Photographs by Kevin Tosh.
I don’t tell this story much, but the first time I cut my hair in college, I hid away for a day or two. When I finally left my room, I kept my hair hidden under a Kenyan flag bandanna, so that for about 2 days none of my friends– with the exception of Princess Daisy, who had cut my hair– had any idea. I felt like the self version of Coyote Ugly. Before college, I’d only had my hair this short many years before as a five year old, an age during which I looked so incredibly awkward that my hair would have been the least of my concerns, if I had even cared about how I looked.
The relationship between a woman and her hair can be messy and complicated, especially for women with Afro-textured hair. And this messiness doesn’t necessarily become resolved when you go natural, as I have learnt in the last few years of cycling between relaxed and natural hair. In many ways, there’s never an answer but an ever evolving question mark. Is my hair my crowning glory? The immediate answer to that is no, of course not. How can a mass of protein be so important to my sense of self or of being?
At the same time, however, there are stories behind this mass of protein, stories of beauty and of pain: of sitting in smoke filled salons or of having hair braided on the thigh of a hair twister or of oiling schoolmates’ and female relatives’ hair using sulphur flavored pomade. Of waking up on a good hair day and feeling HashtagFlawless. Of being told that you don’t have “good hair”, whether that’s overtly (“your hair is like steelwool”), or covertly (through television and advertising.) For some reason, this mass of protein has power. It’s so strange.
This series of portraits are something of answer to that unanswerable question mark. At the end of the day I know this: that my hair is only a small part of who I am as a person. It’s taken me a while to feel comfortable in my skin even with short hair, and I struggle on some days– impatient for growth and for a larger Afro, but at the same time wishing I could get there without all of the work involved. Yet I’m grateful to be at a point where I don’t need to hide behind a Kenyan flag bandanna simply because my hair is cut close to the scalp.