Perming Kits and Bleaching Cream

You know how it is when you go back to Africa. You expect everything to be African. For the long time returnee, a part of you still expects to see little half naked boys running down chasing old car tires and small girls cooking with konko tins over a coal pot. In the same vein regal Black women should be clad in cloth, their proud heads adorned with cornrows, and their well-oiled ebony skin glistening under the continent’s unforgiving sun. You know: African.

I’ve only been away from home for 2 years, and I came with the same clouded picture of Africa that many foreigners do. It’s easy to do when the media consistently portrays the motherland in a unilateral way. So when I sat down to get my hair braided at Gloria Aidoo’s kiosk in Adenta, I was not ready for the following question as she picked my hair:

“Oh. Madam. You don’t want to put some small perming cream in your hair?”

Eh? My hair doesn’t need a perm. I keep it natural for a reason – that reason being so I won’t have to come back to the salon every 6 weeks for a retouch.

“No, no,” I replied. “I like my hair natural. Besides, I couldn’t do my afro puff if I had a perm, could I? ”

“Mmmm, it’s true,” she conceded. “Anyway, the hair is nice.” She asked a lady who had sat outside her shop for confirmation, and they both agreed I had a nice “grade” of hair.

Black American women are always at odds over this perm vrs natural hair battle that seems to plague us. Stupidly, I assumed the women back home were free of this battle. Everyone I’ve engaged in this conversation with in America has a reason/excuse for why they perm their hair. Sometimes, it comes right down to a gnawing self hatred of our hair, which is masked under the explanation that it’s more convenient to have a perm. I by all means was not expecting to engage in a philosophical debate with Ms. Aidoo about the pros and cons of perming vrs natural, but since she asked me about my natural hair, I felt it incumbent upon me to do the same regarding her relaxer. I was not prepared for her answer.

“It’s because of the weather,” she replied.

“The weather?” I was truly puzzled.

“Yes, the weather,” she reiterated. “We don’t have the creams here in Ghana to keep our hair natural like you do in America. Because of the sun, it makes it too difficult to keep our hair natural.”

“I see. What about the ladies from the olden days?” I challenged. “What did they do before they brought perming cream to Ghana?”

“They used to have a comb,” she explained carefully. “That comb, they used to put it in fire. Then it will make the hair straight.”

I didn’t bother asking her about what they did before Madam CJ Walker burst on the scene with her revolutionary hot comb. Gloria probably couldn’t fathom Black life without a hair straightening solution.

Displeasure with our hair isn’t just a Black phenomenon. It seems as though ALL  women have lost pride in the hair that God gave them. It’s a such a shame in our, because Black hair in particular is so versatile.We  can thread it, cornrow it, plait it, twist it, lock it…and yet the majority of us seem content to perm it or throw a weave on it to cover it. Even WHITE women don’t like their natural hair. Evidently (according to Ali Wentworth) , every brunette, red head, brown haired white woman wants to be a blond. How sad!

With hair issues as the backdrop of my beauty trek in Ghana, I came across a more sinister foe: Carotone.

God, I hate Carotone. 

First of all, that junk is made in CHINA, which means it’s probably going to give you skin cancer. Secondly, it promises to give the user “a lighter and younger looking skin”, as if dark skin is incapable of being described as ‘young’! I had not encountered any obviously bleached women while I was in Ghana, so I was content to hiss at the TV every time I saw the ad or chew my teeth when I heard that ridiculous jingle on the radio.

My indignation was transformed into horror when I went to Madina Market with my friend the Purple Squirrel one Wednesday afternoon. There, as you enter the market, was a MASSIVE billboard advertising Carotone. The Carotone girl, who is clearly of mixed race, deceptively promised every black woman who used this cream that they would look like her: The ideal woman with caramel brown skin and shoulder length hair. Just beneath the billboard milled a bevy of market ladies – every fifth one possessing bleached skin.

I was aghast. Surely my eyes were deceiving me. And yet, as I saw a gay Ghanaian man weaving tracks of wavy hair onto the scalp of a Dorito colored woman’s head, I knew that the scene I was being confronted with was indeed reality.

Reader, have you ever seen the effects of skin bleaching live and in effect? You can’t go from mahogany brown to coffee and cream with no side effects – those effects being that you will wind up looking like a full scale oompa loompa. I grimaced to keep from weeping as I watched carrot-colored ladies breeze through the crowded walk ways of the market, the dark edges of their lips and eyelids betraying what color they were assigned at birth.

I can’t even remember what the point of this whole blog is (I’m distracted by the oompa loompas), except to say that I’m pretty disgusted that in this day and age we’re still plagued by the notion that lighter skin and straighter hair in the only standard of beauty, and more importantly that that notion firmly perpetuated in “the motherland”. The color you were born with is beautiful. The hair that you were born with is beautiful. YOU are beautiful. Own it.