Months without access to hair salons meant deputy digital editor Jazmin Kopotsha was left to her own devices - her worst nightmare, she admits. To her surprise, though, Jazmin found revived excitement for her natural hair. After years wearing wigs and weaves, she’s (finally) learning how to style it on her own.
My hair and I have had a grating relationship over the years. I’ve neglected it, it’s retaliated against me, but with some patience, I feel like we’ve finally come to an understanding. Honestly, it’s one of the most fragile but meaningful relationships I’ve ever been in.
I’m sure many Black women will have (or have had) similar complicated feelings about their natural afro hair every now and again. Particularly those of us who grew up in societies that failed to organically encourage it; before this most recent iteration of the natural hair movement had been celebrated in the way it has the last few years.
It was so rare to see Black women in the public eye with tight and coiled 4C hair, styled out and free in all of its glory. Afro styling was more often used as a caricature of the 70s – when it emerged in the mainstream as a proactive rejection of Western beauty standards, might I add – than it did as a sincere, contemporary celebration of our communities’ hair.
The few Black women I remember watching on screen or in magazines growing up, from Naomi Campbell to Jamelia to June Sarpong, are cemented in my memory with their hair straight or worn with wigs and weaves. The women in my family would all use relaxers. When I was old enough to sit still on my aunt’s living room floor for more than a couple of hours, I started having my hair braided. I’d soon find myself lost an in a state of panic in between sessions, however, when I’d have to find a way to style my hair for school without attracting questions from majority-white classmates about why it suddenly looked so different, and how it ‘grew’ so quickly when I had extensions braided back in the following week.
By my adult years, I had grown more respect and pride in my hair but admittedly didn’t really know what to do with it – at least not without the support of very patient hair stylists. My university years saw me use clip-in extensions with my relaxed hair (bad idea). My hair then started to break around the edges as I deliberated giving up relaxers (I didn’t commit). And then I took some time to trim, treat and take care of it as I found respite in protective hairstyles that gave my hair a break from my amateur fiddling.
Lockdown was interesting for my hair, though. Without the pressure for my hair to look ‘done’ all the time as I bustled between family gatherings (if no one told you your hair wasn’t on point, the side eyes and raised eyebrows would) and work events (the sad reality of afro hairstyles not being deemed ‘professional’ is still prevalent), I found myself with the most time to comfortably experiment than I’ve ever had.
I went days at a time without wearing the wig I’d grown accustomed to. I tried different conditioner combinations and drying methods. Saw growth against the stubborn remains of my straightened ends. Tried styles that I wouldn’t have been brave enough to rock out in the world before. My hair could breathe and I felt a lot lighter for it.
Before you pat me on the back for doing a 360 on my previous hair sins, though, hold your applause.
I’ve got a long way to go before my hair is in the condition it deserves to be in. I’m grappling with two different textures at the front and back as I pray for it to grow healthily before I chop any of the straightened ends off.
I’m trying to use my wig as a more balanced means of protecting my natural hair, not just as a crux to lean on for ease (read: laziness). In the spirit of full disclosure, though, I should say that I do still feel more confident when I’m able to hide behind 22 inches of a glueless body wave wig than I am without.
I feel really exposed admitting that outside of my own head. It’s complicated and is no doubt influenced by years of being told both directly and inadvertently that my hair didn’t look “good” or “right”. I’ve had teachers tell me it’s not straight enough, ex-boyfriends tell me it’s not long enough and customers from my days working behind bars tell me that it doesn’t look enough “like normal hair”. It saddens me sometimes, but I’m working on it.
The biggest joy I’ve found recently has been private, though. When I’m not feeling the wig or am wearing an outfit that would compliment one of the new (albeit very simple) natural hairstyles I’ve built into my repertoire, I’ve started to style my hair as such.
With more time on my hands, with confidence gathered from the increased visibility of dark-skinned women wearing their hair in styles that I dream of being able to do myself, along with supportive words of encouragement from friends and family, I’ve re-found the fun in playing with my curls.
There are still tantrums when one cornrow comes out twice the width of another. I get stroppy when my millions of attempts at slicking my baby hairs down backfire (I recently learned I’ve not been using the right gel or styling tools, but the Baby Tress Edge Styler, £7.99 comes highly recommended). I still dread wash day because, boy, does it take a long time. And yes, you’ll often catch me with a ponytail extension or silky smooth lace front. But I feel more at home in my hair than I have in years. It’s truly joyous and beautiful. And for me, taking the time to celebrate that has been one of the most surprising positives of this disorientating, turbulent year.
Photography by Serena Brown