Some girls will go to any lengths for their hair.
Shaylene thinks of her hair as a disability, something like chronic migraine. It has to be medicated, treated, taken on mini breaks, stroked, chemically advanced, tranquillised, sedated and spanked.
“Hair for a coloured girl,” say Shaylene, “is an issue. And let me tell you not only coloured girls. Rains and you see all those white girls look like they’re plugged into an electric socket. They can learn a lot from coloured girls.”
Hair causes divorce, arguments, even murder. “When a baby is born all the neighbours come around to look at the baby and let me tell you, girlfriend, they’re not looking at the colour of its eyes. Oh no, they’re looking at the hair. They’re looking for ‘kroes’.” This is a word that electrifies the coloured community. In the white community curls have always been admired. My mother used to say, “As usual the boy got the curls.”
Shaylene admits being hostage to her curls but feels that in the world of hairarchy she is fortunate.
“Luckily,” she says, “I was born with a combination of curls and gladde (straight). Let me tell you, mense, some hair is so curly it can cut your hands.”
Shaylene doesn’t go to gym. She does her hair. She has bulging biceps from blow drying. The routine starts around a spa bath with gold taps like cherubs. There is an army of shampoo bottles, hair straighteners,conditioners, hair softeners, a platoon of frizz fighters.
Shaylene’s mantra is: refresh, rejuvenate, replenish. Or put more simply, Eff off frizz.
“No coloured girl,’ she tells me, ‘goes to the beach without conditioner because when the hair gets wet it looks like you touched by lightning.”
Every three months Shaylene relaxes her hair. She selects from the bathroom shelf a jeroboam of bright pink shampoo. “I go through three of these a month, R700 a time. They’re imported.”
“She washes,shampoos and conditions, washes, shampoos and conditions. Three times. Then she scrolls back her hair like the screen on a smart phone and smothers her face and neck in Vaseline.
It stops the burn.
Then she pulls on a pair of vermilion coloured gloves and paints each root with a relaxer using a tiny flat brush. The smell is wicked. Then the hair is neutralized with special shampoo – after action, relaxation – and rinsed five times. ‘You have to make sure all the stuff is completely gone or otherwise your hair will be gone.”
Then it is time for rollers. “Friend, rollers isn’t simple. You got to know them.” Shaylene goes for huge ones that are as big as hamster cages.
‘Now work carefully, you have to pull that hair. If you allow slack, you get ‘kroes’. It is like the devil, just looking for a space to get into you. You tug that strand until you know that one more pull will dislodge it from your scalp.”
After this ouching experience Shaylene sits under her standing hairdryer in the lounge for an hour, testing her hair every five minutes. If you take it out half dry, it minces (the colloquial word for frizz).
“Pass me the hairdryer,” she commands. This is a weapon of mass destruction, 200W with a nozzle like a bird’s beak. “This thing could somme kill me,’ she says cheerfully as she blow dries, using a special brush that guarantees ‘intense shine’.
At the end Shaylene’s little face peers out of her tarpaulin of hair like a mouse caught in a bear’s paw. If you have too much volume you get vet hair,” she tells me, “You want it to gooi, to swing.”
It is now time for the flat iron. No girl should be without a GHD, the best ceramic hair straightener. Shaylene has a new pink Limited Edition with its non-slip ergonomically designed handles and 360-swivel mechanism. “It cost R3000 and comes with its own little bag with a special number and certificate and two year guarantee. Just like Vuitton.’ A last shine is added with a tiny tube of silicone that resembles superglue.
The final bout involves a pair of cut off pantyhose, known as ‘swill kous’, a bandana and finally the bottom part of one of those bright orange mesh bags you buy vegetables in. “When you sleep, its got to be tight, tight. I don’t even let my husband touch me.”
In the morning when she takes off the pantyhose, the bandana, the cut off vegetable bag, the hair looks genetically modified, as glossy and sleek as a bird’s wing.