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‘I am not my Hair’: An Open Letter to the African Man

This is a not-so-short missive to African men everywhere…

Dear African Man,

You are our rock, our partners, our brothers. It is therefore with much chagrin and dismay that I have come to learn that many an industrious woman is unfairly labelled as superficial and vain if she pays particular attention to how she looks. Woe unto you if you are even remotely attractive, care about your appearance and own more than 15 pairs of shoes (Why is this a sentence? Why! ). You will immediately be perceived as empty-headed, high maintenance and thought to be ‘on the hunt’ for someone to pay for those fabulous heels or that amazing, ombre, Peruvian weave (those who require Google at this juncture may take a brief hiatus and return when you have made yourself familiar with the product in question).

There is after all, a price to be paid for wanting and daring to look good in a society that frowns upon weaves, makeup and the like. Many a woman will tell you, we may like to don these things on occasion because we feel they help make us a little more attractive but they are not who we are. I may not have worn a weave for six-odd years but I should have the freedom to don one if I so choose without being judged for it. I find it laughable in the extreme that a woman is often relegated as ‘unfit’ for marriage if she does not keep her hair in a natural afro, perpetually wear flats or go sans-makeup. I have nothing against afros but they are not for everyone. Judging a book by its cover means that many a man, treading resolutely on the narrow-minded lane, missed out on a really, really good story.

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The irony of this entire situation is that a woman will generally let her partner and his sense of style (or lack thereof) be. Unless her partner walks around looking like he lives under a street light and has no access to a shower and pressed clothes, she hardly tells him what to wear or how to cut his hair. Dear African man, you must adopt the same reciprocity and leave our beauty regimens alone; you will be much happier for it. African women spent a whopping $6 Billion dollars on weaves, extensions and wigs last year. Yes dear African man, I know, the figures are astronomical, larger than Lesotho’s $5.5 Billion GDP actually. I shall continue to pray that God may grant you the serenity to accept that weaves are not going anywhere; neither is makeup. Accept and move on. Your time might be better spent on your own self-improvement. We love you guys but ashy arms and legs are a tad unattractive. A man should only intervene if his partner’s weave begins to look like something crawled to the top of her head and died there: Or if she has shaved her eyebrows and garishly drawn them back on with a black pencil. No one deserves to wake up to scary eyebrows. No one. I am with you on that one brothers.


Looks, bells and baubles aside, there is a breed of woman who actually wants to be known for the content of her character, the (proverbial) sweat of her labour and what is contained in-between her ears. I refuse to submit to the perception that one must be a ‘Plain Jane’ to be taken seriously. How about you try to look beyond what you see? Stop trying to force us into the box of what you think an African woman should look like. You might be pleasantly surprised to find that intelligence and attention to one’s appearance are perfectly synergetic traits and not mutually exclusive. The onus is for you, dear African man, to separate the wheat from the chaff and a lustrous head of store-bought Brazilian hair is NOT the yardstick.

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I may like to look good and I may have more shoes than one human being needs but that does not mean I lack content or depth. Each fabulous pair of heels that I have is a trophy of how hard I work to acquire everything I own. It is my personal reward and my way of patting myself on the back and saying ‘Well done Elayne!’ Be that as it may, I am not my hair… or my shoes.


A Modern African Woman


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263Chat is a Zimbabwean media organisation focused on encouraging & participating in progressive national dialogue

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