CANADIANS WHO STANDOUT – NGELE EKWALANGA (37/150)
Growing up I knew I was different. I didn’t look like anybody else and I always stood out as being that “black girl with the freckles”. Random people would touch my hair and be so fascinated with its texture and its consistency. It didn’t really bother me until comments were added into the mix. “Oh wow, it’s so dry” or “it’s so nappy” (a common one no less). As a mixed race child (at the time) I did not understand those comments and critiques, which in turn, made me want to be somebody else and for the next 20 years of my life, I tried searching and figuring out what would make me feel beautiful and part of the “in crowd”.
This resulted in what many young girls and women go through; however, I felt that my journey was a little different. Why? If you grew up in the 90’s and 2000’s you realize that flipping through magazines, constantly changing channels on your television, that 99% of those women were Caucasian. There were no mixed race models, actors/actresses that could help me identify myself and there was definitely no Internet that was accessible in the palm of my hand, to search for more.
I struggled. I struggled with being mixed. What should I choose? My Caucasian background (part Irish) or Congolese background? Who knows what else is in the mix! I felt that if I acted more “black” (whatever that means), I would be more accepted in that community. The truth is, I have never been that “half white girl,” I will always be that “half black girl” and it will remain that way for the rest of my life.
The search went on and on until I was introduced to the infamous flat iron. One thing I did not mention before is that I used to run around, as a child, with rags on my head and look at my shadow. I would admire the long luscious look of hair that my shadow portrayed. Now, my dreams became a reality, I could straighten my hair!!! Woohoo, now I am beautiful, now I look like everyone else and men will find me attractive and not so different than anyone else. My hair was long, shiny, and it blew in the wind!
This went on for years, roughly nine to ten years, until 2013. I don’t know what made me decide to make a change, but I am forever grateful for whatever helped me decide that I would go natural, and embrace my natural hair and texture. I thought to myself, I will do one more straighten, just one more, before I toss it away forever. Well, was that ever a wakeup call. I damaged my hair so badly that it would not curl back. It broke whenever I would brush through it and I could literally pull the strands apart because it was so weak. Naturally, I had to cut it. After my hair being at the longest state it had ever been, I took about 5 inches off. In a couple of months, I took another 4, another couple of months, I took off 3. In hindsight, I should have shaved it all off, but I was afraid.
My journey consisted of hours on YouTube, searching curly hair remedies, lotions and potions that would bring my hair back to life. But alas, there is no such thing. I had to fix my hair the old fashioned way, grow it out.
I tried looking for women that had hair I wanted and tried their routines. Well, that didn’t work. I tried all the products I could get my hands on. Some were nice, smelled good, had good reviews, but nothing worked the way the women on the Internet made it appear to be. Reality was, I was still reaching for this idea that my hair would look like other women’s hair. Yes, they were curly, but still not my texture.
The years went and my hair grew and I slowly learned what my hair needed in order to grow faster, and healthier. Within those years, I learned to embrace my journey and take every step as a lesson, rather than a burden. In those years, I learned to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. This discomfort was going out in public with my natural hair for the first time, frizz and all. At first I would go out at night because it was harder to see the “imperfections”. With that, I started to stop caring about what other people thought; however, I was met with compliments, not critiques. Instead of “oh wow your hair is so dry” I was told that my hair was beautiful, that I stood out, and that I am unique.
In the year 2016 I decided to really focus on posting about my journey in Social Media, another game changer. I felt that so many women in the Natural and Curly Hair community were from New York, Toronto, and Montreal. The majority of influencers and curly girls; however, were from the United States. Since I struggled enough trying to get my hands on products that were not so easily available in Calgary, I decided to get Canada, but mainly Western Canada, on the map for curly girls like me.
As the oldest of 5 children, I learned at an early age that being the “first” is always the hardest. I had to break the ice, jump over the hurdles, and fail over and over again. This is exactly what starting social media account was like. Firstly, I had to find a name that was unique to me, and that made the most sense, hence Frecklez_n_curlz, the two things that people see first. However, consistency is key and slowly more and more followers started trickling in the more I posted. These followers were women, like me, who were thinking about transitioning to natural hair, women who have successfully grown out their hair and are thinking “now what?” Most of all, it gave me the purpose of being honest and transparent with the struggle.
The next year my focus was on empowering others. Empowering those that were fearful of embracing their natural hair. Empowering those to embrace the fear and discomfort that is, associated with becoming natural in a world that doesn’t appreciate the different textures, curl patterns, and the big beautiful Afros. I felt that the struggles I had gone through should be shared with those who may be on the cusp of taking that big step. It was important for me to not only put Western Canada on the map for natural and curly hair, but to encourage people to learn and grow the way I did. The reality is, it is not a quick fix. It may just be hair, but it is mine. I nurtured it, learned from it, and respected it as my own.
In time, I have accepted myself as myself. Negativity does not affect me as much anymore (it still stings), and I can walk out of my house feeling comfortable and confident. Like I said, this was no ‘walk-in-the-park’ as there was a lot of soul searching.
I am a mixed woman, who identifies as a woman; a woman who approaches obstacles, rather than runs from them. A woman, like all women, that had to find the beauty from within and hit a few roadblocks along the way. A woman that strives to empower others, rather than push them down. I do this via social media, because it has access to millions of people. I just hope that it helps because growing up, I did not have YouTube, Instagram, or the Internet to learn.
Most people think that it is just a photo, with a special angle, with a filter that gains a lot of “likes”, but it is much more than that. Behind every photo is a story, and this specific story has a 29-year long journey, and there is no way that I am stopping here…
We have 113 SHOUT OUTS left, if you would like to share your story! This is to celebrate Canada’s 150th Birthday, so we want to do 150 shout outs on ordinary Canadians that have accomplished extraordinary things or have an extraordinary story. Your photo and shout out will be published with the other 149 Canadians in the July issue! Email us! firstname.lastname@example.org or click HERE for our submission page.