Finding myself through a wig
Finding myself through a wig
By Doria Mage
Cover photo by LightField Studios
Sitting at the dressing table, I keep looking at myself in the mirror while my fingers run up and down over my braids, trying to pin them up in sort of a bun. According to the YouTube video, this was supposed to be done in barely 3 minutes, but it’s taken much longer. However, it doesn’t really matter because, while arranging the loosed tufts, I realised that for the first time in a very long time I do like my braided hairstyle and feel it as part of my identity.
If my memory serves me right, my relationship with my hair has been complicated since I was a child. As the daughter of an African woman based in Spain, I grew up in an environment where my mum tried for us to fit in, meaning to conceal my natural hair at all costs. Looking back, I understand now that she did it to try to give me my best chance. After the Transatlantic Slave Trade starting in the 15th century and the following process of acculturation, black women were taught that their afro-textured coils were something to be ashamed of, being regarded as unkempt and unprofessional. This way, many African women and afro descendant generations assimilated the Eurocentric canon as the only way to fit in in a dominant westernculture.In my case, born in Spain, this meant to get my hair braided regularly to look ‘good’.
Although my child-self liked the aesthetic braid style, my approach to this look wasn’t kind of healthy. In an attempt to keep my braids fresh for longer, my cousin–who did my hair until I turned 16–used to braid it very tight. That way, these ‘beauty sessions’ turned into an 8-hour ordeal where the synthetic hair was attached to the flesh, causing tears to roll down my cheeks during most of the process and being unable to move my neck freely for the following week. After this going on and on, I just got fed up with the situation and decided that, if that was the price of beauty, I was ready to try something else. Besides, nearly 16 years old and about to get into high school, I wanted a fresh start, meaning getting a makeover and having more haircut choices. The latter was something I lacked during all my childhood and early adolescence since braids weren’t really a choice, but the only viable option. This thought, alongside the pain associated with the braiding, only made me feel resentful of a hairstyle I liked but I was no longer able to embrace.
Then, aged 15, I just cut and took my braids out and swore to myself that I would never, ever, get my hair braided again.
Image by: Obi Onyeador
Trying different options
After this decision was made, another more important was to come: if no braids, what then? I knew since the beginning that I didn’t want to have a protective hairstyle and that I felt like wearing my natural hair.
However,freeing up my kinky hair was out of the question since, according to my family, the care routine was too much time-consuming. Especially for a black teenager who had no idea how to tame her hair to make it fit in to western society’s standards.So, relaxing my mane came up as the best alternative. Indeed, so I did, and I recognised that I liked it because suddenly my hair became more versatile, allowing me to experiment with different daily styles such as fringe, no fringe, side part hairdos, etc. The wide range of choices was great. What wasn’t that great were all the chemicals and heat applications I had to subject my coils to in order to keep them in check. In fact, over a year and a half my hair was processed so many times that it got deeply damaged.
Image by: courtyardpix
Getting into wigs
It was then, while trying to keep a balance between a variety of styles and protecting my natural hair, when I was introduced to the world of wigs. As soon as I stepped into the salon, I felt like entering Paradise. There, before me, laid a myriad of hairstyles of different colours and shapes. Finally, I felt free to arrange my hair at will without fearing hair damage or unbearable pain.Nevertheless, joy didn’t last long. Although then I had the physical resources to style my hair as much as I pleased, there was a factor that hadn’t changed: the society’s view on wigs. Unlike coloured contact lenses, false nails or some plastic surgeries, wigs weren’t normalized in Spain back then. That way, although having a large variety at my disposal, I opted for dark curly/straight hairdos that could pass for my natural hair (or a combination of it with extensions) in the eyes of my white inner circle.
Therefore, what was supposed to be my way to freedom became a burden increasingly harder to carry. Especially when it came to situations such as going to the physiotherapist or the swimming pool, taking my clothes off in front of someone else or sleeping over with some friends. The feelings of shame and concern got so ingrained in me that, once I started sharing a flat, I preferred keeping my wig on 24/7 to being seen without it.
Image by: Zach Vessels
After many years of unnecessary stress and plausible lies, the idea of telling the truth crossed my mind. However, the more I analysed the situation, the more I convinced myself of what a stupid mistake that would be. Even when I tried to find some comfort in the American music industry(much more open-minded than the Spanish environment), there was none.Although well-known singers as Beyoncé, Nicki Minajand Rihanna changed their hairstyle very often, they never spoke openly about it, as if there were a valid reason to keep it secret. Then, my 21 year-old-self thought that if they said nothing, it might be because there was nothing to say…
Speaking my truth
It wasn’t until a few years later when, knackered after a very long shift, I reached a turning point. Once at my boyfriend’s, I started feeling an unexpected emotion overcoming my body. At first, I took it for annoyance because of the tiredness, until I realized that it was anger. Anger because of the oppression I was subjecting myself to, so as to please some biased society norms. Anger because of depriving myself of feeling fully free at my own home with the person I loved,and anger for not having said earlier that I had had enough. Then, with shaking hands and as much of a defiant as a worried gaze, I threw my wig away and said to my boyfriend that that night I was to air my natural hair.
Even if some years have passed since then, that instant keeps being the most enlightening moment of my life.The moment where I decided that I didn’t want to commit myself to the idea that society has about what a black woman should look like, but with my own beliefs. Ever since I’ve adopted many different hairstyles, going through straight, curly, wavy and bright wigs; my grown out and shaved natural hair; and the most gorgeous and colourful braids. Indeed, here I am, checking my reflection in the mirror and admiring my three-coloured braids pinned in a bun. While looking forward, I can’t help smiling proudly because I’ve never felt more like myself. Finally, after many years of self-doubt and shame, I gathered the courage to take control of something that people never let up to me. This path hasn’t been easy, nor has it been short, and started with small but meaningful actions as making sure I didn’t get tight braids.
Some may think that I’m exaggerating and that it’s just hair, but it’s not. It’s a matter of choices and rights, a matter of being able to speak up and taking control of different facets of one’s life. It turns out that by taking my wig off before someone else I didn’t only free myself from a piece of hair, but from toxic constraints that prevented me from blossoming; and once you take that weight off your shoulders you never allow yourself to go backwards.
Passionate about Communication and Storytelling, Mage holds a BA in Journalism and a Master’s in Marketing and Corporate Communication. She has run different Marketing projects in Spain, her home country, with the main focus on Branding and Strategic Communication. Currently based in Glasgow, her life is filled by books and otherartistic expressions that provide her inspiration. Thus, she spends all her time delving into different social topics, looking for a way to understand the world she lives in better; a way to shed light on stories that appear to have been overlooked. You can find some of her thoughts on her blog Me, Myself and I.
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