When Are You Going To Relax?

Article written by:Edidiong A. Utuk

This is a question I have heard frequently in the last month. I have been interning at a prominent law firm in Nigeria this summer and when people find out where I am working, they are shocked that they let me rock my natural hair because it is seen as unprofessional. Usually when someone asks me if I am going to relax my hair, I laugh and say that I prefer my hair natural. They normally look at me like I'm crazy and say that I should do something to my hair. I have tried my best not to get offended, but after three people basically told me I am crazy for wearing my natural hair in one day, I am through!

I know that Nigerian women prefer to wear weaves, wigs, and braids, but I'm not in that boat right now. Don't get me wrong, I think women can do whatever they want to their hair. Before my big chop, I was rocking weaves and braids regularly. Heck, if my scalp didn't scab up some much whenever I relaxed it, I would probably still be hooked on the creamy crack. With that said, I get really annoyed and a little disappointed that I defend my hair more in Africa than in America. A lot of the women I have run into do not embrace their natural hair and they try to make me feel uncomfortable about my own hair. Whenever they ask me why I don't do something with my hair, I always fight the urge to say, "Why don't you wear a weave that matches your hair texture or your hair color?" I never say that, but I don't understand why a woman wearing European hair is better than me wearing the hair that God gave me.

Not everyone is against my hair, many people actually like it, especially people my age or younger. They usually tell me I am brave to keep my hair natural. Often many girls tell me they have tried and failed to go natural because they don't have good hair like mine. I try and tell them there is no such thing as good hair. All hair is different and what may work for one woman may not work for another woman. I just wish people in Nigeria, especially women, had a more positive image of natural hair.

-Reflection of a Natural Head

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8 Responses:

i recieved more positive hair compliments when i was in the UK. more people appreciated my hair when i was there. i got more compliments, most of my friends were quick to say how special they thought my hair was. it was a bit of the shock returning to Nigeria. here everyone has something (usually negative) to say about my hair from strangers walking on the street who call my hair 'jaga jaga' to close friends.

another common thing is for people to assume i'm not Nigerian because of my hair. my afro marks me out as 'different' with people asking me if i'm Jamaican or South African.

now i'm back in Nigeria, i've realised that it can really be tough keeping your hair natural here if you're the kind that is easily affected by what people say. i've learnt to ignore negativity and sometimes i humour them. almost every week i get asked when i'm going to do my hair. luckily only a few people have explicitly mentioned relaxers. one of my friends suggested i buy a wig. another asked me if i washed my hair! i find it really ridiculous and ultimately sad that most Nigerians seem to have such a negative attitude to natural African hair.

like you, i don't understand why wearing European or Indian hair is better than me wearing my natural hair. it just doesn't make sense.


The Call Me Anon

I've pondered this same issue and here's my conclusion. I am forty years old and growing up in the 70s and 80s in Ngeria, I and most of the people around me had natural hair. It was straightened maybe once a year at christmas with a hot comb. For the rest of the year every weekend, religiously the women and us little girls had our hair washed, oiled and braided or threaded. Different styles (reigning styles) were worn and it was the norm to hear compliments. There are therefore two things at war in the choices we make about our hair today:

1. The desire to have straight or wavy and flowing long hair (pressure from the mainstream)
2. The habit our women of Africa have developed over the ages of creating art with our hair.

The first is easily seen when wearing our hair without straightening is the exception rather than the norm but the second is the hidden; battling, fighting to get itself heard. it's why leaving hair in an afro for long periods breeds curiosity.

The effect of being bombarded with images of flowing shiny hair as the ideal has shaken our people to the core and it takes a brave soul to fight against it. On the other hand, the itch to fiddle with our hair and be creative cannot be wished away. Who knows, we may yet strike a balance where we can be ourselves in a way that is decidedly African and at the same time be considered beautiful by the mainstream. The natural hair movement is a catalyst that in the long walk towards achieving that goal


I apologise for the typos in my comment, had to make a dash somewhere. The last statement above should read "The natural hair movement is a catalyst in the long walk towards achieving that goal."

They call me Anon


If we don't love it, then who will?

Terea M.


African women are going through what black women struggled with in the 50's and 60's..... I understand. It is SOOOO DISAPPOINTING.


I love my natural hair and will never again add any product to make it straight (eg. relaxer or perm) and I will never wear a wig, I will go bald first. I do braid, twist, curl, roll, straighten (with flat iron) occasionally. I prefer to wear it in an afro at all times. I realize one thing about having natural hair, lots of people love it and some people wonder how I am brave enough to do it. I respect each woman who embrace however they want to wear their hair, to me it's a personal choice. Straight, relaxed, afro, curly, wigs, red, pink, blue, etc. Whatever make you feel powerful, passionate and confident about yourself. That is what you do to please yourself my sisters.


I so hear you. Just came back from a wedding in Lagos, where my natural hair generated a rumour that I all the weed I was smoking in England had caused me to loose my mind, hence the hairstyle! BTW I dont smoke!


This caught my attention today even though I'm a bit late to the post. I would wish the writer said "some Nigerian" women and not generalize as if all Nigerian women. As an American with an African heritage and who has never worn any weave on her hair, I found the stereotypical comment disconcerting. Have I been told by a cousin when I had a major haircut why don't I just wear weaves? Yes. But the same people marvel how thick and healthy my hair is.

And yes, I visited Nigeria some years ago, and during my almost two-week trip, I visited a hair salon that the hairstylists didn't think I understood the Yoruba dialect. Just thought of me as "the Americana." They complained what to do with my hair that the climate had changed the texture. Once I gave them my deep conditioning treatment and my hair reverted to the smooth texture. They couldn't believe it. Perhaps, I gave them the lesson that one's own hair could be enough, if so be her choice.


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