I went natural in 2002, long after I’d left Trinidad. So every time I’ve returned since then, with my proudly natural curls and militant attitude firmly in place; I’ve been fascinated by the attitudes of others towards my ‘do. This last visit was among the most interesting.
Finally, my family has recognized that this is who I am, and even Mama Bella kept the straighten exhortations to a bare minimum. Family members even complimented my curls and when I tried putting my hair up in a bun, my mom and dad encouraged me to wear it down and loose. Yay!
I definitely felt watched when I went out in public. Just walking through the mall, I noticed people watching me walk by. Years ago, a friend explained to me that Trinis stare because I “look” different now. I dress more flamboyantly, in clothes that were obviously purchased abroad. My demeanor has somehow changed. And of course now, I wear my hair in a large and noticeable style that few others wear. But many of the stares seemed approving, and I saw quite a few other curly haired divas at Westmall – excuse me, The Falls (Why Trinidad copycat so? Hope they don’t get sued for that one) and Long Circular Mall which ahem, doesn’t have it’s own website.
I faced some ignorance when I encountered a friend of friends who I have known for years. Since I was 15, actually. “You could pass a brush through that thing?” he asked, in his usual laconic drawl. “Not a brush. But I can comb it!” I replied brightly. That shut him up and answered his dumb question.
When I accompanied my brother to his favorite watering hole, Trotters, I met some of his co-workers; a friendly dreadlocked dude who told me he loved my site! That made me happy and proud. (Also, hello ‘Rah! Thanks for your earlier comment, and ahem – I agree – too many cigars are not a good thing).
I went to get copper-colored highlights at a popular St. Claire-area hairdresser. He didn’t even blink when I strutted in with Mama Bella, and did a great job with the highlights. (if he said something about my hair, I couldn’t tell… this guy speaks so quietly I can hardly hear him! A big, big change from Bruno. Who I miss, dearly. The stories I heard at home were heartbreaking to say the least).
My hair only became an issue when the female co-owner came in to style my freshly-highlighted curls. “Ooh!” she squealed when she saw my hair – not in a delighted way, more in a concerned manner. “She say she not straightening it again,” my mom piped up. “Never, ever again,” I told her with a proud smile. She poured a too-small handful of Biolage Curl Defining Creme and proceeded to work her hands through my locks. I watched her face in the mirror, and (perhaps unintentionally), her brow was deeply furrowed and she wore an expression of extreme confusion. I wanted to grab the bottle of creme, pour a much bigger handful, and show her how to do the damn thing myself.
She said something about me “needing oil for my hair,” and the male co-owner made some kind of very quiet joke about me using the oil on my hands from eating chicken to style my hair. In retrospect, I’m extremely annoyed by that comment. Here in America, I’d definitely interpret it as having racist implications. But you have to remember that this happened in Trinidad, and I didn’t percieve a racist bias from these people. Plus, I was with Mama Bella at her new regular hair salon, so I just gave her “the look” in the mirror and she knew what I had to say about that.
Although I probably won’t return to that hairdresser, he did do a wicked job on my highlights and when I went home, I broke out a spray bottle of water and some Garnier Fructis curl cream and I was good to go.
The most sadly ignorant reaction to my hair came from a family friend, who said she liked my natural hair and would consider the style herself, but “it cost so much more to be natural than to straighten.” I was like, whaaaat? Are you kidding me? I set her straight immediately.
I mean, if you consider the cost of returning to a hairdresser or buying a box of relaxer every month or however often you do your hair (many relaxed women go back for at least a style or blowdry every fortnight), how can you even think that? I can count on two hands the number of times I’ve been to a hairdresser since 2002. I’ve learned how to style my hair myself, and while some natural haircare products are wicked expensive, for the most part my fave hair products cost me no more than $15.
I wish I could have shown that woman this video clip of a fabulously ‘froed New York diva, Fantcha Mendes, a Cape Verdean Singer who was interviewed for New York Magazine‘s Video Look Book in October. (I LOVE the Look Book! I wish there was a look book for every city. Someday, I’d love to do an Afrobella Look Book).
Miss Mendes has a fierce and vibrant fro, and makes the style sound so effortless: “I get up in the morning, I shake it, and I comb it with only my hands.” Hey, that’s pretty much how I style my hair!
She’s my Afrobella of the Week. Love her attitude and easy-breezy glamour.
Here’s to challenging attitudes and expressing ourselves without judgment in 2007!