As told to Mariam
Last week, I asked Nigerian women to share their biggest insecurities with me for an article. Sandra* was one of the women that reached out to me. After she responded, I asked more questions and this is what she told me:
I was born with dreadlocks. When I was two years old, my parents cut them off. The option of not cutting the hair simply didn’t exist for me. Anytime my mother talked about it, she gave me the impression that keeping a child’s dreadlocks could result in something negative happening in the child’s life. My sister was born with locs too and they were cut as well. After my haircut, there were bald patches where my edges should be. I didn’t think too much of it at first, but as I grew older, it became the only thing I could see when I looked in the mirror. It was as though my hairline kept receding.
I was about 9 years old when it became a problem for me. People were always offering advice, and I was always eager to try. I used spirit on my scalp. I put weed in my hair cream. I bought a special hair growth cream. One time, one woman told me to use my first urine of the day to wash my hair. I was desperate, so I did it. When all the creams and concoctions didn’t work, I was accused of being a witch who was cutting her hair to torment her parents. I also used to wet the bed at the time so it was easy for them to assume something was wrong with me.
My mother would ask me if I was secretly shaving my hair to frustrate her. One day she came back from work and said that I had a spirit husband, and I needed to pray if I wanted him to leave me alone. She told me we would be going for a deliverance session when she came back from work the next day. In my head, I was thinking “Omo, what if they actually cast a demon out of me tonight?”
I don’t remember how the deliverance session went. I know there were a lot of prayers and that became a regular occurrence. My mother would always ask her pastors to pray a special prayer for me. We went for two more deliverance sessions, where they tried to cast the demon living inside me. Nothing worked — I was still wetting my bed and my front hair refused to grow.
I started dodging the deliverance sessions. I would tell my mother I was too tired or that my stomach was paining me. Sometimes she would still force me to follow her to church but I used to get very tired so I would always have an excuse to leave.
When I was 13, I went to boarding school and I stopped attending deliverance sessions completely. But things there were also bad. People would call me ugly to my face. I felt ugly. They would ask if rats ate my hair. Even though I was popular because I won many inter-school competitions for my school, my identity was still largely tied to my hair. People described me as the tall dark girl without front hair. My school only allowed us to make all-back, and it was the one hairstyle that fully displayed my alopecia so I cut my hair. Even when my hair was low, the bald patches were still obvious.
In SS2, when I became head girl, the school included a beret as part of our uniform and I heard one of the house mistresses say it was because the head girl has no front hair. As I grew older, I got used to comments and they stopped bothering me. When I finished secondary school, I noticed that random people started to compliment me on the road. They would stare when I walked past or say they liked my height, my stature or my smile. I started to wear those compliments. I started to see beauty when I looked in the mirror. I realized that I always liked what I saw in the mirror but I needed someone else to like it too. My self-esteem improved. Even though in my first year of University, people still told me I wasn’t pretty, it didn’t hurt as much.
I studied physiotherapy and I got to interact with a lot of medics. That’s how I learned the term for my hair’s condition was alopecia. I haven’t been able to see a dermatologist but it felt good to know.
I rarely go to salons because my mood sours whenever people mention my baldness and hairdressers always want to recommend something. I also don’t like when people touch my hair so I make my hair myself most times. On most days, I feel beautiful but I can’t wait until I can afford surgery because I’d like to know what I look like with a head full of hair.