As it looks like we’re still months away from hairdressers reopening, now is definitely the time to let go of the usual beauty standards – if you haven’t already. The new norm, for a lot of black women, has been to take out our braids, lose the wigs and fully embrace our hair in its most natural state. Here, I speak to six women, on how they've been redressing beauty standards during lockdown.
Personally, changes beyond my control (looking at you, global pandemic) often spark a change in something I can control, my appearance. When I found my first grey hair hidden in an eyebrow, I bleached both. And, after a breakup once, I had to be persuaded not to shave my head. How many home-cuts and dye jobs have you scrolled past in the last few weeks on Instagram?
With more time to take care of our hair, in a way busy schedules wouldn’t usually allow, lockdown has brought our lengthy pre-lockdown routines into question. When socialising, dating IRL and going back to work resumes, will we keep a little of this newfound confidence and relaxed approach?
Whatever your kinky-coily curl pattern, hair texture or length, there are lessons we can all learn from during lockdown.
Lesson 1: Be Confident
For Lily O’Mara, lockdown has been the excuse she needed to finally commit to “the big chop” – and it’s given her more confidence than she expected. After years of bleaching her hair and damaging her curl pattern, O’Mara decided it was time for a freshly shaved start. “If it looked really bad, or I had a really weird head shape, nobody was going to see,” she told me, on her decision to go for it. “I’m feeling much more confident in my hair now – I didn’t expect to love it so much, it looks good all the time. I just think black and mixed-race women look hot with shaved heads and I wanted to be a part of the gang.”
The cut has also helped O’Mara in navigating and celebrating her sexuality, she says. “One of the reasons I hadn’t chopped my hair off was because I was worried about it being cliché to be a lesbian with short hair, and what people would think. Now I’m 26, I actually don’t give a f**k what straight people think, and if it’s a queer marker then that’s great!”
It makes you realise how much you do depend on this false aesthetic that isn’t true to you
For student Francesca Rechere, lockdown has enabled her to step away from the box braids and really get to know her hair. “I’ve definitely become a lot more confident with my hair in its natural state. It’s quite funny to think back on it – I had braids and extensions from the age of 14 to 25. The last year or so I've started wearing my hair naturally.”
Growing up, Rechere tells me, she never saw hair like hers in magazines. “The hair styling sections were always for young white women with straight hair, [a demographic] which we didn’t fit into,” she says. “From a young age we were taught to hide our hair away by our mothers and grandmothers – washing my hair would always be this process that me and my sister dreaded, I've got visions of my mum coming for me with the comb.” Now, however, she’s fully on board with the natural look. “It’s so beautiful, just as it is. It makes you realise how much you do depend on this false aesthetic that isn’t true to you. It’s such a relief.”
As an added bonus, this new routine also helps to save money. “It makes me realise how much bloody money I spend on my hair – for what? When I could do it myself,” Rechere says. And it doubles as self-care, she continues. “It’s like pampering. It's quite meditative. You whack on some music and it’s time completely to yourself, which is lovely.”
Lesson 2: Do It Yourself
Lovette Jallow, a public speaker and activist from Sweden, tells me that although there’s no lockdown in place there, certain activities are still prohibited. “I can’t have my hairdresser over monthly to do my cornrows as a protective style under my wigs, because her family are in the high-risk group,” Jallow explains. So, she’s been learning to braid herself. “I belong to the small group of black women that never learnt how to do cornrows,” she says. “So, I purchased a mannequin head online and have been practising on that, as well as watching copious amounts of YouTube videos.”
Elsewhere, at the start of lockdown, journalist Grace Shutti was trying out a whole host of new styles, while she was unable to see her hairdresser. “One day it was loose and free, the next day a curly fringe and pineapple, and the next it was pulled back,” Shutti tells me. But now, she’s been drawn back to the more familiar. “I was craving my usual look of Marley twists, so I ordered the hair off eBay and spent five hours doing it myself,” she says. “I was OK at doing my own hair before, but I'm definitely more confident now, and considering never going back to my hairdresser. We’ll see how long that lasts,” she adds, “but also, support your local aunty!”
Lesson 3: Get To Know Your Hair
Learning how to work with and care for specific hair conditions is something Rochelle Newman has really committed to. “The process of growing my hair has taken me over a decade due to suffering from two scalp conditions; alopecia (a form of hair loss) and seborrheic dermatitis, (a severe form of dandruff). When my hair fell out again in 2016, I dedicated a lot of my time to figuring out new styles and natural products, which would help to grow it back,” Newman tells me. “Now, my hair is going from strength to strength every month. My aim is to grow another four to six inches before the end of the year.”
To achieve this, Newman is taking the time in lockdown to let her hair rest. “I usually keep my Marley twists in for two to three weeks, without giving my hair a break. Now, I’m able to leave my hair out for a lot longer, without having to do anything with it. If I keep changing styles, it might cause my hair to break again.”
Antonia Odunlami, a radio producer, also suffers from a scalp condition. She says that although quarantine has allowed her to take more care of her hair, and wash it and retwist it more regularly, she’s less confident in her appearance. “It’s a weird one – because of a condition I’ve got on my scalp, obviously I’ve got more time to pay attention to it,” she explains. “But, I’d say I'm less confident, because I’m able to do less fancy styles to dress it up.” She’s also using this time to support black-owned businesses online, she says. “We're actually taking the time to give them some money and do research, as opposed to being lazy [and relying on hair shops].”
let’s not pretend there’s not an element of the patriarchy, racism, and capitalism embedded in things we do.
Lesson 4: Pay It Forward Post-Lockdown
O’Mara tells me she hopes we question beauty standards more going forward. “What does it feel like to just be in my body, and to do what feels good? Why am I putting on makeup, why am I doing my hair? Who do I want to look this way for?” she muses. “Ideally from the threads of this pandemic, I think it might be possible for people to stop, and reflect, and think.”
While she recognises there are positives to be found in beauty and self-care routines, she says, “let’s not pretend there’s not an element of the patriarchy, racism, and capitalism embedded in things we do. It would be good to disentangle those things from what makes us feel good in this private sphere and hopefully, that will translate into the public [post-lockdown].”
Rechere also hopes the confidence she and other black women feel right now will extend beyond lockdown. “I hope that people will be confident to sport their natural hair in the real world and it’s not just a behind the camera thing. For some people it might be a case of time, or what they prefer, which is also okay,” she says. “I just wish that I knew this and felt this way 10 years ago.”