Written by Cynthia Taylu Photography by Carolyn Huynh Edited by Jess Martyn
There’s a pause, then a look, and then the inevitable question follows: “Why do you use extensions, Cynthia?”
I almost feel as though I have to justify and normalise my decision to wear hair extensions when I’m faced with the flood of associated questions. What’s the process? Does it hurt? How long does it take? Where’s your real hair? Does it feel weird?
For those unfamiliar with extensions, let alone weave, it comes as a shock when I reveal that I wear them. I can understand the shock factor, but more important than that is the “why” factor – why on earth would I want to sit for hours to have my real hair hidden?
So I pose this question: when you walk down the beauty aisle of an Australian supermarket, where are the hair treatments for black women?
I first wore a full set of weave when I was in grade six or seven. Before then, I had my hair braided with extensions and occasionally clip in strands. I don’t know a single woman in my family who doesn’t use extensions, and I would go as far as to say it’s a part of our lifestyle. I remember the excitement I felt as a younger version of myself trying to convince my aunt to let me wear a full set of weave. At the time I didn’t mind my natural hair, but I definitely thought I would look ten times better if I had extensions in. Growing up in Australia, I always envied my Caucasian friends’ hair – the texture, the length, and the ease of maintaining their hair.
By the time I hit high school, wearing extensions had become a norm for me. I would occasionally leave my real hair exposed, using products like relaxer to smooth it over, but it would illicit more questions from fascinated friends and strangers. I was sometimes asked to morph my hair into different shapes, my peers amazed by its static nature. Although it was more comfortable with my natural hair exposed, I felt more myself with extensions in – it was always that extra boost of confidence.
The main problem has been never knowing what to do with my hair. Hair salons aren’t helpful because none of the stylists know what to do with my hair; supermarkets don’t stock products for my hair texture; I can’t turn to television because advertisements for hair products so seldom target women of colour; I can’t turn to a reality television show like Australia’s Next Top Model because chances are that the black contestants will end up with a shaven head. Extensions were always the easier option, and from a young age I associated long hair with beauty. I couldn’t see the beauty of my natural hair; it was like a rebellious child I could never quite tame. But looking back on it now, I realise I always wanted my hair to be something it wasn’t. How can I expect others to find beauty in my hair if I can’t do the same?
I think black women are uneducated about the things our natural hair can do. There are endless possibilities, but no information available.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love extensions and am amazed by their capacity to drastically alter my hairstyle within a matter of hours. But as an African woman, I would be more willing to expose my natural hair if I had the tools and products to maintain it. The act of leaving my hair out leaves me feeling vulnerable – it’s letting the world know who I really am, and stripping off the layers is confronting. That is exactly why prior to writing this article I knew it was important for me to face my greatest fear: doing a shoot with my natural hair. Even when I told my aunt I was doing a shoot featuring my natural hair, she suggested I relax it. Instead, I decided to let the fro be, whatever way she wished.
Going through the images felt good. No longer was I looking at the girl with the untidy hair; instead this was another beautiful girl you might see walking on the streets, someone finally willing to embrace her natural beauty and let her guard down.
My name is Cynthia Taylu and I’m originally from Liberia, West Africa. The arts and the natural world intrigue me. Fashion is an amazing mode of self-expression and intertwines with so many things in life. I think fashion goes past what you wear – it’s more about how you feel inside.