“To be honest, I think it stemmed from my mum because she wanted us to fit in more than we were aware of it. As in, I knew I wanted to belong but I didn’t know how. And to my mum, the problem was, okay she doesn’t look like them. How can I make her look more like them? And the way to do that was for me to have straight hair.”
Annie Wilson is a Scottish Cameroonian content creator from Aberdeen and I recently sat down with her to talk about her relationship with her natural hair. At the end of last year, Annie cut off her afro and here she opens up about that decision (part 1 of 2).
So tell me a little bit about your hair journey and your relationship with your hair?
I think my hair journey would have started before I moved here [from Cameroon]. So when I was growing up, like long hair was always, obviously, promoted. It was encouraged to have long hair because it’s very feminine. So even when I was little I would get my hair measured to see how close that was to reaching my butt, because I thought man, it was getting healthy and you know, I was living up to what a woman’s meant to be. So, that’s when it started and that was in its natural state. So at that point, I had no idea what relaxers were and then when I was seven or eight we moved to the UK and that’s kind of when everything went south for my hair.
So we moved here, and for the first few months, it was fine because I didn’t speak English and hadn’t assimilated or integrated at all. So I just kept my hair the way it was, you know, we were the first black family to be in [our neighbourhood]. So no one had seen black hair before. So it was like a whole spectacle; people wanted to touch it, especially old people loved playing with it. And then once I finally learned English, at that point, it was a question of what do I need to do to fit in more? Because I could now speak the language but I was very much still the little African kid. So what do I need to do to fit in more?
To be honest, I think it stemmed from my mum because she wanted us to fit in more than we were aware of it. As in, I knew I wanted to belong but I didn’t know how. And to my mum, the problem was, okay she doesn’t look like them. How can I make her look more like them? And the way to do that was for me to have straight hair. So then she started buying relaxers and started relaxing my hair. I don’t even remember the relaxing process beginning; all I remember was one day my hair was straight. And until [a few years later] I saw photos of myself from before we moved here, I couldn’t remember my hair not ever having been relaxed.
I would know when I needed to get my hair relaxed again when I would feel my head and my hair would be fuzzy. I would go to my mum and tell her and she would say, oh yes your hair is really damaged and dry, we need to relax it again. So for me, relaxing wasn’t getting straight hair, it was more like my hair needed to be fixed and to fix it we needed to put relaxer in it. So this started when I was about nine years old and then 2016 was when I did the big chop.
Why did you want to do the big chop?
The first time I did the big chop, it was the new wave, it was trending to go natural. I know it was already a big thing in America but suddenly it reached us and all these YouTube videos would come up in my feed. At that time, the internet was saturated with natural hair videos. And again, at that time, I couldn’t remember what my natural hair looked like so I would see all these 3a, 3b girls and I was like, oh my god, my hair is so beautiful, why was I relaxing it! My hair is so beautiful and curly, I need to get back to that!
So I start transitioning [and my hair doesn’t like those YouTuber’s hair] but I decided that, since I was only transitioning, I couldn’t judge it yet. So one day, I was in the bathroom and took out my protective style and I had scissors – not even professional scissors, just little ones – and I was like, I’m just gonna do it. And I cut it, thinking I was about to look like Halle Berry or something. I cut it off, and I finish, and I look in the mirror and I’m like: wait a minute, why does it look like that?
I felt it and it wasn’t silky loose curls. And I was so mad because I had bought the stuff they said to buy in the videos, I got tons of curling creams and products and everything; I was ready. I thought that maybe I just needed some product so I saturated my hair with curling souffle and there were still no curls.
But once I accepted, many, many months later that my hair was never going to be 3a, 3b, I was alright with it.
It’s interesting that you said that because lately the natural hair movement has been criticised for pushing out dark-skinned women, women with type 4 hair, who created the movement. When people think natural hair now, they think 3a and loose curls and all that. And that obviously affected you. But looking at it now, how do you think someone with your type of hair, with type 4 hair is represented in the natural hair movement or the natural hair community?
Honestly, there’s a massive lack of representation, you know, as I said that was all I saw. And me, being in my small bubble and only starting to rediscover my blackness, I genuinely thought that was the hair [3a] that all black people had. And even now, searching for hairstyles online you’ll type in ‘4b hairstyles’ and people with obviously looser hair types will be putting that in their video titles when it’s very clearly not. So they’ve taken up space when there’s already space lacking for people with our hair type. And they are now the face of the movement. So, at this point, we need to take that spotlight back. But people [with type 3 hair] will cry then, and say that they deserve representation too but, honestly, they’ve been represented. In movies, in the media (with the dark-skinned family and the one light-skinned daughter), they are the standard. Even in the black community, the standard is light skin and loose curls.
But it’s interesting because, these girls with 3a, 3b hair, I look like them. I thought since I was light-skinned, my hair would be like theirs.
I feel like, yes, we have this problem where we attribute light skin to looser curls (and those people have become the face of the movement) but I don’t even necessarily think it’s about skin. I just think it’s about the hair that is closest to straight.
Yeah, because it’s the desirable Black. It’s the Black that’s okay. You know, it’s Black enough that you’re exotic and ‘ethnic’ but not Black enough that you’ll have nappy haired babies. It’s the acceptable version of a Black woman.