Embracing My African Forest | Teen Ink

Embracing My African Forest

January 11, 2019
By cforetia SILVER, Silver Spring, Maryland
cforetia SILVER, Silver Spring, Maryland
6 articles 0 photos 1 comment

Favorite Quote:
Closed mouths don't get fed.

Roots resisted as Mother's great hands tugged them together. Pain seared through the unmoisturized soil. Her comb weaved through my African forest of fibers and keratin. Blades sheared split ends. Her calloused hands slathered coconut oil and bound the wild kinks into some form of manageability. I sighed, hoping the four hours of toil were worth it. A common occurrence for a Cameroonian girl.

My mother is no stranger to style. She measures, pins, and hems fabric like Coco Chanel. She guided my small hands as I sewed my first skirt and inspired me to become a fashion designer at age five. To this day, I aspire to be the ultimate fashionista. When it comes to styling hair, my mother is no different. She mastered crochet braids, Senegalese twists, and weaves, on top of her talents with a headwrap. Again, I mirrored her. I practiced making cornrows on my dolls. Despite her hairdressing capabilities, my mother always conceals her real hair under a wig or gele.

Likewise, I resented my natural hair. My tresses never seemed to grow and volume shrunk at the hint of humidity. Moreover, I could not fully embrace my hair due to my environment. No other race had this hair. Looking through any magazine, I envied the luscious locks of supermodels and celebrities. I could never mimic the tips found in Teen Vogue or Seventeen. Just as with fashion, I wanted my hair to be put-together. I succumbed to the pressure. My natural mane became an inconvenient, transitory state, only being freed between hairstyles. Gritting my teeth became normal, as chemical relaxers and flat-irons singed my hair into obedience. This was the price of beauty. Anything else appeared ratty.

The summer after sophomore year, I decided to discover why, or at least how, afro-textured hair differs from other hair types. Reading Helix Magazine opened up a world of information. The universe had not conspired against me. It was just genetics. Hair follicles for those of African descent resemble ellipses, which causes the strands to form tight coils. This inhibits the hair’s natural oil from flowing. I possessed type 4C—the driest hair. I still felt resigned, but the answer briefly gave me closure. For once, my hair felt less foreign.

On New Year’s Eve 2017, everything changed. After six months in hiding, my tresses were released from their extensions. Pain engulfed my scalp as my sister, Sharon, detangled my locks with her nimble fingers. After criticizing my poor hair care, Sharon attempted (and failed) to style my hair with bantu knots. My mother spied from outside my bedroom, goading my sister into letting me use the flat-iron. I sheepishly watched them bicker, and laughed uncontrollably. Sharon addressed me again, explaining her own hair struggles. She constantly used weaves and relaxers too, and her hair began falling out at 16. She never knew how to accept hers because nobody taught her how to. I noticed her unshed tears. Suddenly, all the problems I suffered with my hair returned in full force: constant breakage, burning my scalp, denial and laziness prolonging the duration of my extensions. I had repeated all my sister’s mistakes and rejected a part of myself I thought I could not control. As a result, my vibrant forest decayed into an arid desert.

From then on, I went natural. No weaves, no extensions, no relaxers, and no more fighting. Just me and coconut oil. Unlike most New Year’s resolutions, I actually committed to this. With a simple twist, undefined kinks transformed into patterned spirals. Coarse strands softened. On the first day after winter break, I received eight compliments on my hair—yes, I counted. I twisted my hair every other day, ninety minutes per day, for the rest of the school year. Though surprised by my dedication, my mother could not be prouder. I finally embraced my individuality and, in doing so, I revived my beautiful forest.

The author's comments:

This was originally a college essay idea, but I decided it would be more appropriate to share it with the rest fo the world (besides, the college I'm going to didn't even see this).

Similar Articles


This article has 0 comments.