When I was a little girl, my hair was one of many stresses my mother had to deal with.
Every month, I had to have a new hairstyle, especially braids because not only was it pretty, but it was functional, saving her lots of preparation time during the weekday morning.
When I became old enough to take care of my own hair, I realized how expensive and time consuming it was. When footing the bill for a certain hairstyle, I understood why my father would cringe when the bill came when I was younger. I found it ridiculous to pay so much money just for hair.
In ancient African culture, hair indicated a person’s family background, tribe, social status and phase in life (ie: whether someone was in mourning or had just gone through a certain rite of passage), and was believed to be a gateway to a connection with God as hair was on top of the head.
But bigger than that, hair was made beautiful for aesthetic purposes, until slavery came and messed it all up by making black hair in particular by making it a political and social status marker based on its proximity to Caucasian hair and mocking the texture of black hair.
My mom’s fuss over my hair wasn’t far from the purpose of making me look pretty while complying with school rules, which at the time in the 90s, didn’t allow for black girls to have afros and preferred braided or relaxed hair. Also, afros were generally frowned upon by most in black society as something that was backward and ugly compared to straight, relaxed hair.
So, from the time I was 4 years old, I would spend hours at the hair salon, first waiting in a long queue filled with other women and girls wanting to do their hair, and then, when I finally got to a hair stylist, going through the long process of having my hair relaxed and styled.
If I wasn’t at the hair salon, I was at my cousin’s house getting my hair braided. It was convenient for my mother to ask a family member to braid my hair because she could leave me at their home for the weekend, and labour costs were not that high. It would usually take the entire weekend to complete the braid style that my mother wanted for me, and I had no choice but to sit and cramp quietly while my hair was being tugged and pulled.
So, exactly how much was spent on my hair, excluding all the time spent in salons and cousins’ homes?
I relaxed my hair every month for R50 from the time I was 6 years old until I was 12, and that works out to an amount of R7200.
I also braided my hair every two months in a year, and my cousin charged my mother a flat rate of R150. My mother’s subliminal persuasion of home-made cookies and occasional shopping sprees helped with the discounted rate. Anyway, the total cost of braiding my hair over this period amounted to R5400.
When I turned 13 years old, hair prices had gone up slightly, so the average price for relaxing hair was R100. I continued to relax my hair every month for four years, and the total cost for that was R4800. I still continued to braid my hair every two months during that 4-year duration at an average price of R200, using other braid specialists as my cousin had left home to pursue her studies, which worked out to a total of R4800.
Then, in 2004 when I was 17 years old, my biggest hair blessing, which started off as a nightmare, occurred. After years of thrusting chemicals into my hair and subjecting it to tugging and pulling caused by braiding, my hairline bid farewell to my scalp and my hair started thinning.
The only solution was to snip it all off and go bald, and I did!
I felt as though a heavy load had been lifted off my shoulders because I had one less worry in my life. I even looked fresher and lighter as if I was released from the burden of hair.
By the age of 17, a total of R22 200 was spent on my hair.
And that’s just an approximate number because I can’t remember how much was spent on buying hair pieces for braiding and what the cost of the occasional hair wash and conditioning at the hair salon was.
Hair shouldn’t dictate your social status based on its texture, and it certainly shouldn’t be a financial worry as you try to fit into society’s mould of beauty.
Whatever your hair choice, make sure you do it for you and that it fits into your budget.
*image from Runway Street.