Ashleigh Davids is… well quite frankly, she is a pretty damn phenomenal woman for all of her 22 years. She is a writer, poet, singer, motivational speaker – the list goes on. Here, in her own words, she speaks to us about her hair story – Mandy
Because of my vocation it may come as a surprise when I say that I have not yet properly verbalised my hair story. I would even go so far as to say that it a bit futile and pitiful. Maybe it is because this has been quite a journey for me, one that still requires a few action points on my part. I’m happy that Amanda Cooke took me to task by asking me to contribute to her beautiful blog, The Mandy Expedition. Let’s try this.
Some of my fondest “mane” moments (there were not many) included three simple acts my mom fulfilled with much faithfulness. While at my youngest, my hair was often woven into intricate plaits or simple three-strand braids. If I remember correctly, these would last me throughout the week; my special treat would be to have them loosened and dancing down my back on special occasions, the weekend or those minutes or hours between my next wash and style. Alternatively, I spent Saturday’s lounging around in orange and green rollers; on a good day these would dry naturally – if not, my granny’s old fashioned hair dryer was my company for the evening. Ironically, my mom used virgin olive oil to retain moisture and tend to my thick and sometimes, dry hair. My mom wasn’t really great at blow drying my hair, and so this added to my existing predicament – the reality that my long hair, however wonderful – would not stay down.
It was not uncommon for my hair to “mince” or for me to experience the build up of frizz or waves atop my freshly washed hair. My tresses did not care who you were or where you obtained your styling qualification, so even results after a trip to the hair salon were short lived. School was a silent torture – according to primary school children, girls and boys alike, there was one common format for beauty and acceptance, that being long and straight hair. Of course, if you were lacking in the length department, your hair being timid enough to lay lifelessly along your face would do. I spent lots of my time fidgeting, trying hopelessly to pat my hair down with the help of hair food, pins as well as ponytails and buns which had my threads in a tight crop. Summer and winter were equally unkind, their moisture adding to my discomfort. At some point the infamous “grip” made its mark as a fashion accessory, it also became a saving grace. I never really liked the way I looked with straight hair, it made my big head seem bigger, and did not compliment my spectacles and stocky build – I was also a nerd, and therefore, not winning. The grip would be my first introduction to some kind of volume, adding a mound of hair to the top of my head, which provided some shape and camouflage for my so-called unruly locks.
The end of primary school and start of high school brought on my experimentation with cutting, needless to say, my hair has never made haste to greet my rear end again. On a brighter note, this is also where my journey with donning my curls began.
By grade 8, I was tired of being the kind of outcast that was not only ridiculed by others, but uncomfortable in her skin. I vowed to do high school on my own terms, and to enjoy it. This included buying grey school pants from Woolworths which had a bit of a bootleg and thus complimented my figure a bit more – I wore earrings to accentuate my face and I started leaving my hair to form its natural curl during a seven to eight hour school day.
I started transitioning before I knew that I was transitioning. It was different for me because I had never been exposed to relaxers except for a mild straightener which snapped off a chunk of my hair and annulled any marriage I may have had to chemicals before I signed on the dotted line. My transition started with the infamous “wet look” – on my side of the world, this was quite popular on the odd occasion. While other people thought this was acceptable when the Cape Town sun was making its presence known or on those mornings when you were having a bad hair day, it became an everyday thing for me, a choice. Throughout high school, blow outs became less frequent. I did enjoy the diversity of my hair – possibly gloating in the fact that my hair could curl and be somewhat straight. I learned how to embrace the waves and style my hair accordingly; using the volume they created to my advantage. Of course, it wasn’t trendy or hip at this point. People preferred my hair straight, and to this day, the “you look so pretty” comments come with full force whenever I bring out the blow dryer.
Because my hair was still relatively long, it would rest on my head much like a triangle – only jutting out at the bottom. After a failed attempt at shorter hair in 2010, an escapade I roped an ex boyfriend in on the eve of a horrible date, I was introduced to my curly afro. When we realised our madness, his mom had to fix up the error of our ways. She chopped quite a bit of length, but also cut it in a way which caused the circular figure to form and meet the approval of a street dweller I bumped into on my way home that day. The rest is history – my hair story.
Behind The Scenes (and curls)
I started out as quite the advocate for team natural – our numbers were down and there were no hash tags. People needed lots of convincing and I may have seemed brave or rather crazy to most. I was radical, spreading messages of self love and calling for the end to stereotypical beauty. You know all that good stuff. Around this time, my hair would also garner attention; my “bossiekop” was winning some people over. Even if they weren’t keen on trying it for themselves, they could admit that it seemed fair.
My turning point occurred in the beginning of 2013 – when I stood on stage at the Joseph Stone Auditorium during a sound check for show. From the mic stand, I was staring at least a dozen people who had big hair, and didn’t care. Apparently. In order to understand my logic, you must fast forward to our present day, where it is now fashionable to have bushy hair. My analytical mind was sceptical of this new phenomenon and some minutes before show time that night, I desperately wanted to know why these people were wearing their hair like that. It wasn’t long before I questioned the inverse. “Ashleigh, why are YOU wearing your hair like that?” wondered every fibre of my being.
So began my search for answers and the discovery of some ugly truths. It was no secret to me that I felt horrid with my hair straight. This meant I felt pretty with my hair as is. This was okay, except that it was not really useful to find my beauty in a crop of curls. It was not okay that my self esteem depreciated when I didn’t have my ‘fro out. Just like society should not define a woman’s beauty by way of a slim finger and long, straight hair, I could not define my own beauty as big hair, even if I didn’t care what people said or thought about my tresses. It was true that I felt naked and incomplete without the part of me which rounded off my face well and fit my personality even better. And there was something so incredibly wrong about that, even if I was the only one who could tell.
I started blowing my hair out and forcing myself to make that work. Some days it did, other days – man, I felt terrible. I didn’t feel like me and the whole shlepwas probably best summarised by what a security guard said to me at work one morning: “Why do you look so boring today?”
I don’t know if I was attempting to put the “scare tactic” to use or if I was being rational, I just knew I had to be intentional about trying to get my mind right. This was when I started thinking about getting rid of my hair altogether. It still hasn’t happened yet and I am currently trying to decipher if it is really necessary.
I am armed with all the information I need about WHY I am sporting my natural hair – it suits me better, when properly maintained, it is the healthy alternative, I love it, and in the mix of things, I am really bad at the heat-styled hair thing. It could take me an entire afternoon or evening to complete that whole ordeal, and I just don’t care for it enough to go through it on a regular basis. Looking after your natural hair isn’t necessarily zero maintenance, but for something I love – I will kill the bull, or at least the extra 15 minutes or so. Do I have to undergo the big chop to come full circle with all of this?
Ideally, I would love to shave my hair. Unfortunately, I have a few things to consider. I have a scar running from ear to ear as result of an operation done when I was a 9-month old baby. I was always told not to keep my hair too short because it might pop open, but even my gullible self knows that is not true; it just wouldn’t look too fresh. Did I mention that I also have really big head? Of course, every big chop is a highly emotional and psychological experience – I want to be as ready as I can be if it should happen. I’ve been playing around with the idea of a shorter haircut instead of a BIG C. What do you think?
Product and Every Day Stuff
I am not a product queen, and I am probably such a bad girl when it comes to looking after my hair. Conditioner has been my partner in crime for the longest time and I only started experimenting with product when I received a bunch of Dr.Miracle products after a shoot at work (magazine editorial) one time. Only one of those products worked for me, it was serum. I hated the smell (menthol) and I did not like the way it made my hair look and feel. It works well for women with other hair types/textures and that is the beauty of it all. Different strokes for different folks. I learned not to be too hasty to try just anything after going shopping for my very first supplies.
One of the main reasons I have not become product obsessed (yes, there are some people who are) is because I just don’t have the money to blow. As a freelance writer I just about make it through the month and can only really make room for very basic toiletries and beauty products. So when I finally gave in to the fact that I may potentially be hurting my hair – I decided to start small and acquire some oils. My mom generously offered to purchase the coconut oil, castor oil and almond oil I found at the local supermarket in the pharmaceutical aisle.
I remember being up that night with my face burning. I wanted to pull out every hair follicle of every woman in the South African Naturals Facebook group who played a part in motivating me to become product savvy. Yes my dears, I had an allergic reaction to COCONUT OIL. And it itched.
I learnt a very valuable lesson that night – do your research, and if you are going to follow advice (I saw the particular brand of coconut oil on a blog), take it from someone with a similar hair texture and even skin type, especially when you’re sensitive and challenging with ailments like eczema.
Some things I do/don’t do:
· I’ve pretty much stopped using shampoo and I try not to leave conditioner in my hair anymore
· I plait and twist my hair when I need a break from the volume
· I enjoy beautiful head wraps and scarves, and sometimes I cheat by using a t-shirt with a nice pattern to mimic the look
· I don’t wash my hair every day or even every second day like I used to, nor do I wear my hair loose all the time. I let it take its course and play around with a few different hairstyles. My gran used to warn about catching a cold, and even if that isn’t true, I don’t always feel like drip drying on my way out or detangling every morning
My favourite style has got to be the dramatic yet feminine French roll. I frequently hoist my hair up in ways I cannot replicate again and enjoy matching the style to my mood. I’m still trying to perfect the bun and feel comfortable going without earrings these days – a statement piece that has become synonymous with naturalistas.
The Point Is…
Don’t buy into the hype. If you do, you’ll probably find yourself around town with a hairstyle you cannot stand or crying vicious tears because of it sooner or later. Think carefully about your decisions and make them because you want to – not because it’s cute or on trend. Even if cute and on trend is natural hair. Do it for the right reasons. Wanting attention is not a good enough reason.
I have learned that natural hair is about health – it is not tied up in an afro, curls, twist outs or dread locks. If it were, we would be basically be Western society in reverse.
Of course, you are beautiful and so is your hair. You have the right to embrace it and teach others to embrace it too.
Lastly, to my fellow naturals, let’s not find solace in a set of new idols. Length is not the new straight and product is not the new relaxer or Brazilian. It may not harm your hair, but it could harm your heart.
Note to self: My natural hair does not make me beautiful. I am beautiful and I happen to choose a healthier alternative to hair styling. My hair suits me, but it does not make me.
Last night one of the tracks Ashleigh features on, “High On Life” by Sundae, just made no.1 on Heart104.9FM. Congratulations honey!
You can connect with Ashleigh on twitter
Listen to the No.1 hit “High On Life” by Sundae ft Ashleigh Davids
You can connect with Ashleigh on twitter
Listen to the No.1 hit “High On Life” by Sundae ft Ashleigh Davids
photos courtesy of eL Jay Photography