I spent some time staring at myself in the mirror. Eyes filled with curiosity, staring back at the image of a stranger. Everything seemed as usual, but the fatigue I had suppressed since the age of 14 suddenly made its way to my emotional surface. I glued my gaze to a part of me that I had somehow made invisible: my hair.

My weave, colour 1b, was tangling and almost impossible to brush. But this time I decided to not desperately call a friend for help. I simply cut it off. Pieces of extension fell to my bathroom floor; I felt as if the burden, the lack of self acceptance, had been lifted from my shoulders. I wished I had done it several years ago.

This was me, Awa Konate, two years ago, waking up to what I assumed would be yet another normal day. Today at 19, I still question why I ever allowed myself to go through the trouble of extensions and what ‘going natural’ means to me and some afro-haired women. I know I have broken a rule of some sorts.

The first time I wore extensions was at the age of 14. I liked it, and every time I looked at myself in the mirror, I would make sure that it was styled completely like the girl on the cover of my teen magazine. I was on a hair journey that led me quite far from my natural kinky curls. Weaves, perming, extensions, hair dyes. While many of those hairstyles were in fashion and supposedly presenting a statement, none of them made me feel like ‘me’: Awa.
The media dictated that beautiful was long, straight and silky hair – beautiful was when I could flip it to the side. I had internalised a European standard of beauty that forced me to feel incomplete even when I lived by its rules.

This was why I decided to cut it all off. The ‘big chop’ was my way of freeing myself from rules, and reinventing my own quest to find what beauty is. Breaking away from relaxers, hot combs and weave, and instead embracing my natural curls became a way of liberating myself from the conformity of European beauty standards and building up a pride and self-acceptance.
But my two years on the natural-hair journey have taught me that things are way more complex than a hair cut. Relaxing or wearing extensions cannot be equated with self-hatred, and the natural hair movement needs to accept this. A hair preference doesn’t necessarily reflect a psychological mindset.

In spite of this, deciding to turn natural was one of the best choices that I ever made. Why? Because I was forced to examine the perceptions of my hair with more honesty than before. I realised that even hair is political.

Artwork © Yasmine Akim