Afro textured hair is the most unique hair texture of all, combine that with the fact that most of us are so uneducated about our hair, and it is inevitable that there be commonly held misconceptions about natural afro textured hair. Here I am debunking five common black hair myths that some, if not most, of us have held to be true at one time or another.
1. All Black women who wear weaves are ‘lost’ or ‘selling out’
I start with this one because it is a commonly held view amongst a lot of black people, especially, but not exclusively, amongst naturals, and/or those who consider themselves ‘conscious’, and for the black cause. It is often believed that black women who wear weaves are trying to look European, or have self esteem issues; however this is a huge generalization, and often it is just not the case. Hair weaves and wigs have been around for eons, originating right here in Africa; in ancient Egypt. It is believed that weaves, wigs, and extensions made from human hair, and dyed sheep’s wool, were added to their hair to thicken their natural hair, to protect their heads from the heat, and to create styles that would otherwise not be possible with their own hair. The truth is, despite what we see in popular Hollywood movies, Ancient Egyptian wigs were not straight silky hair, but actually braided wigs.
Wig wearing spread from Africa to Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. Men wore wigs to disguise their balding, and women wore them as a fashion, cutting off the hair of slaves to make these wigs. While it is absolutely untrue that all black women who wear weaves are selling out, as we see it is not a new practise, I think the issue is not simply that black women wear weaves; it’s the overwhelming majority of black women who wear these long, straight, sometimes blonde weaves that do not in the slightest resemble their own hair texture. Whereas in comparison, white, Asian, and even Jewish women who wear wigs, weaves and extensions wear ones that resemble their actual hair texture. The question is, what makes black women consistently strive for the sleek, straight look, rather than experimenting with wigs and weaves that resemble their own curly, or kinky texture?
2. Afro Hair is Unmanageable.
This is an exaggerated myth, one that I personally have a problem with. Black people and black hair have always existed, and if you look back in time you will find a very rich history of black hair practises that prove that black people have been managing their hair just fine for thousands upon thousands of years. For instance:
• The people of Afar, a region in the horn of Arica, use butter to create, and hold in place, these beautiful curly and afro hairstyles, as well as to protect their hair from the sun.
• The women of Hamar, a region in Ethiopia, mix butter and red ochre and apply that onto their dreadlocks also to keep them neat and in place.
• A popular natural hair style that dates back many years to stretch out your hair, or to use as a protective style, is called Bantu Knots, or Zulu knots, named after the Bantu who originally came from West Africa, and spread throughout the continent.
• While the exact origin of dreadlocks is hard to pinpoint, we do know that they go back as far as ancient Egypt, and have been worn by Jamaicans for many years, as part of their spirituality, but also as a way to maintain their hair.
• Shea butter and bees wax are just two natural ingredients that have been known to be used in Africa as part of hair grooming practices.
It is, therefore, against this backdrop that one can make a compelling argument against the myth that black hair is unmanageable. Indeed, natural afro textured hair mostly thrives in a protective style like dreadlocks, or twists, or plaits, and that is why they are the most common hair styles throughout Africa, throughout history. However, that does not mean you cannot maintain your natural hair in its loose form, it just means that it does require slightly more maintenance, however, if you are working with it, rather than against it, it will thrive regardless.
Image from www.lipstickalley.com
3. Afro hair is hard.
I hear a lot of black people referring to themselves as having ‘that hard hair’, I myself have always been known in my family to have a lot of hair, and because my mother could not get through doing my hair as a child without me kicking and screaming, I was labelled as having hard, difficult hair. Contrary to that belief though, through my natural journey I have learned that I do not have hard hair, in fact no one does. ‘Hard’ is not a natural characteristic of any type of hair, hard hair is dry hair, and it is the result of inadequate moisture, or sealing of that moisture, in your hair; period.
When our hair is dry, it looses elasticity and bounce, and it feels very rough to the touch. Dry hair can be caused by a myriad of things; however afro textured hair is naturally very dry for one main reason: because of our very curly or coily hair pattern, the natural oil that our scalps produce, called sebum, has a harder time travelling down the full length of our hair, than it does travelling down straight hair. This is why our new growth, and the hair that is closest to our scalps is softer, and needs less attention, whereas our ends, if not given proper care, can look and feel very dry, stringy, brittle, and prone to breakage. When your hair is not adequately coated with sebum it leaves the cuticle exposed, which makes it more susceptible to damage, even simply over handling your hair or combing can cause breakage or damage, because your hair cuticle is not adequately protected. This explains why natural afro textured hair can feel or appear hard, however when your hair is adequately moisturised it thrives; it is soft, and cottony- never hard.
4. Black Hair doesn’t Grow
I have heard varying opinions and read studies on weather all hair grows at the same rate or not, and if afro textured hair grows slower than other hair textures. The fact is because of the nature of our hair (particularly the tighter textures, i.e type 4), our hair thrives when it is in protective styles, and I believe that that is just a fact that we are going to have to accept if we are to understand the science of growing natural afro textured hair. That doesn’t mean that loose natural hair cannot grow long in its natural state, as we have seen a few naturals with waist length loose hair. But by and large, afro hair is in the best condition when it is in a stretched out protective style, such as dreadlocks. The full length of our hair is not always able to receive the natural sebum that is created by our bodies, so because of that even regular combing, and daily manipulation, can be too much stress for our tresses. That is why natural afro textured hair appears to grow faster when it is in dreadlocks for instance, or twists and plaits. It’s not that black hair doesn’t grow, that is completely untrue, all healthy hair grows; it’s just that it takes extra TLC for us loose naturals to retain our length.
Now, one thing that can affect growth rate, or the quality of hair that you grow, is chemical relaxers. Relaxers contain chemicals that literally break down the structure of afro hair, and that is what makes the hair straight. Chemicals relaxers contain an ingredient called sodium hydroxide, which is the active ingredient in drain cleaner, and this is the stuff that we are putting on our hair, on our scalps, and can get absorbed into the blood stream. The effects of relaxers can last long after you big chop, relaxers can actually damage the hair follicles, so what often happens is that it takes a long time after stopping using relaxers, for your hair to start growing out healthily again because of your damaged follicles. This can also lead people to believe that their natural hair doesn’t grow.
5. Black Hair Doesn’t Like Water
My mother has told me many stories of how, growing up as a black South African child, in the township, in the 60s and 70s, they vehemently kept water away from their hair because they thought that it hindered them from growing their hair. They mistook the shrinkage, which made their hair appear shorter to mean that water actually stunted their hair’s growth. I too have memories as a child, of getting my hair relaxed, and then dreading swimming day at school because it would mess up my hair, and I may not be able to achieve that freshly pressed salon look by myself. The fact is this: black hair thrives when adequately moisturized, and what better moisturizer than nature’s own: water. So the notion that black hair doesn’t like water is absolutely false, the contrary is true, because our hair is so dry, it needs to be watered often.
Well there you have it, I hope this article gave you a chance to look into some of your own negative beliefs you have about your hair, and begin to question them for yourself.