Ubuhle bentombi zinwele zakhe…a girl’s beauty is her hair…beauty is pain…this the advice I endured throughout most of my teens while pursuing silky relaxed hair at a great financial cost and physical pain caused by relaxer cream overdue in my hair. This advice was also to keep me from cutting my hair lest I risk being the ugly duckling. The first time I had my hair short, mama cut it. My mother trimmed it so I could have an afro. I had wanted to cut everything off and start afresh, but this was not an option she gave me, I guess she feared I wouldn’t look like a girl anymore.
Second year varsity and I was away from home. On a cold day in May, ushering in the Grahamstown winter, I decided to cut my hair without permission from anyone…ichiskop(a bald head).It was cheap,R10 and the barber shaved it all off. The question of beauty didn’t cross my mind until I went home a few weeks later. My mother and sisters were crestfallen that my beautiful straightened hair was replaced by a bald head, “i can’t even look at you…you better start wearing make up and earrings all the time so people don’t think you’re a boy” were my sister’s words, a chronic beweaver and braider. As though my rounded frame and hips were not enough of a give away that I’m a woman. My mother was curt and to the point,”awusembi nje”(you look so ugly).
But I chose not to believe either of them. It was the first time I believed I was beautiful with or without my hair and I definitely didn’t need their approval on what it meant to be a woman. I cut my hair again this year, and I feel even more beautiful! I wear jewellery because I like it not because I’m hiding how plain I look and I wear red lipstick from time to time because I enjoy the colour not because I’m making up for the lack of my hair. I find it strange that many women can’t simply wear their hair without it being a statement: if you cut it all off you’re a lesbian or having an existential crises, if you weave it you’ve got too much money and time on your hands and risk being judged as being superficial and buying into the “West’s” conception of what beauty is, if you have an afro you’re a soul sister and carry the burden of being deep all the time. In cutting my hair people choose to see me as someone making a point and perhaps this has been the case in the past, but without that I would have never learned to appreciate that beauty is skin deep and not about the symbols we use and obsess about asserting who we are. India Arie puts it well “I am not my hair”!