by: Yvonne Kagondu, 22, Kenyan
I was the girl with the steel wool hair all through Primary school, the girl who considered relaxer as mankind’s blessing to the black woman. I was skeptical when I learnt about natural hair movements, and I didn’t know how to take it. I decided to give it a chance because deep down I knew I had been a slave to self-criticism and maybe it was time for a paradigm shift.
As a young African girl, you are introduced to a world where everyone expects you to be hardworking, responsible and beautiful. The telenovelas I watched as a kid had defined beautiful as that light skinned, thin figured, long hair blowing in the wind, kind and soft spoken-woman. This image is so different from the black women I knew; they were brown, full-bodied, aggressive and loud. I remember whenever I met foreign tourists on family road trips and such, I felt like I was in the presence of gods. I recall imagining that when I grew older, I would try anything to make myself meet those ideal standards of beautiful. I even asked God why He made me African once, I stared at my young face in the mirror and asked “Why did You curse me, why was I born African?” My self-esteem was damaged and during my high school years, I faced other challenges that ended with me suffering of depression.
One of the most significant steps I took that helped me overcome these emotions was my decision to give my natural hair a chance. I had so many fears at first. I hadn’t cut my hair since 2002 when I was 6 years old, and even then, my mom tells me how I wore a hoodie for three months straight. I was still very scared to walk around with short hair but I had to remind myself that it was my journey, it did not matter what anyone thought. It was also encouraging to watch other people’s stories who were going through similar paths.
Learning how to take care of my God-given African natural hair was one of the best decisions that I ever made. A new world opened up to me, a new world of love for myself and determination to bring the best out of myself. If it was dressing, I wouldn’t go to what was trending but what works and looks best on me. If it was friends, I would only choose ones that I felt shared my values and encouraged my good sides. At school, the fact that everyone was sleeping at 2 AM because there was a lot of pressure, didn’t mean that I had to do the same. I knew that I wasn’t at my best with that, so I worked harder. With food, I ate what my body felt was best, enough vitamins, carbs, protein etc. With time, I realized that without denying certain gratitude with food, the body would actually choose healthier options. Even if it meant losing friends, dropping a bit in my grades etc., I stopped stressing to meet society’s standards; perhaps what they have named best may not be what is best for me as Yvonne. I would not hurt myself to conform. I became better at developing my strengths and taking time to understand myself. I defined a new type of beauty, the African woman.
My standards changed and I opened my eyes to a whole different universe filled with beautiful people that I previously had not seen as so. With this new type of self-love, I lost around 6kgs without changing much. I wasn’t expecting such change. But most of the esteem issues I faced before, had started neutralizing.
Some people will tell you that embracing natural hair is a chore, but I think it is a choice to view it that way. I must admit, there are challenges that I have faced during this period. Sometimes, I can obsess about my hair too much but that goes away with time. There are times I make mistakes with my hair care. But it is OKAY to make mistakes, that is how we learn and grow. It took a lot of time for me to learn to accept myself. However, every day is a growing process as every cloud has a silver lining around it.
So what do I think makes me African? I’d say embracing nature, and making the best out of it. In the next fifty years, I want to see an Africa where we understand that we are self-sufficient and we do not need to change ourselves to look like the west. That is not the standard of good. People ought to make decisions on what best works for them. Our countries need to develop their own identities, systems that work best for our economies.
For example, Kenya has proved to be an innovation hub, how can we maximize on this? The pressure in our Education system creates a cheating environment. If we took time to understand our students and design ways to bring out their true potential, we could advance to great lengths.
The ideals of beauty in our societies have paralyzed many women and young girls by making them conform to unrealistic, unnatural beauty standards instead of letting us maximizing our potential. I wish to share my story so as to encourage women by telling them that there is beauty in appreciating oneself; be it physical, mental, vocal, psychological etc. This can only come from within.
I hope this inspires someone.