An interview

I've been relaxing for a very long time, from the age of 15, about 8 years on and off. After I was in the Netherlands for about 2 years, my hair started to break. To make my hair grow healthy and grow I started braiding. 

Have you ever relaxed? How long have you been relaxing your hair and why did you stop relaxing?
I've been relaxing for a very long time, from the age of 15, about 8 years on and off. After I was in the Netherlands for about 2 years, my hair started to break. To make my hair grow healthy and grow I started braiding. That worked well, but every time I relaxed again, the hair broke. I've tried everything, on time "update", the mildest relaxer, weekly cream, but my hair kept breaking.

When I got tired of the pattern: relax, break, braid, healthy hair, relax, break, braid, I stopped relaxing, I just wanted healthy hair again. So I stopped because my thin, dehydrated, broken hair was driving me crazy. But I've never been fond of relaxing anyway, because of the time you spend at the hairdresser, maintenance with rollers, pliers, creams and all those limitations that come with relaxed hair.

Why those limitations that come with relaxed hair?
Laid back hair rules your life. You can never spontaneously dive into water, run or exercise without thinking "oh my hair". Chlorine and relaxed hair is an impossible combination and sweating is not good for relaxed hair either. There is always the stress of the weather, when it rains or blows hard you spend the rest of the day styling your hair. Actually, it stops you from having fun and doing things spontaneously, you are busy with your hair all day.

How long have you been "natural"?
In 1998 I braided my hair for a year and in principle I had already renounced relaxation. However, one Sunday I had an appointment to re-braid my hair, but the hairdresser wasn't there and I had to go to work the next day. I didn't know what to do with my big head of frizzy hair (wan bigi boesie), I called in sick the next day and started to relax like a spear. I was furious, but at the same time I realized that I had to learn to deal with my hair. I was actually sad that I couldn't handle my hair very well and couldn't imagine that representative hairstyles for frizzy hair didn't exist. So then I ordered American books via the internet about how to take care of the hair and what is possible with frizzy hair. So from 2000 I am "natural" and I have not relaxed anymore.

Did you go to the hairdresser to relax?
Yes, every 2 to 3 months and maybe that was my biggest aversion. You lose a whole day, the stuff burns on your head, then the excessive heat from the hair dryer, the hair dryer or the tongs, everything takes hours and then you have to hope it doesn't rain, because then everything has been for nothing.

How often do you still go to the hairdresser and what kind of treatments do you do at the hairdresser?
Now I only go to the hairdresser if I want a different haircut for a change, like those Flat Twists, for pointing or braiding.

You complain that relaxing takes so much time, but doesn't braiding take much more time?
Braiding indeed takes a lot of time, but it is "low maintenance". If I wear my hair braided, I don't have to comb my hair for 2 months. Just wash, use moisturizer and my hair always looks good, what could be easier than that? The most important thing is that my hair grows better and is really healthier. I think I spend less time braiding than relaxing. My hairdresser braids my hair in 3 to 4 hours, relaxing I always lost at least 4 hours. I also never wear "micro braids", those very thin little braids. Indeed, it takes forever to braid hair so thin and it will break your hair.

But be honest; Taking care of relaxed hair takes less time than frizzy hair if you don't braid it then?
No not at all. I once calculated how much time it takes to care for relaxed hair. Weekly wash, cream and then either put rollers and under the dryer, or blow dry or use tongs. Washing/creaming takes about an hour, because the cream usually has to be absorbed for half an hour. Putting rollers on takes about half an hour and the drying hood at least an hour. So you lose at least 2 1/2 hours a week. I'm not even talking about the daily things, if it has rained or you have played sports, you have to "roll" again, or use pliers. If you make a nice hairstyle with naturally frizzy hair such as twists or corn rows, you can use it for at least a week to 2. Taking care of frizzy hair really doesn't take more time, as so many people think.

Ok, maybe it doesn't take more time if you calculate it like this, but relaxed hair is easier than frizzy hair, right? You say yourself that you relaxed again because you didn't know how to handle your hair.
Yes, but there was also a time when I had to learn how to put rollers and irons, but putting rollers is no easier than making twists, blow drying is no easier than braiding. Not really. Many people think that relaxed hair is easier because they are used to it. What is difficult is changing a pattern that you are used to.

Then why do so many women relax?
I think for the simple reason that they are conditioned, that's why I ended up doing it. At first it was part of growing up, as a girl you walk with pigtails and when you "grow up" you can relax. That was fun at first, but at that moment I didn't even know why I was relaxing, I just did it without thinking about it, that's how it was supposed to be. It has grown that way partly due to history and it is very difficult to think objectively about conditioned habits and especially to break a pattern in this way. I too have wondered "if I stop relaxing, what should I do with my hair?". Now I know that there are countless possibilities, that frizzy hair offers even more variety. But it is not easy to break a pattern that should be, a pattern that you are used to from your teenage years.

How did you succeed?
Anyway, I was always fascinated by frizzy hair, locs, braids and conrows I always liked. But I really had had enough of my broken, unhealthy hair and that hassle with relaxing that I was very confident and up to the challenge.

What's so challenging about it? It's just your own hair, isn't it?
Walking with naturally frizzy hair is a challenge in itself, it evokes a reaction. Like I said, relaxing is the norm, it's a pattern that comes with people with frizzy hair. It seems like there's something wrong with you if you don't relax. Comments if hmmm your hair is frizzy, shouldn't you go to the hairdresser? You have guts to walk like that. You have to be able to handle that taunting, those comments. In addition, you have to learn to deal with your natural hair almost all by yourself, which is not that easy either.

How did you deal with those reactions?
I was so happy that my hair grew and blossomed again, it was like rediscovering my hair, which is why I didn't care what people thought or what they said. I could often even laugh at those conditioned responses. Because of my knowledge and experience I was of course also very convinced. The women all know the hassle of relaxing and know that relaxation is the cause of 99% of our hair problems. Then why do they ask why I don't relax? Actually, I should ask why they relax. And every time when the weather is damp, I chuckle at the spastic thing of oooh, my hair, my hair gets wet and I say, that's one of the reasons I don't relax.

Are you against relaxing now?
No, in principle not. As a girl, especially as a teenager, it is nice to do something different with your appearance, with your hair. I give that pleasure to every woman. I relaxed myself and even though I was never completely crazy about it, it can look nice. I wouldn't recommend it because I know the consequences and the history. But experience can often not be transferred, people simply learn the best from their own experience and even then it is their choice. I wouldn't force a choice on anyone.

Would you relax again for a change?
I! No, never again. There are endless possibilities with frizzy hair, so for now I won't be bored. My hair is now much more manageable, much healthier than when it was relaxed and it offers many more possibilities.

But you sound pretty negative about relaxing, you used "chemical shit" for example.
Yes, because of my bad experience, but I'm not against relaxing in itself. What I'm against is that relaxing is the norm, that people look strange if you don't want to relax. I'm against the neurotic relaxation, that women continue to relax, despite the fact that the hair breaks and thins, that broken relaxed hair is preferred over healthy frizzy hair. You MUST relax, your hair should not be frizzy or you will not be neat.

Isn't relaxed hair the norm because it's neater?
Cleaner? Neat than frizzy hair? Such thoughts are not only conditioned, but also colonialist, servile. I can respect that you find her more relaxed, but neater is a value judgement. So frizzy hair wouldn't be neat enough to show it off? That's nonsense isn't it? So relaxing has become the norm, a lot of hairstyles that are accepted today, corn rows for example, used to be gaudy, offensive and not suitable for public appearance. That was in any case an incorrect value judgment and some people have not only adopted this idea indiscriminately, they have also got stuck in it. And again you don't have to like frizzy hair, but to say that it is by definition not neat is going too far.

But dreadlocks aren't really neat, are they?
Why not? Who determines that? Isn't Davids, Clark Accord and Sandy's hair neat? Neat means well-groomed, neat, clean, dreadlocks have all these qualities. Why is a woman with long smooth hair neater than a woman with long dreadlocks like Sandy's? Why is a man with slicker smooth hair neater than Clark Accord's? Do you think Maldini's hair is neater than David's? Growing dreadlocks is the most natural way to wear frizzy hair, the hair can grow naturally and undisturbed. Dreadlocks are not necessarily unkempt or dirty, they are always washed and cared for. People often have a negative image of Dreadlocks, because they think of uncultivated locks, locks that are allowed to grow involuntarily, but they are also often washed. It is really time to review these ideas and especially standards.

What's so special about frizzy hair?
Frizzy hair is unique because the small curls only occur in people of African descent. Asians, Europeans, Indians, all other races have smooth hair. Besides the fact that frizzy hair is unique in its structure, frizzy hair is special because it carries the history of blacks with it. The centuries-old African hairstyles already had meanings and told a story and they have always continued to do so. Check it out. Surinamese slave women used to braid padi grains in their hair, so that they could at least plant rice and not go hungry, wherever they ended up. The Anisa "Meet mi na tap na hoekoe" is derived from a hairstyle of the same name. After that, the hair was pressed for a very long time to meet the prevailing standards, the afro of the 60s grew out of the Civil Rights Movement, the curly of the 80s declined in popularity after Michael Jackson caught his hair on fire, the acceptance of braids in the 90s, partly due to the Hip Hop culture. In short, frizzy hair tells a political and cultural history.

Isn't it very difficult to switch from relaxed hair to frizzy hair? A lot of women say their hair breaks, it's hard and all that. Did you cut your hair completely short?
No, my hair was so short in the middle of my head that I didn't have to cut it. The rest of my hair was a bit longer, but I made little braids and tucked them in, Motjo Koemba's is what it's called in Surinamese. So I walked with a short cup for a while. My hair then suddenly grew very fast, every 2 to 3 weeks I did it again. I also varied with Bantu Knots, even waved and of course braided. My transition period is mainly characterized by experimenting, trying out, finding out what I felt comfortable with and learning to deal with my hair.

Next step?
Now? Now I can handle my hair better and actually I still try out hairstyles. Until recently I did Twists, nice and easy, they last for 3 weeks and after that you can walk with a twist-out for almost a week. But little twists now take too much time because my hair is a bit longer. I now want Bantu Knots again, fresh for the summer.

What is your hair routine?
I basically do all those things I wrote in my book. I wash my hair every 2 to 3 weeks depending on my style, keep my hair moist, comb my hair as little as possible and when I comb it I do it gently and take my time. When I have extensions in, I wash my hair more often, I don't cream my hair and take them out of my hair on time. This is a short list, but the various routines are described in detail in my book.

What would you recommend to people who, like you, want to get back to their frizzy hair?
Be patient and courageous. Rediscover your hair and enjoy it, it is wonderful to finally see your hair grow again and especially to see it blossom, to feel how soft frizzy hair really is. If you have no problem with short hair, cut the relaxed part, get to know her and enjoy. Find and make hairstyles that you feel comfortable with, afro, bantu knots, cornrows or twists, it doesn't matter, as long as you feel happy and think it looks good. You will see your hair blossom and say eeehhhh. If you don't want to cut your hair completely short, try a twist-out, wave or braid, even then there are endless possibilities. Cut off your dead ends. The most important thing is that you enjoy. Of course my book can help you with that. Toni Morrisen puts it nicely: "don't be afraid, enjoying your frizzy hair is quite a liberation". To the people who say it's hard I want to say:

Not because it's hard you don't dare, it's hard because you don't dare.