

PHOLA GUMEDE (AKA LOVESLAVE PHOLA), CLUB DJ

What prompted your decision to relax your hair?
Growing up, I had relaxed hair and then experimented with natural hair for a while. I didn’t feel comfortable with that, so I relaxed it again.

There’s a misconception that women who relax their hair do so because of Western influence. What’s your take?
How I choose to wear my hair is based on how it makes me feel. It doesn’t and shouldn’t take away from my ubuntu, or the fact that I’m proud of being black.

 

REFILWE BOIKANYO, COMMUNICATIONS SPECIALIST

Do you feel that your straight hair best suits the corporate environment you work in?
I’m a creative in a corporate space. My hair choices, in general, aren’t typical corporate styles, but my preferences shouldn’t matter, regardless of my work environment.

Why did you choose relaxed over natural hair?
Everyone’s born with natural hair, so the idea of “going natural” doesn’t make sense to me – rather say that you’re “returning to your natural state”. Furthermore, the definition of natural hair needs to be diversified. I’ve seen people with blonde afros that have obviously been processed, yet that hair is perceived as more natural than that of women who straighten their hair.

Do you feel you’ve lost your identity through processing your hair?
Not at all. If we had to define Africanness based on our appearances, then most of us would fail dismally. We no longer dress in traditional attire or observe most of our customs. Hair is political — instead of dwelling on who’s more African, we should consider how things like the apartheid regime’s “pencil test” [where a pencil was inserted into a woman’s hair; if it stayed in the hair – secured by the woman’s natural coils – then she was deemed to be black and legally categorised as such, with all the accompanying restrictions] skewed our perceptions of our own hair.

 

FAITH SEOUE, MAKE-UP ARTIST AND HAIRSTYLIST

Tell us about your hair history.
I’ve experimented with every “black” hairstyle under the sun, except an S-curl. I was one of the first black South African women to wear a weave. I’ve been blonde and had dreadlocks. When I cut my dreads, people said they felt as though a national treasure had been defiled! My hair philosophy is simple: I never get attached to my hair because I’ve always felt that as a creative, I shouldn’t let people box me in.

What prevented you from dyeing your hair as you began to go grey?
I got my first grey hair at 30 and a few years later, I went blonde. Going grey was never been traumatic for me, nor did I perceive it as ageing. If anything, my hair’s helped me feel beautiful.

How do you feel about your hair now?
I think this style is an extension of my vibrant personality and works for me without ageing me. I’ve never defined my Africanness by what my hair looks like.