Goes like this.
I have frizzy hair. You could say afro, curly. Always have. (Well, there’s baby photos where it hasn’t curled yet … then again, there wasn’t much hair yet).
It was my hair, is my hair. I grew up with this hair that I didn’t see around me in the world I was in. In the milieu I was in (see, *theory-sounding*).
I grew up in country towns in New South Wales, Australia. Plus some going between families and bit of Sydney and South East Queensland.
In the school photo, I was the only one with curls. Grandmas wanted to touch it, pat down on the springs. I would scowl and a family member would say: “Oh, she doesn’t like that”, as if my grumpiness was a faux pas. Probably, I felt the trace of someone mistaking me as a boy – with short curls – not the requisite long, straight hair that Girls Have. So each of these pattings I felt gender-wrong, ugly. Unable to say.
‘Course, this hooks in with the Special Story, which intrepid readers may have come across before. Some kind of being exceptional, some kind of ‘only one’. The only one who danced, with this hair, in this tiny country town. Instantly identifiable. So I also liked that exceptional sense. Also, the only one with my name. The only one with ‘A Friend’ as the ready-joke. (Well, actually, my younger sister also has that. We lived apart …)
The one with this hair.
Zoom-a-zoom to 2013 and Natural Hair is a Thing. The internet tells me so. Has been, of course, for quite a while, possibly since Black is Beautiful and all the way through Pan African and hippie hip hop and the things that go on in Big America. So the filters of intertubes and television and pop culture, album covers, now Tumblr and Twitter and Instagram tell me that there is a culture, a movement.
A Natural Hair Thing.
For me, I don’t even have that distinction set up of natural versus treated. Afro versus weave. Nappy versus relaxed. These words are new. I quickly gobble them up, but they are from the outside listening in, seeing the amazing events and networks of ladies and ladies and ladies (mostly ladies) who braid and twist and up and out. Who talk and fan pic and lol about the shea butter. Who self-trim and afro-punk and do Black Girls Make Up.
I am not a black girl. I heartily support the girls doing their thing. The recognition and support, pride and encouragement. I understand the existing Hair Theory about colonial mentality that positioned black beauty, black bodies, brown bodies, as coarse, Other, untameable, wild, ugly, sexual, wrong, grotesque. I understand that having these reinforced in all of the micro moments of parenting and childhood and Mum ironing the hair (sorry, *Mom*) can then be countered with a Movement.
And it’s a little strange feeling connected, but ultimately, am I in the movement? I’ve always had this hair.
There are pockets of Africana fashion in Australia. Punchy, bold, with the hair. Seems to be mostly Melbourne. Again, there is the part of me that hangs on the edge, observing. And that is shy about … I don’t know, chatting to African people in Wollongong.
There’s a few things here, if I come back to the self-prism (hey, no surprises there). The ‘special’ sense is also something a little weird, a little unknown, about not feeling quite White. Growing up in it, speaking it (White Australian-broadly-educated-middle-class-yet-around-country-towns). And never looking it. All of the stuff, you know, a Massive Hair Special feature in a girl’s magazine has zero styles applicable to me. Over and over.
Again, that feeling of, oh, am I Not Quite Girl and Not Quite White. But the sense of not being able to claim being anything else is also there. Particularly, particularly since do allllllllll that study of postcolonial theory. Indigenous Literatures. So much so in Australia: I have such a fear of being accused of appropriation, of mis-claiming an identity.
(In fact, I was slammed by a lecturer in an Indigenous Studies subject …. oh, wait, that’s another story for another time).
But *every* kind of getting-to-know-me conversation I have ever had has included someone asking about my ‘background’ at some point. My hair’s got a lot to do with that.
So, I am an imperfect Natural. My twisting and braiding skills are basic. I am still figuring out coconut oil and spritzing routines. I am not surrounded by the mechanisms of an industry for those who are ‘transitioning’. I am getting swamped by it in my Facebook and Tumblr feeds, but I still live in a very White area.
I also don’t want to suddenly feel like I am doing something *else* badly. Not quite right. Not quite tight plaits. Don’t know what puff and pouf mean. Still not sure if I am 3a, 3b, 4a, or 4b hair. Not sure if I want to know. Kinky, curly or coily? Maybe I am just me.
It’s an ongoing experiment. It has it’s uses, being connected to this culture, these online communities, or at least networks of online selfies:)
And, as someone said to me, “but you, you have your own ground to stand on”.