Women Series: all about hair, ft. Kiera

I’ve always wanted to interview people for my blog. As International Women’s Day and Mother’s Day UK both fall in Women’s Month (March), I knew exactly what to spend my time doing. I spent the entire month talking to women, exchanging stories, whether that be about work, love, finances, adventure – anything I could think of. I made sure not to talk solely about hardships but about where we can celebrate and enjoy our womanhood, making sure to document everything. This post is the first of three interviews I did this month with women at the centre. I deliberately chose to publish this post on the last day of the month because I believe these conversations should happen all year round! Women’s month may have been the catalyst, but women continue to exist outside of it; our stories exist, and our truths exist.

Let’s dive into the topic of hair and beauty. In the UK, the beauty industry is ranked third for the largest markets operating in the UK. A whopping 83% of UK women wear makeup, and with post Covid-19 lockdown, sales of makeup have increased by 229%.

Hair Care is the top category for Black consumerS in the us with approximately $2.29B in annual sales.

via NielsenIQ Omnishopper

As a Black woman, hair care is where we top the list in cosmetics expenditure. A Nielsen report showed that in the US, Black women spend roughly 9 times more than Caucasian women on hair and cosmetics, buying the products and supporting the brands that intentionally target this demographic. Various discussions have been brought to the surface because of these findings. For example, the monetary value of black consumers versus how poorly represented and catered to the demographic is. There is often conversation surrounding the why; why are they not being catered to, what the benefits are etc. When I sat down with my friend Kiera, we mostly discussed the patience and dedication that come with maintaining Afro hair, the Natural Hair Movement and one of the biggest decisions she had to make because of it.

I specifically thought of this question for you because you have been on a journey…

Kirsty interviewing Kiera in-person.

We met up after work at Selfridges. We hoped to get seats at EL&N London, but it was completely rammed. Pizza Pilgrims happened to be across the foyer, so we took our chances there.

After a good helping of gnocchi and garlic bread washed down with a Limonada, we began our discussion.

So, take me back to the beginning. Tell me about your relationship with your hair, “Mmmm!” she replies, her eyes wide open, and a huge smile appears across her face. “Erm, so, we’re gonna go wayyyyyyy back.” We’re gonna reverse it!

“Growing up, my mum was always so creative with my hair; she always did my hair in braids. I used to love Alicia Keys, so any kind of braids, even with the zig-zags, whatever, my mum would do it all. Like, she would literally play with my hair a lot.”

My hair is so thick. My hair would break combs. It would be a workout to do my hair.

It’s at this point I can see her smile slightly drop. “It was then when I turned 10 years old, my mum was like, right, you’re going to have to do it all yourself now.” She rolls her eyes and lets out a stifled chuckle.

Thinking back to when I was 9-10, this was a time when many Black girls started to do their own hair or even had their first relaxer. Most of us can remember holding down our ears when getting our first silk press or the stinging sensation in our eyes the first time we shampooed our hair solo. I wonder, is it similar across other demographics? Is this simply teaching us independence or adding to the adultification of young black girls? I don’t know.

“My hair was so thick. My hair would break combs. It would be a workout to do my hair, [but] I had to get used to doing it myself,” she sighs. “2014 is when I actually started properly looking after my hair. Before, I was putting gel,” she starts motioning with her hands, following her edges with her fingers, right to the back of her head. “I was putting gel, then pulling it up into a big puff. And that’s it,” she brushed her palms together as if dusting off crumbs.

“2014 is when the whole Natural Hair Movement started, and I said, you know what, let me just try looking after my hair properly, use the right products in my hair, and see what I can do myself.”

“Then I started Uni. After the first year of Uni, I shaved my hair off.” She bursts into loud laughter, her head cocked slightly backwards and tucks her locs behind her ear. The smiles have returned, a physical indication of her feelings and comfort level all those years ago.

“I was like, you know what, I wanted to experience my hair in all its glory from [like] the start. I’ve never had short hair, and I’ve never had my hair bald.

“I shaved it all off, and I just thought, I’m going to experience it. Whatever it is, whether I feel shy, self-conscious, or feeling, I’ve just gotta break through it.”

As I thought about how I wanted to write up our conversation, I pictured 17/18 year old me. I had just fried my hair – for the last time might I add – with those cancerous relaxer creams, Chris Rock had warned us about, and to top it off, I decided to dye it ginger! Whether experimentation purposes or societal pressures, I think women and young girls are drawn to making big, drastic changes with their hair and body features at a high rate.

I let Kiera continue to talk as I took another sip of Limonada. We’ve been friends for years, and as she talked and I listened, I could see how much she had grown. I sat there, warmed and glad she allowed and trusted me to share her journey.

“When you do cut your hair as drastic as that, you think you have an idea of what it’s going to be like. Then you do it, and you’re like,” she pulls a face, half grimace, half smile with a dash of sarcasm, “I have nothing to hide behind,” she says shaking her head and looking down.” You’re naked. “Yes, I feel naked, [my head] is cold – Nah I did it in the summer so it wasn’t that cold but it was breezy. It was a weird feeling, and it didn’t feel like me.” “But…” her smile returning, “I liked it at the start, it looked Frenchy, I don’t know why.”

…and then [my hair] it started growing in those in-between stages…

“That’s when I started to feel the most self-conscious, So it looked quite good, then it went to those in-between stages, and I was like… OMG,” Her eyes turn away from me and the grimace returns, on its own this time. “I can’t put it in a bun; I can’t say I’ve had a bad hair day,” I interject to help her out, you just can’t hide it, and that’s what we do with buns. We just slap it in a bun and say, I don’t want to deal with you, you’re gone. But when it can’t get into that pony…”Yesss, you can’t; I’m then I was like shxt… but in two months time, I was loving it again, and it was just like a yo-yo until I could get it into a pony again.”

“I started to do my own braids after that because I didn’t want to spend money on getting a hairdresser to do my hair anymore. I dealt with it this far; I [thought] I’ll just braid my own hair, go on YouTube and just figure it out.

The final stage of Kiera’s journey was getting locs. Whether she adds braids, adds extensions, beads or clips, this protective hairstyle provided the perfect harmony she was looking for. Often incorrectly cited as a low-maintenance style, locs are just as much work as regular Natural hair, especially in order for them to look great and be in their optimum state.

The relationship with women and their hair, particularly Black women, runs deep. From Naturalistas, to wig connoisseurs, our crowns are important and tied to our identities. I think I want to touch on this topic a bit more, so please let me know if you would be interested!

3 fitting words for this post; naturals, cosmetics, consumerism

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