Give it a go
At one stage in her life Stephanie Pekeur wished she could be an Organics girl instead of a Sunsilk lass.
She was a teenager growing up in Worcester in the Western Cape and some of the high school boys were dishing out hair labels: Sunsilk for female friends with textured ethnic hair; Organics for those with straight curtain-like hair.
Stephanie disliked her Sunsilk stamp. She did not want it. The advertisements of Sunsilk and Organics shampoos at the time made a clear distinction between hair types and who the products were targeting. Sunsilk was for the African market; Organics for the Caucasian.
In her mind Organics was the superior one. It matched up with her aspirations to have long flowing hair similar to the actresses in the television show, Baywatch, which was a hit during the 1990s.
It took some time, but by now Stephanie, who has been edging into her thirties, is at ease and at peace with the way that her natural hair grows from her head.
“I am proud of my hair,” the Capetonian declares. “I like my hair. It does not matter if I am in a room with a bunch of women whom all have straight hair. I don’t feel intimidated any more.”
Her hair journey, like so many other women’s, involved hair treatments and heat, which started at a tender age.
But she believes her Mom’s primary goal with following the tried and tested path of relaxing her hair when she was younger was to make her exceptionally long and thick hair manageable for life and school.
As Stephanie grew older she too felt she had better control over her head of hair if she combined straightening products with blow drying and flat ironing or curlers. And she liked the outcome too: curls.
In a time without the Sister Google’s vast offering of visuals and videos and views of how to do things, where to find them, what to do with them Stephanie stuck with what she knew. She was at peace about her hair.
But as she grew older and her world expanded from town to city and student to professional she became more adventurous. An elevator ride with a co-worker with a natural hairstyle planted the definitive seed of change. In addition,
the forces of social media, altered mindsets, movements aligned and provided the water for the idea to grow on millennial Stephanie.
“I think it was around 2013 [when I had the encounter in the lift]. I remember I told her: ‘I love your hair, but I could never do it. She said: ‘Actually you can.” From then on I began to transition.”
Stephanie stopped blowing out her hair and started to trim the ends herself. Two years ago around her birthday in July she decided to pay a visit to the hairdresser for a blow and asked that the last relaxer remnants be chopped off. Initially she remained preoccupied about what her freed-up hair would look like.
“I was very focused on the type of curl. I know now that the curl is not everything. I started to like my Afro and the different ways in which I could wear my hair.”
Indeed her head of natural hair has brought her freedom of choice to experiment with different hairstyles.
“The great thing about natural hair is I can plait it. I can make a bun on my head. I can curl it. I can make Bantu knots or I can comb it into an Afro.”
Stephanie’s favourite style is covering her head in Bantu knots –miniature twirled buns after she has washed it – something which is therapeutic to her. When she unties these coils it gives an effect she likes – something that does not happen when she simply wets and dries her hair. But she also likes braids in winter and last year cut her hair quite short and enjoyed the change. On bad hair days and without the luxury of time she wraps her head in as scarf or she rolls it into a bun
Stephanie is encouraging others to give it a go.
“You may not initially like it. That is fine. Everything takes time. It is the same when you cut your hair and you think. “Oh I don’t know.” But once it has grown you begin to like it.” However, warns Stephanie, there may be people who do not grow into their natural hair. They could go back to what they have known and try again at another time when they are perhaps more prepared for it.
She says that new recruits could turn to the veterans for advice.
“Look at your other natural sisters. We love talking hair. So, if you want to know something, ask someone who is natural. Give it a go!,” she says.
For Stephanie her natural hair journey initially had more to do with looks than with being woke. But events like the hair protests at Pretoria Girls’ High last year and her engagement as a journalist with people’s responses to the incident have reminded her that a long hard road lies ahead to undo entrenched mindsets about beauty and race and rules dictating what is deemed acceptable and what not.
“I think in time things will change. I see things happening online, but there are still so many people who are not online and I know many of those thing it is not on to have natural hair.”
“The other day I took my clothes to a laundromat and I had a huge bun. The woman who was taking my clothes said: ‘Wow, you have big hair, né?’ I said: ‘Yes, I would like it to be even bigger.’ She said: ‘O dear…’ I could see her mindset was not yet similar to mine.”
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