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Sunday, July 7, 2013

A Swazi lady and a Cameroonian gentleman on natural hair

In the previous article I am not my hair,  we found out that the debate around natural for women of African descent is strong with an unbeatable online presence. This time around, we continue the conversation with two Ph.D candidates  Ms.Sithembile Mabila and Mr.Raoul Tamekou, respectively from Swaziland and Cameroon and living in the United States and Canada.

Sithembile Mabila from Swaziland (Photo: Mabila)

Mabila, a young lady from Swaziland in her late twenties, currently resides in the United States as she pursues a PhD in Public Health. For the past four years, she now wears short natural hair. However, she explained that the style is nothing new for her since she had short hair for the most part of her childhood. 
"In my teen years, I wore deadlocks for about five years," Mabila says. " Of course, I had my relaxed hair moments, after I cut my dreadlocks. I went on a mission to be what I would called "ladylike."
Mabila, whose "ladylike" stage now belongs to the past, says she felt "miserable" in her attempt in the process.
"I grew my hair out, relaxed, and braided it. I would wear weaves and all the work that comes with it. My scalp is too sensitive so you can imagine the hustle, the pain, and the break-outs on my head and everything else I went through. No worries, I got over my "ladylike" stage quickly and went back to just being me."
31-year old Tamekou is a native of Cameroon who currently lives in Montréal as he completes his PhD in Political Science at Université de Montréal. Tamakou believes all women are beautiful and thanks them "for making [the] world less gloomy."

When asked about his preferred hairstlyle, Tamekou's answer is set: "Natural hairstyle! Without hesitation." At the workplace or on a date, he has a different approach.
"As long as the hairstyle is not messy and looks nice and the woman feels comfortable, it's fine for me," he says.                 
In her teen years, Mabila admits that social and media expectations may have influenced the ways  she should wear her hair. As a young adult, she claim to be very content with her relatively simple hairstyle that requires of her a barber and a hair brush. Swazi women and women of African descent living in the U.S. do not differ much when it comes to hair care, according to Mabila.


"It seems as though the standard of hair beauty is now a global one with one set of standards where all women are somehow expected to have slick, shiny hair. Of course, there is still a significant amount of women in both [Swaziland] and in the United States who keep natural hairstyles," Mabila says. On the left, a young Mabila in her teen years.

Mabila in her younger years
For Tamekou, beauty has a price. Whether they live in Cameroon or Canada, women of African descent attach a lot of importance to their hair. They invest a significant amount of money and time to make it happen.
"[In Cameroon], you will hardly find a woman that keeps the same hairstyle for more than one month. Some of them change their hairstyle  every week. It is really a big issue because this practice requires a lot of money."
 In Canada, women are more careful on the budget, since the cost of living is higher in Canada.
"In Canada, I think women of African descent also pay a great attention to their hairstyles," Tamakou says. "The situation is more complicated for them because hairstylists are more expensive. Women living in Canada have to pay far more than those living in Cameroon. Sometimes, 10 times more."
Regarding the debate natural hair versus synthetic hair for women of African descent, Tamekou believes that "keeping natural hair is a mark of authenticity."
"I really think that the frizzy hair of  Black women is so much beautiful and sexy. Well, it is a matter of opinion at the end. Attraction has different facets: physical, moral, mental and being attractive for me combine all these qualities."
For Mabila, a woman should choose the style in which she feels the most comfortable: synthetic or natural. However, she does not condone the notion that some people have "good hair" and some do not have. The "good hair" tag is widely used  in the United States by women of African descent.
"As long as we do not use our hair to define who we are, then by all means let us change hairstyles to whatever suits us and stay fabulous!"