The politics of the hair, as the head patting season begins

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While some people prefer the natural look, others believe make-up, fake and nails, make a huge difference to a woman’s appearance. Some people attach hair identity, politics and self-esteem. Those who have “liberated” their hair, or are “conscious”, are quick to think that the continued black cultural investments in long straight hair, perms, weaves and the ever ubiquitous lace wigs, is evidence of a pathological investment in European standards of beauty that will always, it seems, elude us.

Interestingly, black women have always been the policers of other black women’s bodies, and the choices they make despite the fact that black women tend to be viewed monolithically.

Many people have referred to me as a ‘Koko ya Setswana’ behind my back because I’m a simple person. In fact, for many years my signature look was a brush cut, and was known as the girl who wore All Star sneakers with dresses. To me, comfort matters most because I’m a practical person. 

I have come to appreciate the sacred rituals of black womanhood. I also recognise that they are deeply political too. But there’s also the reality, far fetched from the philosophy. In a few years time, I will be 30, and I’m beginning to realise that things aren’t as simple as say, when you are 18 or 21…One’s lifestyle catches up with them. A receding hairline, better known as ‘mmachiepe’ is one of those. The many years of tugging my hair into braids is coming back to haunt me. When my hairstylist recently recommended that I wear a weave to give my hair time to recover, I agreed.


Nothing much has changed, I’m still the same person; as Indie Arie sang, ‘I am not my hair!’ I’m definitely not any less African, or less proud of myself – I just happen to be weaved up and if you are going to argue that the hair is not mine, well, I have the receipt to prove it is! Some of my Black Consciousness acquaintances are adamant that I have betrayed the movement, especially as I have always preached natural hair, but I’ve grown and matured to a point where I know for a fact that hair is just a small element of a person. I think you would be naïve to think someone is “deep” and more “real” or have a higher self-esteem, just because they have dreadlocks or natural hair. 

Being weaved has also made me realise that many people are shallow – beauty is defined as plastic in the modern world, that’s why many women are so obsessed with hair and spends so much money on it – there’s a false promise of beauty attached to it. 

But on a lighter note, since it’s the first time I have had fake hair, I have learnt a few interesting things:

1. Contrary to common perception, fake hair is cheap. The price of a bundle of hair ranges from P100 – P1500 (or more) but the better quality type can be reused. Actually, you can keep the hair on for a month or two, and visit the salon for a thorough wash every two weeks.

2. When you are weaved up, water becomes your enemy. A shower cap is a must when you take your daily bath. I now understand why chicks with weaves only put in their legs into the water at pool parties. It’s not because they can’t swim like the rest of us, but that after being in direct contact with water you’re bound to look like newly hatched chicken!

3. Men tend to get carried away by passion in the throngs of intimacy, so it’s important to remind him that, ‘Dear bae, you can hold on to every part of me, but not my head…’ If he runs his hand across your head, he might come out with a waft of your ‘precious’ hair, while his tjatjarag hand caresses the bumps beneath, which isn’t romantic at all…

4. The hair itches often, so it’s important to invest in an anti-itch spray or learn the art of “patting”. With regard to the latter, what you do is when you feel an itch; you pat lightly (not scratch). O a phaphatha. The itch can make you lose your mind, especially when you think you have finally ‘got it’ and it moves to the back, and then the front, and then sideways, and then back again. Aaaaah! 

5. If the hair starts smelling like a goat, it’s time to let go, dear sister!  

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