Our hair is a big part of who we are and due to this, my skills have always been requested. I started out just doing hair for my family and friends, and it’s since grown to working on sets for fashion and beauty campaigns. I love to make women feel beautiful, because I know what it feels like to not always feel that way."
The significance of hair in Black history and heritage can be attributed to several factors. Although complicated, the development of afro hair and its effects on society over time tell a story all on their own that says a lot about the Black experience and identity.
Many popular hairstyles, such as braids, twists, and dreadlocks, were first used to symbolize a person's tribe, social standing, and family history during the early years of African civilization. Even though the precise moment of their creation is uncertain, they have been proudly worn by both men and women for centuries, where they have evolved into the best way to recognize someone at a glance.
In sum, Black hair's long history reveals a struggle with lost acceptance that has since reemerged as a genuine embrace. Whatever is placed atop a Black woman's head should be a symbol of power, respect, and a crown. A real crown does not have a model or a standard; rather, it displays the beauty of the wearer.
Aminata Kamara our #spotlightstar is an Afro hair stylist based in the UK, she emphasizes on the Black woman's hair which depicts her pride,strength, and power. While she discusses her experience growing up as a black girl child in a White Community, she also shares her experience as an Afro hair stylist based in the UK. Aminata believes resilience is a general unique part of who the Black woman is and this distinguishes her amongst other races.
"Generally speaking I believe resilience is a big part of who we are."
Kindly tell us about yourself, your background, and what it felt like growing up as a Black lady?
I never grew up with a strong sense of Black identity. I was born and raised in Kent where you could quite literally count the Black families on one hand. In my Primary School it was just me and another Black boy called Ola, but other than that, the only Black people I knew were my family. I had no representation outside of my home that made me feel seen, or that I was “normal”.
I remember one evening after school, I saw an advert on TV for ‘Wash and Go’ , a new shampoo that promised to make your hair long, sleek and soft after one wash. I begged my mum to buy it so I could look like the woman on TV. She tried to convince me that it wasn’t possible, but as far as I was concerned she didn’t know what she was talking about, and I just needed to get the shampoo so I could prove her wrong. Well… let’s just say the pain and disappointment I experienced the day I washed my hair with said shampoo, is one I will never forget!
Similarly, I remember the days I would sit in the bath and scrub my skin so hard, trying to wash away my Blackness, I would end up in pain, and nowhere closer to the white girl that I wanted to be. I just didn’t want to look like me.
But as I grew older and more Black families started to move into the area, I began to realise that I wasn’t abnormal, weird or ugly - I just hadn’t found a space where I belonged. So when I turned 16, and had the option of choosing my 6th form college - I decided to go somewhere where I wasn’t in the minority. I applied and got into St Francis Xavier 6th Form, a College in Clapham, South West London that took me 4 hours to get to and from every single day!
Yet, aside from the 5:30am starts and super late finishes to my day, this was the best decision I could have made for myself, and I’ve been making conscious decisions like this ever since.
It took me a very long time to get to where I’m at today - but I can confidently say that as a dark skinned Black woman, I couldn’t be more proud of who I am, and I wouldn’t change my look, features or identity for the world!
Reflecting on your childhood days, can you pinpoint any major experience that fostered enthusiasm in you towards celebrating Black culture and talent?
I remember being about 13 or 14 and my mum took me to see my Aunty and older cousin Fatmata who lived in Camberwell. In every way Fatmata was just the coolest person ever. She introduced me to artists like Brandy, Jagged Edge and Foxy Brown. She wore the newest trainers and of course had the best hair! On this day the front half of her hair was cornrowed in a snake-pattern, which went up into a ponytail. The ends were feathered up and tonged into a peacock style, with the back parted down the middle and made into two twists. I had never seen anything like it, but I loved it and knew I had to have it. Fatmata knew how to braid so I asked her to do my hair. I remember looking in the mirror feeling funny about what I saw, but I loved it - I looked soooo cool! I couldn’t wait to show everyone at School on Monday.
Of course they didn’t understand it, but I didn’t care, because it was at that point I started to realise I had something special, something different, and it was worth being proud of. I started to pay more attention to the styles I wore, the music I listened to, and as I mentioned above - the spaces I was in, that made me feel more like me.
What has been your experience as an Afro hair stylist based in the UK? How have you been able to offer more services for natural hair and prioritize fostering a quality salon experience?
I guess hairdressing is an industry that will always be there, as Black women regardless of our age, we will always want our hair done. Whether it’s for a special occasion or just something for your day to day run arounds. Our hair is a big part of who we are. And due to this my skills have always been requested. I started out just doing hair for my family and friends, and it’s since grown to working on sets for fashion and beauty campaigns. I love to make women feel beautiful, because I know what it feels like to not always feel that way. My work is very much about bringing out the beauty that has always been there - we just don’t always see it. (Hence my business name ROY - Reflection of You).
How would you describe a Black woman's hair in its prime?
A Black woman's hair in its prime is hair that is healthy, well cared for and given the attention it deserves. Our hair is very much alive so we have to care for it just like we would our skin and our internal being.
Over the years I have gone through every hair style a Black woman could have; braids, relaxer, crochet, weaves, wigs, pixie cuts - everything! Right now I have a bleached blond TWA [Teeny Weeny Afro] and I love it so much. So to me there is no ‘ideal look’ - it’s just whatever makes you look and feel your best, always making sure to prioritise your hair's health.
Through the years, do you think Afro hair salons have been very secure in their positioning as a community hub for Black women to get their beauty and hair treatments?
Oh absolutely! Hair salons have always been a very big part of our culture. But I think in recent years things have changed a lot. Clients are seeing what they want online and seeking out specific stylists for that look. Hair stylists and beauticians are also working on a freelance basis (more so since the pandemic) which allows them to be flexible with their work, and offer a more personalised service.
Personally, I prefer working on set, as I love to collaborate with other artists. So, when I’m in these spaces I'm very intentional about creating an environment that's welcoming, positive and encouraging - as it's conducive for productivity, confidence and just helps to have a more successful shoot.
What attributes makes a Black woman unique?
I think depending on where you grew up and how you were raised, this can differ greatly. But generally speaking I believe resilience is a big part of who we are.
As Black women we experience adversity just like anyone else, but I think we face additional forms of discriminations that aren’t always overt or even clear. For example we’re often expected and even praised for being ‘strong’, leaving us to feel as though there’s no room for error, or like we can't show weakness. And when we do, we feel as though we’ve failed and are not good enough. It’s very multilayered, and as I say not definitive of every Black woman - but regardless of the circumstance we come through it, and that to me speaks of resilience - a trait I’ve seen in all of the Black women I surround myself with.
For someone who has been styling hair for most of her life, how do you stay updated about the latest hairstyle trends? What inspires your creative mind?
I’m ashamed to admit this but I spend a lot of my time on social media! I love following various pages on Instagram and Pinterest that inspire me so I’m constantly surrounded by different looks. I’m also subscribed to a few magazines so I see what's hot on the catwalks all the time. But aside from that I’ve always enjoyed experimenting with different looks on my own head - and now I have a daughter, so she gets her fair share of scalp experimentations on a bi-weekly basis!
"Over the years I have gone through every hair style a Black woman could have; braids, relaxer, crochet, weaves, wigs, pixie cuts - everything! Right now I have a bleached blond TWA [Teeny Weeny Afro] and I love it so much. So to me there is no ‘ideal look’ - it’s just whatever makes you look and feel your best, always making sure to prioritise your hair's health."
How have you successfully used your work to celebrate the strength, vulnerability, beauty and poise embedded in Black women?
For this specific project I wanted to take all the elements you mentioned - the strength, vulnerability, beauty and poise - and put them on display, in a way that made us stop, reflect and feel proud of who we are.
Often it’s felt like as Black women we can't be strong and vulnerable at the same time, or we can’t be beautiful and soft without it coming across as self indulgent or proud. It’s sometimes felt like our beauty and identity isn’t one we can own for ourselves - but in fact we can, and we should! So I created this for us, and I want other Black women to feel seen through this, in an unfiltered way.
As a BBC presenter whose niche is "Celebrating Black Culture and Talent" so far, how have you contributed a great deal in celebrating and promoting the Black culture?
My work on the radio is actually not much different to what I do when I'm on set or styling someone's hair: I simply pave the way for you to showcase who you are. And my show guests, being from the black community, have total freedom to do just that.
My radio show called the VIBE, featured weekly on BBC Radio Leicester and BBC Sounds, is dedicated to sharing the diverse talent and stories from Leicester’s black community, woven with music and sounds from black culture. I amplify black voices and give a platform to my guests and listeners to share of themselves, to feel seen and to feel heard; un-compromised and unfiltered!
The VIBE stands for Vibrant, Intelligent, Black Entertainment - and that’s exactly what we provide. Conversations are entertaining and informative; at times lighthearted and joyful - other times tough and uncomfortable, but always necessary to have. I encourage people to be their true selves and never feel as though they have to filter who they are just because they’re on this platform.
Aside from your quest to inspire your daughter and many other women through your passion towards the Black women community, in what other way do you think you have been an inspiration to your daughter, and many others within your space?
I live outwardly and intentionally, so whether you encounter me online, at work, at home, or in the street - I always do my best to be a true version of who I am. That to me is very important, because then you get to see my highs and my lows, my success and my downfalls. Life is never perfect, and I believe we do a disservice when we pretend it is. I want people to see the truth of what it looks like to be a woman who is also a mum, who works, runs a business and takes care of everything else needed to survive. It’s very hard, but it’s not impossible.
Over a year ago I started having therapy, and it’s radically transformed my life. It’s given me a new perspective on life, work and parenting. It’s helped me to strike a balance between having a successful career and being an active parent who invests in their child just as much as I invest in myself. And in sharing my journey I hope to inspire those around me.
ROY which stands for “Reflection Of You" is a brand you created with the aim to nurture women's beauty through hairstyling. Can you share the story behind the brand's name and how you have kept up with its vision?
Hair and beauty, on the surface, can feel like a service that exists to beautify you externally, and even though it does, I understood from a very young age just how much it can impact you internally as well. I wanted to go one step further, and use my services to reflect who I believe Black women are on the inside.
At times, I can spend up to 6/7 hours with a woman, depending on the style she’s having, and during that time we talk about a number of different, often personal things. So by the time that woman comes out of my chair, my hope is that she feels refreshed from the inside out, and is able to walk with a new lease of life.
Although my role is as a hairstylist, the time we share gives room for meaningful conversations to happen - which perhaps is where my skills as a radio presenter come into play. I’m constantly communicating with people, sharing stories and creating space where authenticity is at the centre, so perhaps that's my USP. I'm not sure. But what I do know is that every time I get the opportunity to do this work, I’m honoured I get to share it with some phenomenal Black women.
"Hair and beauty, on the surface, can feel like a service that exists to beautify you externally, and even though it does, I understood from a very young age just how much it can impact you internally as well. I wanted to go one step further, and use my services to reflect who I believe Black women are on the inside."