I Can Guarantee You That Blessing Okagbare Was Far From Embarrassed About Her Wig Falling Off.

Blessing Okagbare is a much-decorated Nigerian athlete who competes in in sprinting, long jump and triple jump. She’s competed in the Olympics, Common Wealth and All Africa Games, and most recently, in the Oslo Diamond League in Norway. It is here where the world became acquainted with Okagbare, not for her prowess on the field, but because of her hair. As you probably well already know, she and her wig parted ways during the long jump.

 

 

Are you finished laughing? Please let me know when you’ve composed yourself so that we can continue. Ahaaa. Let’s go!

One of many headlines declaring Blessing is embarrassed. Has she told you she is embarrassed? You dey lie bad.

In the wake of this gravitational wig snatching, headlines and commenters from around the globe have bandied about the idea that Blessing Okagbare must have been embarrassed about her wig falling off during her event. There’s no way she couldn’t have been, right? I mean, your hair (or in this case, some Chinese manufactured form of it) literally separated itself from your body on an international stage. Mortifying, yes?

No!

Let me say it again: No! This will not get you down. Not if you’re a Nigerian woman, or a Black woman in the Diaspora of a certain caliber.

Let me tell you something about Nigerian women: They have bigger concerns than worrying about feelings of embarrassment, despite what the western media would have us believe. Though I do not share their nationality, I have had the blessing (pun fully intended) of calling many Nigerian women sisters and friends, and have shared sacred space with them online. One of those spaces is FIN – an acronym for Female In Nigeria. It is a closed group with strict rules about disclosure, so I certainly will not betray the group’s trust or risk my privileged access to the site by going into specifics. I can say this: There is no woman – no person – who suffers like Nigerian women. Between the Church, the in-laws, some random Honda Accord-driving bozo who demands wife material (and service) on the first date, Boko Haram and your random lascivious Senator, the things that are done to and said about Nigerian women’s bodies create an incredible amount of pressure on this group. Nevertheless, they persist and continue to excel.

Look at Luvvie.

Look at Chimamanda.

Look at Folorunso.

Their accolades and achievements did not come without sacrifice, hardship and ridicule. Chimamanda has spoken about an essay that she wrote while she was in college. It was apparently the best essay in class, and the professor wanted to acknowledge the student. When she raised her hand, he looked at her in disbelief before repeating his inquiry…As if how could a woman from Darkest Africa produce such excellent work? This is just one of the myriad indignities women of color are continually made to suffer. The abilities of our minds and potential of the body are frequently downplayed and suppressed, unless it’s in the service and for the benefit of someone else.

Ahaaa. Let’s continue.

I don’t know why Blessing Okagbare chose to wear a wig in Oslo this week, but I can hazard a guess. Despite India Arie’s postulation to the contrary, Black women are and will continue to be our hair. There is a fair amount of handwringing from the New African and Hotep crowd online who have shamed Okagbare for her choice to wear a hairpiece. The most vocal have been men. Female critics have taken to sniggering, rather than perform outright criticism.

“She looks better with her natural hair!”

“It is an embarrassment for an African woman to go and look for some dead Indian woman’s hair to tape on to her forehead. This is not QUEEN behavior.”

“When, oh WHEN will African women release their minds from this mental slavery!”

And yet when a dark skinned woman with 4C hair shows up at the club or for an interview for a receptionist’s position, she is routinely passed up and overlooked for either a) a lighter skinned woman or b) a dark skinned woman who has sense enough to straighten her hair. I am here to testify that I have seen it myself with my own two Ghanaian eyes. When you add to that matrix the strength of body that a woman like Blessing Okagbare possesses, the comments and stigma outside of the safety of the sports arena is nothing short of bestial.

In an interview conducted a few years ago, Ghanaian pop singer Wiyaala discussed how growing up with a “strongbody” affected her. Wiyaala is an incredibly strong woman with lean muscle mass. She described how walks about her hometown would invite taunts from local boys who would shout for her to raise her shirt to prove she was a girl. She responded by embracing her androgyny and opting for a high-top close crop.

Image source: Music Unites Africa

I suspect that Blessing Okagbare – who, like Wiyaala has been active in sports since high school – has faced similar taunts. It’s probable that the hurtful words of strangers (perhaps even choices) have had some level of impact on her sartorial choices, including how she wears her hair.

You might well recall how the Black community savaged Gabby Douglas during the 2012 Olympic games over how she styled her hair. Douglas made history by becoming the first American gymnast to win gold medals in both the team and individual all-around. That vicious attack was the direct result of centuries of conditioning, and it’s something we’’re yet to be healed of.

Female athletes (Black women in particular) have added pressure of performing femininity on the field while in the midst of competition. One will have to give way to the other, because you can’t have slayed edges and slay the hundred-meter dash. The 4-6 hours required to sit in the salon while you wait to get your sew in or cornrows done is valuable training time lost. Any serious female athlete would forego the salon in pursuit of that extra second on the clock. But I can just see some pastor or some too known auntie coming to ‘advise’ the Nigerian team:

“Eh ehhh… You know you are representing the whole kontry. When you go there, don’t go with that unruly hair, eh? Let os pray…”

I’m telling you, I’ve sat at dinner with the son of a Ghanaian mogul who nearly spat his whiskey in disgust over the idea that the Pretoria High girls who were fighting to wear their natural hair and locks.

“There is no way in Ghana that we will ever allow a girl to come to class with that BUSHY hair!”

Look: Any woman who wears a wig knows that there is always a hazardous risk with making that choice. There is ALWAYS a chance of it getting blown off, snatched off or simply slipping off. It’s a fact of wig-wearing life. But you can’t let a little bit of synthetic stop you from putting in that work. Blessing Okagbare responded to losing her wig in the same way generations of Black women who have felt compelled to cover their natural hair for social acceptance have for years: She simply put the mask back on and went about her business like a BAWSE CHICK. To get to this level, she has been through greater trials than her hair falling off. We should all just stop forcing her to feel embarrassment that she’s not experiencing.

And now: A short video representation of other notable African women who have (or nearly) lost their wigs while putting in that work. Honorable mention to my girl Gloria of TFH, who routinely tests the adhesive integrity of her wig glue while in the midst of praise and worship.

 

Kiki Sheard: Nothing, not even the separation from my wig, can separate me from pursuing the love of Jesus

 

Queen Bey: A fan is not a halo, but it tried it.

Kim Z: I’ll give you my wig why you pry it from my cold, icy head.

  • I’ll go ahead and start the comments off today. A friend of mine – BEAUTIFUL woman, you hear? – once told me she cropped her hair. In response, her boyfriend at the time told her that if he wanted to date a boy, he’d turn gay. This is while they were laying side-by-side in bed.

    Another friend used to wear perms for years. She was from Ghana a moved to the Midwest a few years ago and quickly joined a church. All the Black men in that church were either married to or courting white women. Not a problem. The day she decided to go natural, she came into church with her TWA. The Black men of the church pulled her aside and told her that they didn’t like her hair. When she asked why, they said it was because she made them feel like she was “judging” them. So guilty was their conscience about their internalized self hatred that a simple hair cut had the power to make them feel judged.

    How are Black women supposed to feel confident about their hair when there is so much hostility surrounding it even in our own communities?

  • Thank you for writing this, Malaka.

    Blessing Okagbare handled this like a like a BAWSE CHICK! Here she is trying to win a sporting event and people want her to spend energy thinking about her hair?! Please, we black women are saying no (or at least I am). I have bigger and better things to think about than the nonsense many want me to spend my energy thinking about. That includes elusive hard-to-achieve weight goals, making my hair look like it doesn’t, etc. You said it all here: “The 4-6 hours required to sit in the salon while you wait to get your sew in or cornrows done is valuable training time lost. Any serious female athlete would forego the salon in pursuit of that extra second on the clock.”

    I am sure if she’d had the time, she would have taken the time to do something more secure with her hair. But shit happens and well…there are more important things to spend your time and energy on.

    It’s the shame the commentators try to put on her that I found disturbing. But…I will forgive them a little because it’s probably just not a part of their reality so they may be a bit ignorant about the situation.

    Oh, well, I am ranting…just had to react to this post.

    Biche

    • Thank you for reacting! They are literally trying to impute shame on her. Has ANYONE, one person at all, asked her how she felt about her wig flying off? I’m willing to bet it’s not that big a deal to her. This woman has been winning medals since 2008 and you want to talk about wig?

      We beg. The pride she’s been feeling about her accomplishments eclipses this presumed “embarrassment” they want to put on her.

      Foolish.

      • You know?! You go win Olympic medals first then go talk to her about her hair. (Hahahah…I am sure after that, the person wouldn’t have time to focus on something so petty. Hehehehehe….) *fist bump*

        • In fact, I want to be her PR and field any such nonsense questions. The way I’ll give it to them eh? I would quote you directly.
          “You see me here drinking tonic and running to make my person look like it doesn’t and you want to ask me about hair? Gerrarahear!”
          😂

  • Ama

    This is a very important article that deserves more publicity than just being aired here. There are serious conversations to be had in our community about women’s hair and body size. And you have touched some raw nerves in your piece. Thank you for your honesty, including the myths/stereotypes about Naija women. Perhaps their majesty, self confidence and sheer joie de vivre are what make them a target for ridicule. I am a Ghanaian, but I am sure it was with the irrepressible Naija woman in mind, (ably represented by Blessing O in this instance) that Ms Maya wrote “And still I rise!”
    Thank you very much for this article.

    • Absolutely. This is indeed something that needs to be resolved amongst ourselves first, before we shift attention to the white gaze. Because if we’re honest, all the embarrassment people in certain (elite) quarters were professing to feel is not because of what happened per se, but because of *where* it happened. Women’s wigs slip off all the time, but it’s rarely cause for this much alarm. When we’re able to translate that same nonchalance to the international stage, the West will eventually fall in line.

  • The hypocrisy with human beings never ceases to amaze me. You get the natural look and you are made to feel as if you’re not human. Get the wig cap and there is another problem. Was Blessing supposed to remind her critics that she’s a sports girl? Is Wiyaala also supposed to tell them in their faces that she’s feminine? I think gender activists have slept on issues like this and need to wake up to educate somebody. Yes! Educate them because the display of their ignorance can lead to the unpleasant. Religion and public misconceptions shouldn’t tie us up. Not at all!
    Nice article

    • Thanks, Naana!

      I like that you mentioned the gender activists, because it brings to mind another women’s rights issue/incident in Ghana. I don’t know if you saw, but last year, Chief Justice Georgina Wood was threatened with rape by the now infamous Montie 3. People chose their sides, but overall it was agreed upon that it was repugnant, dangerous and harmful speech and did not fall under free speech. While people were calling for gender activists to come to the fore on the issue, a gentleman I follow on Twitter had another opinion. To paraphrase him:
      “Gender and women’s rights activists have to fight on so many fronts. Fair wage, child marriages, religious discrimination, fostering inclusive work environments, abolishing witch camps. We are talking about an attack on our democracy here. Georgina Wood isn’t just a woman…she is a Chief Justice. Surely we can’t leave this one alone to the gender activists to fight?”

      I think we can take this item – the politics of hair issue – off of the plate of feminists and support all of our girls in understanding how the world interprets their appearance and talk about how they can find strength in their selves. WE (all men and women) can do this, don’t you think?