Currently, there seems to be lot of stuff swirling around the internet about white women taking on black hairstyles so I thought I would write a bit about my own hair journey and find my space in this great debate.
When I was younger I had my hair in bobbles which basically involved me sitting on the floor in between my mums legs as she scraped, pulled, combed and creamed my hair into four perfect bunches.
Then when I got a bit older, my hair got a tiny a bit longer and I could sit down for more than 15 minutes, my mum would cornrow it. For an 8-year-old girl cornrows are perfect, they don’t have to be redone every day and they are a protective style, they prevent breaking and allow the hair to grow. So cornrows were fine up until I was around 12, when some lovely children told me I that I looked like a boy.
So next came the braids, also a protective style but one that can take almost 8 hours to do. They last about 2-3 months and are pretty easy to look after.
Then I must have been about 14 when I got my first weave, it took me until then for my mama to relent to let me have it. It was short and black and made me feel like a grown up girl. When I went in to the hairdresser I showed her a picture of Rihanna, “I want to look like her”.
I actually spent days, probably weeks before the appointment frantically googling pictures of black women with short hair and when there’s not that many people that look like you on the internet it’s a pretty exhausting process. I found the picture, I went to the hairdresser, I sat in the chair for four hours, I came out and there I was, Tomiwa but with Rihanna hair.
Then the compliments rolled in, “Omg Tomiwa, you look amazing” “I love your hair” “You look just like Rihanna” – mission accomplished. The weaves stayed for awhile, going back to braids in between, there was the long purple one, the short purple one and finally, the shoulder length black which will always have a special place in my heart because that was the prom/Magaluf hair and the last weave I ever had.
At 20, I’m back to braids, long, jet black and when tied up ideal for flicking unwanted guests in the face. Sometimes I go back to my natural hair but that is a lot of maintenance that I don’t really have time for. So, that’s my hair journey, short and sweet.
Looking back now, and seeing a lot of white woman in the media sporting the cornrows that I stopped wearing 10 years ago, this is what it comes down to for me.
I still remember that first weave and the compliments I got. I remember how good they made me feel. No sympathy please. It was the first time that I felt pretty or really the first time people told me I was pretty and because someone said it, it must be true.
All these white people giving me compliments, telling me how good I looked and how much they liked it, how pretty I was, that I should keep this hair forever. My best friend said to me, “When are you getting your weave back, all the girls in the year above said how pretty you looked.”
Why didn’t they say the girl with braids was pretty? Because for the first time, I looked just a little bit like them. I was kind of the same, I had the side fringe and I could straighten or curl my hair. When you’re a 14-year-old girl, hair matters. When you have two dance shows a year and you’re going to parties and meeting boys and you’re not quite sure who you are, hair matters quite a lot.
Even now people ask me, “Why don’t you get a weave again?”, blah blah blah. To be quite honest, “I don’t want one.” I could write something here about self love but my hair is mine and I don’t have to justify it to anyone and I so won’t.
What annoys me though, is seeing someone like Kylie Jenner showered with compliments for a hairstyle that doesn’t actually belong to her. It’s annoying that me as a 14 year old black girl had to conform to a ‘white hairstyle’ to be told I was pretty, to feel pretty. Looking back I felt I had to hold myself to a beauty standard that I would never actually be able to achieve because I wasn’t white. It annoys me that a white woman can wear cornrows and look beautiful but I had them and I looked like a boy.
I don’t care if you’re a black woman with a weave, natural hair, braids or wearing a wig, what I don’t like is that our hair isn’t seen by the majority as beautiful unless a white woman is wearing it.