In this interview, Janine shares what her relationship with her hair was like growing up, how the book came about and what she think needs to happen for more people to be able embrace their natural hair.
Janine Jellars, the author, is no stranger to the media world. The writer, editor, content marketing specialist and digital marketer has over 15 years’ experience working with many companies and magazines. She mentions interviewing Michelle Obama and Rihanna, managing a first-on-the-continent social media and response management team for Coca-Cola South Africa, being editor-in-chief for seventeen South Africa and being named one of the 200 Young People to take to lunch by Mail & Guardian as her top five career highlights, so far.
Janine says that her last time relaxing her hair was in 2010 and proceeded by the big chop in 2011. Since then, she has also released the free-to-download The Natural Newbie Guide in response to the countless messages she would receive from people about how to take care of their hair via social media.
Where in Cape Town did you grow up and what was your relationship with your hair like growing up?
I grew up in Hanover Park and my relationship with my hair was not great. My hair story is chronicled in The Big South African Hair Book. I had my hair relaxed fairly early on, because that was considered the norm – and I absolutely hated it. I hated the process, and I hated the entire idea that I even had to undergo that process to look acceptable, ‘neat’ and/ or beautiful.
What was your hair routine during your childhood and do you have a particular hairstyle that was your favourite?
Before I’d started having my hair relaxed, I’d be sent to my backdoor neighbour to have my hair washed and put into plaits for church and school. Once I was a little older and started having my hair relaxed, it was pretty much the same story, just done at home. I wouldn’t say I had a favourite hairstyle, I don’t think I had a good enough relationship with my hair, and its styling, or my hair choices, weren’t up to me in any case.
What led you to start your natural hair journey and what has it taught you about your hair and yourself over the years?
When I first ‘went natural’, I didn’t even really know that that’s what I was doing, to be honest. There was none of the internet vocabulary we have now. I think I just didn’t want to relax my hair anymore and thought there must be some kind of alternative. My relationship with my hair has changed completely – I love my hair in its un-relaxed state. I think I have a general higher level of self-acceptance, and happiness, because I feel like I look like myself.
You did the ‘big chop’ long before the natural hair movement was big in South Africa. What was shopping for products like then and what were your go-to products? And how do you feel now that it is becoming more common to have a dedicated aisle, or two, with products catering for various natural hair types?
Back then, it was an absolute nightmare. We didn’t have many options in South African shops and online shopping was also just getting started. I’d order products from the US and UK, and it’d take 6 weeks and multiple hundreds of rands to get them here. So, the alternative was a lot of DIY and experimentation. I absolutely love that I can now just pop into most shops and find a shampoo, conditioner, etc, formulated for my hair needs. I do understand that the cost right now is still quite prohibitive – especially from international brands. I’m trying to buy solely locally made products to invest money into the local haircare industry.
What are the things you look out for when buying new products and do you have any cult faves?
Moisture is super important – curly and coily hair needs moisture, and I live in Joburg, which can get quite dry. I go through phases of being obsessed with products. Right now, I’m loving Nilotiqa’s leave-in conditioner and gel. It’s a local brand, available at Clicks, Dischem and Pick n Pay, so it’s also super accessible.
What led you to write The Big South African Hair Book?
A few things. I feel this book addresses most of the frequently asked questions I’ve received from people over the years – whether online, on social media, in the beauty aisles at shops, etc. People would always stop and ask me about my hair, or which products I use, or how I take care of my hair. While there’s a lot of that information online, I get the frustration of endlessly Googling and never finding a clear answer, so I was driven to collate some of the best advice into one format.
The nature of the internet has also changed. I came up in a time of blogs and blogging, where influencers and content creators spent a lot of time ‘educating’ readers about haircare. With the rise of social media, education has taken on different formats, for example, video, and that’s not super accessible yet. Then I also felt compelled to contribute to the natural hair community and thought this is the best use of my talents. I don’t have the talent, time or energy to create content online full time, but I could write this book.
You wrote this book during a whole global pandemic! What was the process like?
Stressful! I’m in awe that I got it done, but I was inspired and motivated by the women I interviewed – I spoke to over 30 women in the making of this book. They kept me going. As did my incredible publisher Na’eemah Masoet.
While significant progress has been made, what do you think still needs to happen so that more people would feel comfortable to take the step to love and embrace their natural hair?
We need to normalise natural hair in all spaces, particularly at schools. Many schools still have an expectation of ‘neatness’ within a very narrow box. The concept of ‘neatness’ is so subjective and it’s usually enforced from a Eurocentric perspective. We also have a massive problem with texturism, where certain curl types are overly represented in media – we need to see more hair types, curl types placed at the forefront of the conversation. The aim shouldn’t be a certain hair type (loose curls), but rather healthy, happy hair.
Look out for VK News’ upcoming book review on The Big South African Hair Book.