How 8 Black Women Fell in Love With Their Hair a Year Into Quarantine

Chloe Hall, Starr Savoy
·12 min read
Photo credit: ELLE
Photo credit: ELLE

Hair salon closures have affected the beauty community both financially and emotionally. Black salons, a haven for women of color, are where clients go for more than 10-hour braid jobs, the presses, and deep conditioning treatments. These salons have long served as community staples for weekly check-ins with friends and are a part of Black women's routines they just can't miss. But when Covid-19 struck, many Black women began taking hair matters into their own hands— literally.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the sentiment surrounding salon closures was clear: This is only temporary and our salons will be back. Now, more than a year later, Black women have been forced to replicate—or at least attempt to replicate—the salon experience from home. Many have found that experimentation with their own hair has been both fun and therapeutic. "The second week of January 2021, I asked my husband to buzz my hair with his clippers," explains Shazmin Taylor a podcaster from New Jersey. "It was beyond cathartic for me, entering my first year without my parents, and was symbolic of how my partner supported me through it all, downright to this freeing moment of starting over."

Many of the women we spoke with echoed this feeling of freedom. This was the year to live free of relaxers and begin their natural hair journey. "I’m an African American woman who has worn a relaxer since I was 15 years old," explains Coleen Armstrong, a publicist. "During the quarantine, I was forced to put my hair first and finally get rid of the “creamy crack [a common term for chemical relaxers].”

Ahead, eight Black women share their experiences of new growth, following YouTube tutorials, and even creating a Black hair community during quarantine to help others navigate their hair trials and woes.

Shazmin

Photo credit: Shazmin
Photo credit: Shazmin

"If you told me this time last year that the world would shut down because of an unknown virus, my parents would both die from cancer, and that I'd move my family to my hometown, I would've thought you were having a fever dream. But here I am, somehow still standing. My natural hair journey began in early 2019 with my first big chop, but it wasn't until last year when I faced so much uncertainty that I started to experiment more with my hair. With so many restrictions in my day-to-day, I needed to express myself creatively. For the first time, I started experimenting with wigs (thanks to the queens on YouTube for teaching me how-to.) I also dabbled in at-home coloring on my natural hair; there were some fails, but I adapted and had a lot of fun. I used my son's kindergarten scissors to cut my tresses into a bob, died my ends red, and wore gorgeous wigs in black, purple, and my favorite, a bold copper-red. If there was anything I could control this year, it was my hair.

I did a throwback to my high school days with box braids in all sizes and colors during the summer when I traveled to care for my parents during hospice and return to my own family on weekends. My mom passed in July, just a short five months after her lung cancer diagnosis, and my father passed in September, heartbroken and ending his long battle with pancreatic cancer that had ultimately spread.

After my parents moved on, there was a part of me that wanted to start over with my hair. I wanted to do another big chop but also didn't want to get rid of the hair that my parents last touched. My dad would give my mother and me haircuts every few months, and he was the last person other than myself to work on my hair.

The second week of January 2021, I asked my husband to buzz my hair with his clippers. It was beyond cathartic for me, entering my first year without my parents, and was symbolic of how my partner supported me through it all, downright to this freeing moment of starting over.

Black hair is so versatile. I am grateful that my own being has allowed me to embody my emotions as I journey through stages of grief. Hair has very much been a part of my healing process, and I'm looking forward to what styles I will try next." –Shazmin Taylor, creator of HyperemesisSisterhood podcast

Colleen

Photo credit: Colleen Armstrong
Photo credit: Colleen Armstrong

"I’m an African American woman who has worn a relaxer since I was 15 years old! During the quarantine, I was forced to put my hair first and finally get rid of the “creamy crack,” as my friends would say. I won’t tell my age, but just know I pretty much had a relaxer before my first cell phone, so that you tell you something. I decided to up my vitamin C intake during the mandated quarantine shutdown and start religiously taking biotin. I decided I was going to stop relaxing my hair and give it a well-deserved break. My edges were super thin after hiding behind numerous weaves and wigs over the years. It was time for a change. Being a publicist and blogger for many years, I became so busy that I relied on relaxers and extensions instead of caring for my hair.

In April 2020, I began washing my hair every ten days and used various leave-in conditioners in between my wash days to add moisture and give my hair some much-needed TLC. The journey was long. My last relaxer was in January 2020 (two months before the shut down), and by the time the first day of summer hit, I panicked a little. It had been ages since I rocked my natural hair without a relaxer during summertime. In July, I decided to get long ombré honey blonde braids to ease me into the transition. I loved them, and it felt so good to see my edges slowly but surely growing in.

It’s now officially one year and three months since my last relaxer, and I don’t intend on getting one ever again. My hair has grown so nicely and has done a complete 180-degree turn. Every section of my hair is soft and growing by the day. Healthy black hair also awards me the luxury of being versatile. I can rock a cute curly afro, long waist-length braids, or pop on a cute wig while my hair continues to thrive and grow underneath. I’m done with the creamy crack and never going back!"–Colleen Gwen Armstrong, Lifestyle Publicist

Ashley

Photo credit: Ashley Brooks
Photo credit: Ashley Brooks

"If it’s one thing I have learned during our quarantine, it was embracing my natural curls. Going from getting a wash and set every two weeks to styling my hair myself was a learning process. At the start, I wanted a protective, low-maintenance style, so I didn’t have to worry too much about my hair. I have always worn braids, but doing them myself was a challenge. After watching so many YouTube videos, I finally decided to try them for myself. They did not come out that great, but they were good enough to last me for a little.

After trying braids, I wanted to focus on my natural hair. I wanted to get to know my hair, try different products, and see what worked best for me. Design Essentials has been my go-to for products and Flexi rods for defined curls. After doing my hair for a while, I felt began to feel confident. So, I decided to color my hair using As I Am Hot Red Curl Color, and let’s just say I’m obsessed.

Throughout my hair journey, I learned my hair craves moisture. Now I try my best to deep condition every 1-2 weeks. To maintain my curls, I sleep with a silk bonnet and on a silk pillowcase so I can fluff and go in the morning. Learning how to take care of my hair gave me even more of a boost of confidence. It made me feel beautiful, free, and proud. Now I am ready to try new styles!" –Ashley Brooks, Fashion Publicist and Senior Account Executive

Arianna

Photo credit: Arianna Jones
Photo credit: Arianna Jones

"Before quarantine, I always had to do my hair. I have been natural for over a decade but needed to have box braids, defined curls, and laid edges to feel worthy of being seen by anyone. After few weeks into been seen by absolutely none, except for my mom, I began to feel indifferent about my hair. I would go out for my morning walks first thing after waking up, which is a huge deal.

I learned at a young age that my hair could not be presented to anyone by the way my hair grew naturally out of my head. From picture day, pool days, sleepovers, work attire, and even when my boyfriend touches my hair, I have been programmed to panic and consider what I look like and how I'd deflect the negative looks and comments that came to the natural state of my hair.

After spending months isolated on the trails, just me and the river, a few critters, and the handful of neighbors that I'd pass, I finally got to experience the privilege of not giving a single fuck about my hair. I have to say, it's been incredibly liberating, and I can't see myself going back anytime soon."–Arianna Jones, Creative Director and Consultant

Lauren

Photo credit: Lauren Woulard
Photo credit: Lauren Woulard

"While some have played in styles like braids, ponytails, or adventurous colors, my Black hair quarantine journey was more so one of self-love through embracing my natural beauty and natural crown. I’ve been an avid weave wearer for years, always making sure my sew-ins were slayed with edges laid. I can honestly say that while I’ve always had a head full of hair underneath. I never truly loved my texture and pattern of hair— hating that it was kinkier than the beautiful ringlet curls you often see celebrated. Because of this, I rarely ever wore my hair in its natural state. I took care of my hair underneath, making sure I had regular treatments and trims. But I never wore my natural out or posted on Instagram with my real hair.

But relocating during a pandemic and not necessarily having access to my stylists forced me to reconsider another option. “Lauren, just get your natural hair silk pressed to get my hair silk pressed,” I told myself. In early October 2020, I finally got my natural hair properly trimmed, treated, and silk pressed. I have been embracing my natural hair since then. It’s been such a journey, but I love my bob, cute little ponytails, and top knots. I have been finding new ways to love myself and all that comes with it. The pandemic was the perfect opportunity for me to do something that felt good to me!"–Lauren Woulard, Entertainment PR Manager

Niani

Photo credit: Courtesy of Niani Bandele-Barracks
Photo credit: Courtesy of Niani Bandele-Barracks

"During quarantine, I created A Safe Space for Black Girls That Never Learned How to Braid. This space began as a private Facebook group that black women how to braid, style, and care for their hair during quarantine. The Facebook group went viral and eventually gained members all over the world.

A Safe Space for Black Girls That Never Learned How to Braid focuses heavily on beginner braid techniques. Since launching last March, our students have learned how to cornrow, twist, choose proper styling products, and box braid. We have also built a beautiful community of black women who support each other throughout this journey that became necessary with salon closures last year."–Niani Bandele-Barracks, beautician and creator of A Safe Space for Black Girls That Never Learned How to Braid

Tiffany

Photo credit: Tiffany Bob
Photo credit: Tiffany Bob

"Quarantine has proven to be a wake-up call for me in many ways. Learning to do my hair was just one of many lessons and reflections during this time. I had my last relaxer in December 2016. In March 2017, I big chopped, and it took at least a year to figure out what worked for me. To this day, I am still trying new products.

After a few months of being in the house, I kept seeing pictures on social media pop up of black women with freshly braided hair. I, like others, wondered where these fresh braids were coming from with the salons closed and people social distancing. Then I discovered women were learning to braid from YouTube videos. After a few videos, I headed out to the beauty supply and bought braiding hair. About 8 hours later and tragic parting in the back of my head, my first set of quarantine braids worked, and I was proud of myself."–Tiffany Bob, jewelry designer at TVictoria

Allyson

Photo credit: Allyson Robinson
Photo credit: Allyson Robinson
Photo credit: Allyson Robinson
Photo credit: Allyson Robinson

"During this past year of quarantine, I felt stuck between doing nothing to my hair and admitting to trying different hairstyles. I can admit there were times that I stuck to doing nothing. I decided to give my hair break due to constantly manipulating it. One of the biggest things I learned was that when I go to get my hair done by a professional, I wasn't really paying for the style itself, but the labor and longevity. The same way that parents learned to appreciate teachers is the same way I felt about hairstylists. I also learned how to master my go-to hairstyles; a stretched twist out. I learned how to get consistent results every time.

My 4-year-old twin daughters have hair like mine, so I did what I could to try new styles when they went back to school. I somewhat mastered being able to braid to the scalp and finally giving them the joy of having beads in their hair like I did when I was their age." –Allyson A. Robinson, #InternetBigSis/Studio Teacher and Child Labor Coordinator

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