In a series exploring the complicated relationships we, as women, hold with our hair throughout our lives, All the Pretty Birds introduces ‘Our Hair, Don’t Care’. This is our installment series of women we love sharing their personal beauty journeys. As we continue to celebrate Women’s History Month, our Head of Social, Alyx Carolus, drew inspiration from Janine Jellars’ The Big South African Hair Book reflecting on the global nuances of Black women’s hair.
From Tessica Brown to the Zendaya and Fashion Police incident, Black hair is a topic that we could write about endlessly. All around the world, Black and Brown women deal with hair discrimination, texturism, and colorism in varying degrees. When we have these conversations it becomes clear that while we have a lot more in common, there are still so many differences among us. South Africa is an example thereof, with a diverse and majority Black population. However, there is a distinct lack of information around going natural with haircare. Furthermore, there is a focus on processed hair and the seemingly inescapable legacy of hair discrimination in the fabric of our history. In early 2021, writer, former Seventeen SA Editor and natural hair enthusiast, Janine Jellars, launched her debut title, The Big South African Hair Book to help share insights around our hair with local audiences.
— Janine J 💕 (@janine_j) February 10, 2021
Big Hair, Don’t Care
So you’d think that having access to natural hair information would be an easy thing in South Africa? That’s simply not the case, despite global trends leaning towards the natural hair boom. In early 2015, Janine wrote a free e-book that shared some of the insights she gleaned from her own experiences over a decade. She had gone back and forth between natural and processed hair since her late teens. Janine explains, “I had never liked straight hair. Both the process and outcome didn’t make sense to me.” She further shares, “Growing up, there wasn’t really an alternative.”
The e-book had helpful tips around transitioning from processed hair to natural hair, how to maintain hair health, and tips on hair care altogether.
Janine delves into the fact that local brands aren’t interested in educating their customers and how in South Africa, the hair industry often isn’t regulated. Janine says, “Hair care isn’t just theoretical, it requires practical application.” While The Big SA Hair Book isn’t the only book on South African hair – it’s aim is to share relevant information and have dialogue around the reality of managing natural hair in this region.
The book is for the aspiring natural hair queens all the way to seasoned “naturalistas” who want to know more about their hair type. The more information we have, the better for our communities and the generations to come.
Ultimately, South Africa has a long history with hair discrimination. Many oppressive systems have taken shape, for example, the pencil test or the creation of legislation actively excluding people with coarser textured hair. Janine explains how these experiences impact generations to this day, as these beliefs were embedded in the fabric of our society. While South Africa has made strides with offering natural hair care products – there is still a level of disdain around coarse hair in various communities. Processed and heat-styled hair is still considered tidier, more professional, and desirable in some settings.
Black Women’s Hair and Answering the Novel Question, “What’s my type?”
Founded in the 1990s by Oprah’s hair stylist, Andre Walker, the Andre Walker Typing System is one of the most referenced hair classification systems – but it’s definitely not one size fits all. And as award-winning SA author and poet Lebohang Masango mentioned before, “I honestly do not think that the American hair typing system necessarily applies to African hair, because so many of the YouTube tutorials that have claimed to apply to ‘4C hair’ really haven’t worked for me.”
Janine echoes these sentiments and delves into this in Chapter 6 of her book called Know Your Hair. She explains that the systems popular in certain regions, don’t always fit within the local SA context.
“Language is important and in South Africa, women often use pejorative language to describe their hair.” I found this insightful, as growing up, it was always about putting down your hair texture/type. The language we used to describe hair was harmful and hardly ever uplifted natural hair texture.
Two Words: International Influences. What Is the Difference?
As with most countries around the world, the local South African market is somewhat influenced by the United States. One thing that Janine points out is that South African consumers love volume over definition. If you check out social media, you’ll see a ton of content from the US focusing on curl definition; wash ‘n gos and edges shaped or laid.
Janine explains that volume is often a favored trend in South Africa. Sadly, this stems from the fact that relaxers damage hairlines and limit volume. Naturally, it makes sense that big hair would be desirable.
Undoubtedly, global conversations around Black women and their hair are important. Although we are similar, our experiences offer various degrees of cross cultural difference. The more we share, the more we learn about how hair discrimination has impacted each other around the world.
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