Nigerian Women and Their Struggles with Natural Hair

38 comments
December 19, 2011 ‐ By Dolapo Roberts

It’s often a shock to many of my American friends who have never been to countries in Africa when they hear about African women getting relaxers or wearing weaves. Afterall, to them Africa is the motherland of everything natural and pure. A friend has even challenged my “Africanness” because I choose to relax my hair— Um, pretty shallow if you ask me since there’s more to being African than hair!

Believe it or not, African women do face similar struggles with natural hair as women in the diaspora mainly because they are uneducated about their hair. In Nigeria for instance, natural hair is associated with your economic status. The poorer you are, the more likely it is for you to have natural hair; or as it’s sometimes referred to, “village hair.”

“No rich man will marry a girl with village [unstraightened] hair,” declared Esther, 18, a rural migrant to the capital, Abuja. [full story here]

I was in Nigeria over the summer and I must say there is a lot of work to be done regarding the way natural hair is perceived over there. Every girl I saw was either weaved up, wigged up or braided up. However, I am optimistic as more educated individuals spread the word on the beauty of natural hair (natural hair meet up in Nigeria). I sense a revolution in the making and I like it!

What are your thoughts on this issue in Africa? Shocked? Saddened? Neutral?

More on Madame Noire!

More from Styleblazer

More from Mommynoire

MadameNoire Video

Comment Disclaimer: Comments that contain profane or derogatory language, video links or exceed 200 words will require approval by a moderator before appearing in the comment section. XOXO-MN
  • Iscreem4icecream

    Not surprised.  I’ve heard skin bleaching is pretty popular in some parts of Africa too.  All over the globe we’ve been conditioned to think our natural beauty is not enough. 

  • Kia

    what kind of stupidv article is this I am a Nigerian woman and I dont have any problem with my natural hair. And its oke to have natural hair in Nigeria. Besides there are plenty Nigerian woman who have soft hair without even relaxing it. Its just that its easier to plait it or to wear a wig or weave, but theres not such a thing as village hai. I hate when Americans think that they know everything about Africans, Please dont make this kind of stereo t, if you dont know anything about us. This is bull.

    • Wow

      Seems like even Africans don’t know everything about Africans since Chioma95 just said natural hair is a fairly new concept and you just said it’s OK to have natural hair in Nigeria. Maybe you guys should get together and come up with a consensus or better yet stop thinking that you speak for the whole of Africa, especially given the tribalism and religious conflict that you have going on in your own country that separates you yet you want to come here and act as if the problem is only a black american one.  You make the same assumptions that you accuse Americans of making and the last I checked there really isn’t much that’s remotely different about our hair and our sisters in Africa and in both countries the mentality towards that which grows out of our scalp is equally f$cked up.  Get over yourself and your disdain for black Americans, yes your culture is different but the physical characteristics and the ingrained inferiority complex amongst us is global. That’s what bull.

      • Chioma95

        In an effort to be respectful, I’ll say the following: I’m not certain if the whole comment was a response to both Kia and I, but in the assumption that it is, please understand that I do admire Black Americans. I especially admire the ones who have the courage to wear their natural hair. You don’t see many teens my age trying to make an effort to go natural which I was I am currently trying to do. However, someone should not be defined by their hair. In response to what I got out of some of the comments here, wearing your hair relaxed or weaved up does not make you any less African or ashamed of your hair. That’s like saying people who don’t wear their native attire here in America (whether they’re African, Indian,  Chinese, etc.) have lost touch with their culture. It’s a sign of the times. Nigerians are exposed to western media and make attempts to try and and copy it because they think its fashionable or hip (take my mother, for example). Needless to say, at the end of the day the people are still proud of who they are and where they come from; that is definitely one thing that we can all agree on.

        My problem is just the generalization that many people make of Africa as a whole, not realizing the differences between Northern and Sub-Saharan Africans, much more west, east, central, and southern Africa.All comments (with the exception of trolls) are extremely insightful and I can definitely understand where you are coming from and, perhaps, even take it into consideration. Like I said, I’m only 16; these are the kinds of real conversations that I learn from.

  • Chioma95

    This article is rubbish. So what if they want to wear weaves? Let them. I hate that people are so concerned about what others are doing to their hair. And being Nigerian, I can tell you that “natural hair” is a fairly new concept in Nigeria. At a young age you have your head shaved, and when you get older you start transitioning to braids. I highly doubt that relaxers grew to popularity because or the “admiration” for straight hair. It’s perhaps just to deal with manageability of hair. I just recently decided to go natural and I am 16. I’ll tell you now that managing natural, West African hair is quite a struggle. I’ve been permed ever since I was a toddler. However, the plus to being Nigerian is that you have braiders on hand 24/7; but I braid my own hair for now and I prefer that over natural hair any day(or at least for the time being).

    Honestly, Black Americans will never truly understand or be able to relate to African Culture.

  • Cchigbu23

    This makes me very sad. My father is Nigerian and I grew up straightening my hair. 4 years ago I decided to cut all of my hair off and go natural. My dad criticized me and told me how horrible my afro looked. He even went so far as to give me 300 dollars to get my hair done, telling me that I would never find a good job or a man with my hair. (I just took the money and bought olive oil products!) Hahahahaha! This article really explained my dad’s response. As my hair has gotten longer my dad hasn’t been so vocal-but now I understand why he had the initial response he did.

  • Carolyncrumpton

    It is sad.  I am one of those sisters that have tried all of it (weave, perms, braids, wigs, etc).  My hair got tinner and weaker as I aged.  One day I decided enough was enough.  Thinking about all the hours I spent in the beauty salon made me sick.  I have been natural for about 7 years now and I am one happy sister.  I can get my hair wet and all it take is to dry it with a towel and keep on going.  I will never take myself  through that misery again.  I love it and I notice more and more sister are getting on the band wagon.  I feel that God made me the way he wanted me to be and gave me what he wanted me to have.  God makes no mistakes.  If he wanted us to have straight hair, he would have created us with straight hair. I love my hair as it is and when I meet a man, he will just have to accept me as I am.  I feel good being a natural woman.

  • Onyi

    i am a Nigerian, and i do feel that our hair should be left in its natural form

  • Ziggymar80

    It is just inferiority complex. Long hair is better than natural hair…

    • Cocolicious

      Or not realizing that natural hair can grow very long.

  • Shawng

    True dat, and ain’t it a shame though? I am a Nigerian man and this trend is deeply troubling. Growing up, the hairstylist( village braider) came to our house every Sunday and would braid the hair of all the ladies in the house. I always thought the ladies looked majestic and lovely afterwards. Fast forward a few years and all i see around me are sisters with jacked up looking weaves and all sorts of God knows what. It’s perceived as chic, worldly and learned to look like a ruffled up swamp cat or some shiznit. That ain’t yo hair girls. Nigerian women have also taken to shaving their natural beautiful eyebrows and caking on some lawd knows what as substitutes. Lawdamercy. Brings to mind a line from the Black Star song “Brown skin lady’, ” Even my conditioner has been conditioned’ Y’all Nigerian ladies need to wake up for real , for real. All that stuff ain’t attractive , at least not to me.

    • http://www.naturalnigerian.com/ Natural Nigerian

      A man’s perspective…good to read! 

      If there were more men in Nigeria saying this to the women in their lives (sisters, mothers, friends, girlfriends, wives) perhaps we won’t have this crisis on our hands. 

      As a Nigerian man, would you mind repeating this to a Nigerian audience? My email address is naturalnigerian@gmail.com ;)

  • Misty Jean Moore

    This should be a known fact. Look at all the Nigerian run hair salons in America. I’m Nigerian, but I prefer Dominicans because they take less time and cheaper.

    • Anonymouse

      Where are you seeing Nigerian run hair salons? 

      • Cocolicious

        Most of the African braiding salons are run by Nigerians.

  • Tiffany Lee

    I know some may be offended by my comment but idk about the Nigerian women in Nigeria but I know that the majority that I’ve seen in Los Angeles, Ca wear wigs that look like mops and old dust busters. 

    • Anonymouse

      Obviously, you know that your comment was not only offensive but unnecessary…. smh

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_AE332VZJBOER5P22LIDGAQYCWE Bella

        No, it’s an observation. And  Tiffany is right. They want the straight hair but have no idea how to take care of it. They buy inferior weaves and wigs rather than be natural and to them this is STILL more beautiful than natural hair. That’s what’s offensive.

        • Really?

          There are plenty of african american women who could look in the mirror and read that same statement.  Pot meet kettle. we are no different.  inferior hair weaves and wigs? what makes one superior????  It’s all fake and none of it looks like it grew out of our scalps.  It’s only real b/c some indian woman cut it off of her head, but that’s where the realness stops.  What’s offensive is that fact that we are so desperate to have hair that looks like somebody else’s that we’d tack, staple, glue, and sew somebody else’s hair  onto our scalp and then have the nerve to want to assign a hierarchy to determine who’s fake hair is better. 

          • tayrat

            Looooool…….I love that indian woman statement……

      • Guest

        what, only Africans can talk reckless about black Americans, but woe betide black Americans make an observation about Africans, and then it becomes “offensive and unnecessary”? 

        GTFOHWTBS

  • Hippiechik621

    I am a Black American who works with a lot of Africans from all over the continent, not just Nigerians.  Yes they all have weaves, wigs (and it doesn’t have to look like it really is their hair), it just has to be straight.  I had locs and got lots of comments, but when I cut my hair off and wore an afro I was told I should get a texturizer to make it easier to comb. I don’t have trouble combing my hair. I too thought it was ironic that Africans did not wear or want natural, unprocessed, un-covered hair.

  • Darling

    I wish they’d leave it alone, because outside of the United States, the Africans ( in Africa or Europe) just can’t get that ish right. Weaves, braids, perms look raggedy as h**l. If you can’t afford to do it right or don’t know how to do it right, leave it alone… It looks bad!

  • http://twitter.com/lilideedee Dahlia Beckford

    It is not so far off, from what many African Americans believe. I am Jamaican and so natural hair in my country is not seen as taboo, you will find more Christian or Rastafarian women with natural hair. In fact I only relaxed my hair when I was 22 because my family/church forbade it. When I moved to the US I became ‘aware’ that natural hair is seen in a ‘negative’ light. Words like nappy was never known to me. In fact I was advised by my US professor that relaxed hair is seen as more professional and should be worn, if I was considering my careers, so its not only Africans that need to emancipated from mental slavery, we all do.

  • Deepserenity

    sad that even in the mother land whites have conditioned them to think less of themselves, whites rule everything there apparently even hair

    • BlahSquared

      Also, Africans watch a lot of American television. African women watch Beyonce, Serena, Kelly and Rihanna all weaved and wigged up. They know our beauty rituals here. Women in Jamaica, Africa and other islands mimic what Black American women are doing. They’re not studying the White women, they copy the black celebs. That’s y there’s a lace front wig movement in Nigeria right now. White American women don’t wear lace wigs, Black American women do.

  • GUEST

    colonialism is a mutha@#$@$#

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_AE332VZJBOER5P22LIDGAQYCWE Bella

    This is a little surprising. I remember when i was younger i would go to these Africans to get my hair braided. They always told me not to relax my hair, that it would ruin it. They all had natural hair. Now it’s a bad thing there? I have no problem with whatever people want to do with their hair (as long as they take care of it), but I’m sad that they don’t see natural as beautiful. They shouldn’t feel they HAVE to have their hair a certain way just to be out in society.

  • Guest

    Kudos to whoever started that meet-up in Nigeria. Hopefully the movement will expand to other African countries.

    My mother is West African. She wore her hair natural from the time she left there, and then lived in Europe form some years – about 8 years. When she married my father, who is African-American, and moved to America during the 1980s his Southeast family MADE/coerced her, among other things like wearing deodorant, into getting a relaxer. She didn’t want to because she had spent years growing her hair out and getting it ‘healthy’. But she did, to conform, to make everyone feel better. I remember when we first arrived to the states, she’d do our hair styles in her cultural West African way by threading it. Then, one of her friends from Detroit taught her how to braid and corn row hair – she didn’t know how because her tribe never braided hair in their cultural practices.  Then she got that relaxer. My hair remained in relaxed until another friend that my mother trusted, imposed and gave me a jheri curl while I spent that night at her house. Needless to say, both of our hair gradually thinned out and broke off. These people pressured us into chemically processing our hair, but no one offered how to take care of it. Back then, people acted as if all black people had the same type hair and everyone’s hair reacts the same to any given hair product.

    We, later, moved long-termly to a predominantly black community. There was a detest for anything nappy, kinky, in that community. After all my hair had fallen out from that damn jheri curl (it took about 2 years) we started from zero/natural again – cutting it all off.  I remember coming home crying about being teased by kids at school concerning my hair. I got teased because it wasn’t that wavy or bone straight type hair.  My mother wouldn’t allow me to get a relaxer, so I started wearing a hat to school. One of my classmates yanked it off my head and the entire class busted out laughing at me – both black and white kids. It was a horrible experience. All the black girls either had relaxed hair or they had back length hair that was either wavy or bone straight. I wanted, so bad, to be accepted. So, I cried relentlessly to my mother for a relaxer, got some whoppins for it. She started pressing my hair with a hot comb, which lead to a box relaxer, another ‘major falling out of the hair, which lead to seeing a stylist every 2 weeks, and this lead to getting a professional relaxer. My hair did grow over some years, long. It did thicken back up. But after years of having that done, it started thinning out, breaking and my scalp became a mess.

    I’m so glad I’m natural now. My mother and my other sister went back natural, too. I was surprise to discover that my African relatives all relaxed their hair. I am perplexed, actually, how more African-Americans are wearing their hair natural, and less continental Africans are wearing their hair natural. Growing up in the states, as kid, every time we’d come across an African person, African immigrant, their hair would be natural. It’s so different now.

    Why don’t West African women know about managing their natural hair? How did this happen? As I’ve followed the natural hair care movement online over the past 5-6 years, I notice that a lot of the women have gotten their hair remedies from the way west Africans have traditionally cared for their hair. A lot of that must have been lost during the colonial era.  When I first learned about shea butter, I was at a market place that attracts a lot of Pan-Africanist type vendors. they lady went into the history about it, as well as some of the other traditionally African derived holistic personal care products she sold.

    One product that I notice a lot of naturals using now, that my mother’s tribe once traded and consumed, is palm oil. I’ve used this on my hair, as well as palm oil soap – it works wonders. I read some history on my mother’s tribe, and they used this on their skin and their hair. However, I did not grow up knowing anything about palm oil. We never bought it or used it. My parent doesn’t even know about shea butter or black soap which is native to West Africa. She didn’t even use coconut milk or oil (my favorites – life savers), which is something consumed, harvested, where she is from. After lots of hair loss and damage from relaxing her hair, she’s been a natural, now, for over a decade. To this day, she still uses hair grease, the blue kind. I told her about the shea butter and black soap. Honestly, it went in one ear and out the other.

    It’s crazy!

    • http://www.naturalnigerian.com/ Natural Nigerian

      Love the story, would like to interview you for my blog if you don’t mind. You can reach me here: naturalnigerian@gmail.com. Whereabouts in W.Africa is your mum from?

  • Martins Tanya

    I have no problem with what you do to your hair, relax, braid it, put a weave /wig in, i don’t care, as long as you look sane. What i have a problem with is people/ mostly blacks making a big deal that you do not wear your natural hair…erm  white people do use hair extensions too but of course , blacks must always look for ways to hate on themselves instead of building our selves up. White people hardly diss other whites for using hair extensions , but now they have started insulting blacks for doing the same thing because. i mean c’mon we insult our people regarding hair, why not them..free for all (insert black hair insult here). Black people wake up!!!! let us focus on building ourselves, going to school, becoming indispensable in our work place in stead of focusing on who wears wig,weaves and …my favorite ”has self hate” , get a life!!

    • Cocolicious

      If we’re talking beauty ideals it is a big deal.

    • LovelyRedd

      You’re missing the point.. White women wear weave that matches their natural hair.. I rarely see black women with afro-like extensions… It’s the point that many black women are ashamed of their natural hair texture…

  • Hunn3y

    Seems like we’ll never get any closer to accepting ourselves for who we are and we are not the total blame for this either. both society and our community are the reason our self worth continues to be in question. love you, do you, nothing else matters in the end! the dead horse has been beaten enough, time for new progressive conversations!

    • Deepserenity

      we are to blame since this is not the 1800 and we can read, and learn and think for ourselves, we need to have the strength to LEAD instead of follow all the time, they’ve taken the drive from us to be kings and queens and make the style and rule with our influence sad

  • http://twitter.com/sabadaga SANDRA

    Not a surpirse to me. I am a french african and whenever I go to Africa ( Togo, Benin, Ivory coast ) I only see women with weaves and they love it. They just think it’s chic.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_HQ5ZRADXETGPSYVOPG22Y54TZ4 JJ

    I totally agree. I’m Nigerian and when I went natural it killed my mother. I still can’t be around her for extended periods of time without a weave or she’ll start giving me funny faces, refuse to be seen in public with me, or worse (gasp!) threaten to relax my hair. I don’t blame her; in Nigeria straight hair is not only associated with wealth but with sanity. So, when a chick walks around willingly with an afro, she’s seen as poor and insane.

    It’s sad, but things will change…

  • Adiatc

    I’m not surprised. Being of Nigerian decent (on my father’s side), I have been aware of this for a long time. I try to explain to Black Americans over here that your hair is not the only way to represent your heritage. A lot of women in African countries wear their hair in many differents styles (weaves, braids, etc.) and it certainly doesn’t make them any less African! I think it goes to show that being African is what is in your heart and soul, not necessarily what is on top of your head!

No thanks