Mlilo Mpondo
Mlilo Mpondo

Digging through hair and dysfunction

Since crèche started, bath time has been a nightmare. Every evening while I struggle through my daughter’s coarse hair with feeble attempts to get the sand and tiny stones out and off of her scalp I imagine what being a sandstone miner might be like. It was a long time coming, but after three days of watching her at crèche playing in a sandbox with three other potential head lice hazards throwing sand into each other’s faces and hair, I couldn’t brave the evening tasks for a day longer. And so I got a clipper and shaved the shackles off of her head. This in itself was no easy feat, my daughter has come to mimic me in many ways. She is only three but in the little time that she’s been out of my womb that poor girl has seen me with enough hairstyles to adorn an Ebony hair catalogue. Exhibit A: Each morning she stands on a plastic stool, staring at the mirror with pink bristles in hand, chanting “princess” as she pats at her hair, almost as though she were in a trance. Fantastically freaky.

It was not till this past Sunday that I realised just how profoundly my schizophrenic hair dysfunction has affected my child. To begin with, she may love good hair but she has a strict aversion to anyone combing, washing or even touching it. She is yet to understand that beauty is a painful endeavour. Since being touched on the head is the bane of her existence I knew that a machine forcing its way through her scalp wouldn’t sit well with her. But forward we went, with clipper in hand and her waist clasped in between my thighs, claws to my face and her deafening cries of protest. “Help me” she screamed as though a shaving machine were a sign of ensuing Nazi concentration camps and gas chambers. I would’ve managed to perform a clean shave, had it not been for the molars inserted into my right thigh, the last signs of a dying horse. Result, I managed a bumpy shave, enough to keep any infestations from her scalp. When I was done she put her hands up to her head, realising the sacrilege I had just committed. She looked up with a damp face and struggled to get the words out of her mouth, all she could manage were tears.

The look on my baby’s swollen face and the word her tongue was unable to conjure was “why?” It was heart-breaking, took me straight back to the day my grandmother put a pair of orange Bic scissors through my hair. I was shattered. I didn’t understand why a woman that fed, taught and clothed me would let me go out into the world naked. Granted I’ve never really had good hair, but that’s nothing extensions couldn’t fix, definitely no reason to go cutting it.

Good hair was my ticket to the big time, all the nurses in my hood had it. Tina Turner had it, the women on Generations had it, all the Miss South Africas had it, and I am almost certain Mother Teresa had it too but because of her veil we will never know. So why couldn’t I have it? Why at a tender age was I deprived a chance at beauty? Why couldn’t I be like the pretty girls on the Black Like Me boxes?

Well it’s because my grandmother recognised in me the early stages of insecurity. Exhibit B: Me walking around the house at age eight, towel wrapped around my head (because I couldn’t afford a wig), speaking with an inaudible twang and convinced that my name was Amber. That woman, God rest her soul, saw that I was getting more from Model C schools and television than she had bargained for. Instead of straight As she got a granddaughter that personified the torments of Toni Morisson’s The Bluest Eye. What she got was a young black girl who forgot her own magnificence and looked to the outside, to make-up for pieces she had lost or forgotten on the inside. And my grandmother was having none of that and so the scissors came out and the hair came off with all of its misguided idealism.

If anything good hair has failed on its promise of perfection. I’ve been cheated on, lied to, didn’t get my well-deserved promotion and here I’m still sitting at this laptop trying to get a book deal or at least a Noeleen interview. Hell I am not even trending on twitter. By the look of things good hair ain’t done squat for me besides piranha my bank balance.

I don’t want to be a toddlers and tiaras kind of mom, fussing at my baby to look the part. By the time she is 16 the world outside my door would’ve given her 100 different roles to play. And so in solidarity I’ve decided to shave my head. Screw those girls on the relaxer and hair-extension commercials. My man hates that in his face and spooning isn’t the same with tufts of hair in the way, besides all it does is aggravate my eczema. Me and my baby are going to adore the skins we are in. Try it, it could change your life, if not it could do wonders for your credit.

Back to my baby, when she was done pleading that I put her hair back in its rightful place, she ran to the mirror, patted her almost bare scalp, smiled at what she saw and said “mama look a’ me, Khonza is a princess”, I smiled back and said “sure enough baby your most certainly are”. I realise now that I was freeing her from more than just a lice infestation, I’m introducing her to her magnificent self.

Tags: ,

  • Thoughts of an outsider at a beauty magazine event
  • Crossdressing and our ruling class (women)
  • The hair debate must end
  • Size matters in Africa
  • 9 Responses to “Digging through hair and dysfunction”

    1. Aida #

      Great piece, i love hearing when people are comfortable in their own skins. You have given your child a great gift: being confident.

      January 15, 2014 at 6:49 pm
    2. Nomsa #

      I realized that for my 25 years of existence, I actually have no clue what my hair-natural hair looks like. Chemically processed, hidden in weaves/braids. I have no issue with people who like those kind of looks, I have an issue with it when so much of one’s self worth is attached to that stuff. More power to your daughter’s new look (and to my budding fro).

      January 15, 2014 at 7:06 pm
    3. Momma Cyndi #

      I cannot for the life of me understand why editors are not lined up around the block trying to sign you up. Seldom have I read a piece that I found more enjoyable or more touching. Thank you

      January 15, 2014 at 8:08 pm
    4. Lindsay #

      way to go! Sometimes writing makes me happy – this did!

      January 16, 2014 at 8:57 am
    5. george orwell #

      Mlilo – you’re a talented writer! Loved this piece.

      January 17, 2014 at 8:13 am
    6. Msi #

      I truly enjoy each of your pieces. Again so revealing and honest

      January 17, 2014 at 8:43 am
    7. Zeph #

      Shaved heads rule!

      January 17, 2014 at 12:36 pm
    8. Khanyisa #

      I have felt sad, I’ve smile and laughed while reading this piece. I truly enjoyed it and all your previous pieces that have given me a glimpse into your world and your perspective of it and the outside. May I ask that you write a book, it would be such a fresh perspective on (but not limited to) your experience of motherhood, as most books state how one should mother. This piece makes me picture the ‘Adventures of Mlilo and Khonza’- as you grow together. On the subject matter,in avoidance of being redundant, the previous comments are ones that I also echo. Thank you for sharing your beautiful thoughts with us.

      January 17, 2014 at 8:39 pm
    9. Rea #

      Toni Morisson’s The Bluest Eye….ever so enriching! I hope your daughter will get to read these beautiful pieces when she’s older.

      January 28, 2014 at 5:31 pm

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