I first noticed that I was losing my hair when I was in my early teens.
After taking out some braids, there were some patches at the back of my head, which filled me with terror.
My naturally long afro hair had always been healthy, so I told my mother straight away. She was as shocked as I was, and promised she’d help me find a way to fix it.
It was a big part of my identity, and I didn’t want to lose it.
But growing up in an African household in the 90s meant that our first call of action didn’t involve seeking medical help at all. And it was long before the era of ‘Black girl magic’ and ‘team natural’, so I felt very alone.
While my mum and I tried to find out ways to resolve it by using different ointments, and even visiting our local acupuncturist, I felt as if I couldn’t tell anyone. Eventually, I went to see my GP.
Aged 14, I was diagnosed with alopecia – patchy baldness, that can develop anywhere on the body – I was worried, but my GP said it would grow back.
I learnt that the styles I wore were the main reasons for my condition. Tight braids often led to traction and pain, so my doctor advised me to reduce the pressure to my scalp.
But I didn’t know what was right and wrong, how to style my tresses and what to avoid as, simply, no one told me.
Prior to the natural hair movement, there was a lack of support towards Black hair types, as well as trained professionals having little knowledge.
Natural, non-chemical products were scarce, so much so that, even after being diagnosed with alopecia, my hairdresser still tried to relax my hair with chemicals before braiding it. These chemicals can leave hair brittle, and prone to permanent damage, as well as cause it to fall out.
After leaving it in for too long, she burnt my hair and I had to go to a barber to get it all cut off. Seeing chunks on the floor brought tears to my eyes.
I felt like a part of myself was missing.
I arrived at school the next day with a shaved head and my friends were horrified. There were so many questions that it made me feel so uncomfortable. My GP prescribed an ointment that eventually allowed me to grow back my hair.
My condition was something I never really spoke to anyone about outside my family because I was too embarrassed to bring it up. I was afraid – especially as a dark skin Black girl growing up in an era where there was a lack of diversity and role models who talked about hair and beauty.
Thankfully, more recently, celebrities like Jayda Pickett Smith and Viola Davis have shown how real experiences like mine are by sharing their own stories about hair loss, and that it can happen to anyone.
This is important because it is more common than we realise. Women – irrespective of race, gender, and socio-political background – can experience it. But we all need to be equally equipped to be able to address it.
In Black communities, the lack of resources and harmful practices, such as relaxing hair, has only exacerbated the issue further.
Recent research has even found a possible link between relaxers and uterine cancer; how can my community allow this to continue when there is such risk of dangers?
Lacking the knowledge and empowerment I needed to look after my natural hair, meant I – like many other people – fell under the misconceptions and myths that surrounded Black hair. Which was that it is tough and challenging. It’s because of this that I want more education in my community on how to safely care for hair.
Now, aged 28, I can boldly reclaim love for my natural hair through safe practices, which include styles that don’t add friction, no chemical ingredients, and being careful with heat being applied.
I even went on to become a Miss Universe Great Britain finalist in 2018, which was the biggest highlight of my beauty journey as I got to show my true, authentic self to the world.
It’s helped me embrace my hair with so much self-love, knowing how the thought of losing it almost felt like I was losing myself.
I am so glad I got my coils back, and I hope that all women feel beautiful in the skin they were gifted, because that’s where the magic begins.
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