The Politics of African Hair

6 Min Read

Freedes and Her Afro

Black women today seem to be faced with the never ending wars on their image, such that even the way they wear their hair is said to be a political statement. I have had my hair natural for about 7 years now, on and off. But definitely without chemical alterations for 5 years. The first few years were definitely a loving relationship. I was excited about seeing my curly natural hair for the first time in my life. A woman in her 20’s seeing the truest character of her hair for the first time.


It was great at the time because I had no children to take care of. Just me and my boo. I had the time to experiment and invest in learning how to grow with my natural coils. Fast forward 5 years and my hair when straightened is beyond shoulder length. I don’t obsess in measuring it as you will often see in “Black Girl with Long Hair” (BGLH) natural hair publications. I think sometimes that kind of obsession misses the point because “Black Girls with Short Hair” are just as beautiful, like Viv.

Viv Oyolu

I now have 2 little girls (and their hair) to look after, and my boo, my sister, my mom, my career, my hobbies etc etc. And so I struggle to invest the kind of time BGLH’s deem necessary to keep hair from appearing “unkempt”. I try to do what is convenient and best for me. When I do, I may choose to wear a weave for convenience and I am often startled by the reactions (often expressing an acceptance of my appearance, or affirmation of my beauty) when I wear a straight weave, especially at the office.

Freedes with Her Weave

I am one of a handful of noticibly black women at work, so you can imagine where all the compliments come from. And so I question how often I am perceived as an “equal” because of the style and “nature” of my hair. I have been told by more than a couple of professional natural sistas that they have been advised if they wish to be taken seriously, they need to do something about the way they wear their hair. It sounds unfair however I do think some level of being objective has to stand in the way we wear our natural hair to work.

Representing fashion – Photo Credit: House of Aama

For instance, if you work in the fashion industry, a sense of self expression and personal style may be acceptable providing it represents the fashion brand you work for. However, in the more corporate scene, wearing your hair all out to work as though you are on a beach or fashion parade may be a valid reason to call your personal style into question. I work in the engineering field and I must admit, I really just do what I like to it, provided I can stuff it all under a safety hard hat without looking like a complete idiot when I take it off.

Having said that, I increasingly get concerned when women’s fitness as responsible, bill paying adults or their self confidence gets called into question simply because of the way they wear their hair, or how they spend money on their hair, as is popularily seen on social media. And these days it is increasingly African men who make these calls as hair police constables. I do not see why it is necessary for the natural hair movement to be yet another reason to judge and demonise women’s choices of hairstyle.

Really now, does a woman exist to serve her hair or is her hair meant to serve her? Even that question can be a little twisted depending on how the reader wishes to interpret it. Should hair have to be a political statement or expression of authentic blackness? Will the way a woman wears her hair make her less black? Much in the same way will an African woman who enjoys wearing Prada and Oscar de la Renta make her less African than one who is a die hard ankara print sista?

I actually do not think so.

Freedes, the author of the Afro Cosmopolitan Diet blog, My Burnt Orange, is a wife, a mother, and a professional electrical engineer who loves to cook dishes from across Africa and beyond. Freedes is working on a new African Cuisine site on the platform which can be found at She is also passionate about supporting and encouraging women of African descent in science, engineering, technology and business and believes that women will play a pivotal role in driving Africa’s development forward.

Share This Article