My braided hair is more than a fashion choice — it's sending a message

ABC Life   By Santilla Chingaipe

"Can I touch your hair?" "How long does it take to get it like that?" "OMG, your hair is amazing!"

Not a day goes by when someone, usually a stranger, utters one (or all three of those phrases) after spotting my braided hairstyle.

For the most part, I'm not bothered by it and I understand the curiosity. I've been getting my hair braided as far back as I can remember.

As a child, I experienced the regular routine of sitting between the legs of the hair braider as she pulled and stretched my hair to braid or cornrow it while I languished in pain, praying for it to end. Once complete, I'd spend the rest of the time admiring my new look which, as a child, was always adorned with bright coloured beads and ribbons. This was my normal.

When my family migrated to Perth from Zambia in the late '90s, my mum took on the hair styling and braiding responsibilities. Every Sunday, she carefully and slowly styled my afro hair for the school week ahead.

On school holidays, I'd get my hair braided. It was usually by an international student making some money on the side, and because there weren't many people who knew how to braid hair, it was always very expensive to get done.

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