So I have seen the phrase ‘if I don’t give them, how will they take it?,’ used on social media very often recently. I love love love the phrase and honestly I have been seeking an opportunity to use it too. Unfortunately, I am rarely in a state where I think one can use that phrase. You know, the people (mainly girls – actually I have only seen girls use this phrase) who usually use it when they are all glammed up and snatched, they have their nails done, makeup on fleek, dressed to the nines and even baby hairs are laid. I think I am only any of these things once every 3 years.
I mean to start with, I don’t even have baby hairs to lay – the crust like clusters on each side of my head definitely do not fit the definition of baby hair. In igbo they are called – ‘isi ukwu ose’. (Translator needed please?) So that automatically makes it impossible for me to fulfill that criterion. Moreover, in terms of dressing, a jean and tshirt are always the winning outfit choice in my life. Of course how can I forget, my eyebrows have refused to understand that they do not always have to form a confluence at the ridge above my nose and the only item of makeup I currently own is the sheabutter I use as lipbalm.
So each time I see the girls who put up this posts, I would dream in my head about the day I could get to use that phrase. So far I have gotten to use it twice (both occasions on friends who met the above criteria) out of fear that by the time I would finally get to use it on myself, the phrase would be extinct.
Anyway, I am very happy to announce that I too can get to use the phrase!!!!! (This isn’t dramatic at all!) A few months ago, I got an offer to leave the most noble (and least paying?) profession in the world (law) and join the glitzy (and only marginally better paying) and artificially seductive streets of corporate Nigeria. (I have sold a part of my soul, I know!) A few months before I got this job, I was lying in bed early one morning and thinking very deep thoughts about my life. This lasted for a few hours and at the end of which I made up my mind to cut – rather to scrape off – all the hair on my head once the sun came up that day!
Shocking? Perhaps! Drastic? Not so much! I mean, I had been sharing with close family and friends earlier that year that I wanted to cut my hair by the end of the year. I mean there were many reasons, one of which is that I had been a ‘naturalista‘ for a whole 7 years and my hair had not grown past thumb length in all those years…. yet I would see someone with shoulder length natural hair and was barely past a year into this natural hair world. The person would look at my length and try to comfort me with ‘dont worry, keep at it, the first year is usually the most awkward year’. At first I used to bother shocking them with the fact it had been natural 7 whole years and go through the charade of disbelief, then laughter, then endless questions on what ‘my routine’ is and get offered more and more advice on ‘new routines’. What they did not know and I tried to explain is that in 7 years, I had been there and DONE ALL OF THAT. My hair has just refused to get with the programme (I lost the genetic lottery on hair – (no) thanks Mom!). After sometime, I too got tired of the charade and the laughter and I let the adviser feel the comfort of sharing their natural hair testimony and I would listen humbly and pretend to be excited to hit the one year mark too. I have digressed, havent I?
Anyway, my mom bluntly told me not to cut my hair. My dad didn’t say a word, but in reality I never pointedly told him, I only said it in his presence. All but one of my close friends were mortified that I dared mention it and advised me not to. Even I tried to talk – or think- myself out of the idea. At the back of my mind, I remembered all my horrific memories of my hair being scrapped off by the barber when I was much younger. I was about to head to secondary school and because my dad ‘did not want me to be stressed about figuring out how to get my hair cornrowed in school’, he invited a barber to the house and against my will, my hair was scrapped off! In reality, his real concern was that hair would distract me from facing my books (my dad and my education? Truest love affair ever!) He also mentioned that didn’t want me looking unkempt – lol but he should have been advised that that was a battle he could not win. Over 20 years later, the good Lord is still working on me! Anyway, I didn’t like my hair being cut then. I felt I I did not look as ‘pretty’ as the girls in school with their hair. What is more? I didn’t have a relationship with my hair comb so I barely ever combed my hair so really – JUST HORRIFIC MEMORIES.
In fact I recalled when I was chewing gum in class and I was caught and the teacher asked to put the gum in the middle of my hair. I have always had a thing about being a good student, being liked by teachers, so getting caught doing something ‘terrible’ made me feel very bad so I tried to show the teacher I was truly remorseful by pressing the gum into my hair while listening attentively from my kneeling position in the front of the whole class for the rest of the 2 hour lesson (it was a double period). After the two hours, I couldn’t get the gum off without chopping off the hair in the middle of my head with the help of a ‘friend’ and a pair of scissors. So I walked around for the next few weeks or months with an obvious bald patch in my hair. Horrific, truly horrific memories!
However, as I lay in bed that morning drowning in thoughts, I had a deep longing to start over! I was determined to cut my hair that same day! I couldn’t wait till December (2018). I would do it that morning I concluded. It occurred to me that this might be the reasoning of a sleep deprived mixed with a deeply anxious state of mind but I was convinced it was the only thing I wanted to do so I went ahead and cut my hair that same morning – BALD! I didn’t consult a soul. I just came home to shock my family and the rest of the week shocked friends with it.
Now the reaction was overwhelming. I had friends who teased me endlessly. A friend said ‘Mr. XYZ (insert surname) now has 5 sons’. Other friends thought it looked dope. Honestly the truth is that I couldn’t care less about the reactions of people who didn’t like it. I cut my hair with the mindset that I would look terrible and I wanted to free myself from that mindset of caring, of wanting people to like me. I wanted to in my head know that I might not look physically attractive to the rest of the world and not care about it (because it really bothers me in my head that I do care about this even if I shouldn’t!). I was trying to shake my reality to match my beliefs. I went to my brothers’ barber (yes I didn’t learn. I cancelled my appointment for the bourgie natural hair salon that charged me N6,000 for a mere wash and ‘treatment’ – the lady put conditioner in my hair and stuck me under a steamer and called it a hair treatment!!!!). So everyone who expressed their lack of love for it didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would and when it did, I told myself I needed to free myself from their prisms and expectations of beauty and propriety.
Now I let me go back to the story at the beginning – Should I give them? Can they take it? Like I mentioned, I resume a new job next year. Mind you when I went through the interview stages of this job, I had a ‘full’ head of hair even if they couldn’t see it under the wig on my head. I went for the interview completely like a ‘normal’ Nigerian young girl, with my braids wig on my head. Since I cut my hair, I have worn my wig on the very few occasions I ventured out, usually because I had no interest in shocking the people I was to meet. (For what shall it profit a Nigerian girl that the data page of her passport shows her with a full head of hair and the actual visa has a bald head? I already stand too long at immigration, I wasn’t about to undergo facial recognition.)
Recently the 5 sons comment friend asked me ‘I hope you won’t carry your hair like this when you resume work?’ I looked at her and laughed, mainly because she hated it so much and had expressed same severally and also mainly because I didn’t even know what I would do. Is it okay to show up looking completely different? I have wondered if anyone including the people that met me during the process would recognise me? Does it tell on my character as an erratic and unpredictable person or a girl who is going through some deep emotional struggles – you know they say a girl cuts her hair when something dramatic happens in her life? Would they think I would wake up one morning and pull a similar stunt with regards to their job? Would they take me seriously or take the first few minutes to question me about what necessitated the change? Would that kind of attention distract from the work I am there to do? Does it even matter? Am I over thinking it? My friend has been in the corporate world for an entire year. She already expressed horror at the fact that I carried a back pack – not a fancy looking one- but literally a school bag to go pick up the appointment letter . She was like ‘better don’t do this behaviour when you resume. They will just know you are a JJC’. So now will I be the weird bald chick who carries a school bag to work because I believe that it is my professional abilities that should speak for me? (Although I also know and believe that half of climbing the ladder is about people’s perceptions and ability to relate to you- in other words, packaging!) Should I show up a conformist, with a handbag and a full head of hair and pretend that is who I am (and on some days, that is who I am and want to be!!!!). Is it okay to be bald one day and show up with a wig the next?
Another friend recently chatted me up and asked me ‘I hope you will give them with this new look at that job next year?’ I laughed and my instructions from my girlfriend played through my mind again. I am still thinking and deciding who I should be at the job with many many things, but especially with the hair, the question is ‘if I give them, can they take it?’