Hair Story: Malaika

Hair Story: Malaika

I’m Nigerian-American, so my family — I have two younger sisters — always had our hair done. Either we would go to the salon, we’d go to some random person's house, my mom would do it. Growing up, I remember sitting between my mom’s legs, while she did my cornrows. She never had the time or energy to do a full head of singles — for that we would go to the salon — but it was always a bonding moment to have with my mom. I would fall asleep and she would put my head to the other side. It was always fun being in the living room with all of the brushes and combs and pomades and everything out. It was an event. So, as I got a little older I was growing in my agency with my hair and I think the last time I texturized my hair — we never relaxed, but we had some thick hair so my mom would be the first to put in that texturizer. She would get the Just for Me. That smell...it’s a memory that I remember but I try to push back. So, as I got older and needed a hairstyle that would maintain we would go to New York. It’s so much easier and they do a better job with hair. I was actually living in Lowell at the time so I never even went to anyone routinely. It was always just whoever we could find that was available. 


By the time I was 13, I was done with texturizers. I was like, “let me get into this natural hair.” I think I tried every single hairstyle under the moon. I spent so much time on YouTube watching different tutorials, doing the Bantu knots that came out looking crazy or taking my twists out too early. My friends knew me as the person who always had a new hairstyle. It was fun — especially during the summers in high school when I wasn’t doing anything, I felt like I might as well. I tried to get my sisters into but they were going through their own separate hair journeys. So I was like “y’all do what you need to do, I’ll be over here.” My mom would end up asking me to help her do her hair. She had her hair relaxed so I was like, “I don’t *really* know what to do with this texture but I’ll try my best.”


When I was an undergrad, I had a really good friend who would cornrow my hair down and I would do crochet braids. I was the Crochet Queen. That was a gamechanger. I was able to try different styles, then I could help my mom because she would braid down my sisters’ hair and I would crochet theirs. So once I learned, everybody had crochet hair. *laughs* Then my friend who would braid down my hair went abroad. I was like “Alriiiiight, what are we going to do with this hair?” Junior year of college was how I really learned to attach hair to my head, learned how to cornrow, all that. I was like “I need to be self-sufficient.” Especially since I felt like whenever I went to braiders, they never did exactly what I needed them to do. Once I learned how to attach Marley hair, that became my go-to. I know I’m going to look good, it may take a whole weekend but I know I can do it myself. 


I had always been talking about getting an undercut but I never did it. I was all talk, not about that action. Then Junior Fall, my mom passed away. I felt like I needed to ground myself and take control of something in my life. So, I shaved my head. I shaved everything off. It was the best decision I ever made. It was the most freeing experience I’ve ever had. I grew up with my beauty being attached to my hair and I just felt like I didn’t want to deal with it. I was like, “Let’s get rid of it. Let’s get rid of that factor.” I tell everyone that they should shave their head at least once in their life. I think the way that I was able to grow in my self-confidence — I couldn’t hide behind my hair, you had to just look at me.


 I think that was the beginning of my journey of self love. I needed to learn to love myself for what’s there, hair or no hair. So, it’s been a journey — just getting to know my hair at different lengths. Within a couple of months I was already trying to do twists on it. They would stay on for a couple of weeks before I’d go to the gym and sweat them off. *laughs* My hair became something that, as it was growing, it was time with myself. Like “I like this scalp massage, this part needs more water, this part needs more detangling.” All the things that I hadn’t paid attention to before. 


I want that for every woman. Everyone is always  like “I don’t know how I’m going to look! I have a weird shaped head!” and I’ll take their hand and make them feel all of the indents on my scalp. *laughs* You never see it! It’s a reminder that we are so critical of ourselves, when everyone around you sees nothing but beauty. It was really a game changer once I was able to see that beauty in myself. 


I’ve been using my hair and my hair growth and a way to continue to love on myself and become the person I want to be. And my hair has just grown back so much healthier. It’s been like “Wow! My hair can do that?!” 


I started wearing wigs the same year I cut my hair. At one point I was like “Ok, I need inches!” That’s been so fun like — “what colors do I like? What styles work for my face?” Then being able to share that with friends who ask “Where did you get that wig? What products did you use?” It becomes a community and something that we’re doing together. I’ll wear wigs when I'm too lazy to do a wash day or put twists in.


One thing that’s been really awesome is that because I learned to do my own hair, I’ve been able to do so many more styles and change my hair whenever I want. And the amount of money I’m saving because I’m not paying someone to do my hair — game changer. 


My friends are so sick of me saying that I want to cut my hair again because I’ve been saying it for the last two and a half years but I do want to shave my head again. I can’t wait to be bald again. I told myself that when I go back to school for whatever this second degree is — because you know my Nigerian family is just waiting for that *laughs* — that’s a marker for me. That gives me some time to love it and how it’s growing now. I think the next time I shave my head that will be my look. 


3 comments

  • CHIOMY DE CHIOMSTER

    IKA THIS IS SUCH A GOOD READ. You slay every freaking hairstyle you do~ bald, wigs, braids, da fro~ dood. I love how your confidence shines through and I’m happy you were able to form a closer relationship with your confidence and your hair. keep doing YOU. expressing loud n true. i lurve it! go mammiiii goooo <3 muah

  • Koji

    What a great read! Your hair journey is a narrative filled with emotions, self-realizations & becoming in tune with one’s self. Absolutely loved it. I particular how you felt a sense of freedom when you cut your hair and now being able to style your own hair gives you a sense of control and autonomy. Very powerful ideas right there.
    As someone who identifies as a male and who is also Nigerian American, growing up my Nigerian parents would NEVER let me grow my hair out. So now in my big age the only thing I keep on my head is thick set of dense 4C curly hair haha. Your story has inspired me to become more in tune with my hair and really start to learn what my hair needs from me.

    Thank you for sharing your story!!!

  • Leyu

    I loved reading this and understanding your hair journey. The identity we have in our hair can be overwhelming, and seeing how you owned it and learned how to control the narrative and experiment with your beauty makes me so happy. Can’t wait for what the future holds!


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