As young African-Australian women, Wintana Kidane and Rahel Ephrem are all too used to having their natural hair be a source of interest, amusement or derision, and definitely something that has to be altered. Taking the concept of change into their own hands, they have collaborated with SheaMoisture on the #loveyours campaign, which aims to empower women of colour to celebrate their natural hair. As co-hosts of podcast Bittersweet who are also busy with their day jobs – Wintana does marketing and content creation in the arts space, while Rahel works for an NFP supporting asylum seeker and refugee women – both women are used to navigating different worlds, and experts in how their hair means they are perceived. They sat down with us for a lengthy interview, where we discussed hair as a magnet for and symbol of racism, caring for it as an important aspect of community, wearing your hair however you want as being an extension of self (or even ‘just’ an expression of your style), and how they have now each reached a point where they appreciate their hair so much that they wouldn’t change a thing about it.

W: Speaking from experience, the ability to proudly wear your hair how you want is a transitional process. Taking pride in wearing my hair naturally involves shaking off stereotypes and negative things I believed about my hair.

I used to have to be conscious of wearing my natural hair, to plan out when and how I would do it, whereas I’m at a stage now where I don’t think about it, which is a beautiful thing. I think we all want to come to a place of not thinking about it, and not thinking we having to hide it or manipulate it. It’s about being comfortable in your own skin. That’s what the norm should be wearing our natural hair.

R: I have to agree. Growing up, I could never be a ‘wash and wear’ girl. I’d always see friends with messy buns and wish I could do that, so I’d try, but would feel like I looked crazy and it would be all frizz.

And that’s even with my hair being supposedly ‘easier’ to work with than some black hair is, as it’s closer to beauty standard of what black hair is supposed to be like. The idea of rolling out of bed having it effortlessly look nice is eye-roll worthy. I’ve got to do a two hour wash routine for it to look like that.


W: The conditioning of how you think about your hair starts early.

Especially if you grow up in areas where you’re not around people who look like you, there are a lot of comments made. So you clock early on that when you wear your hair, straightened, you blend in, and when you’re young you want to blend in, especially when you’re outnumbered. At school, if I didn’t straighten it, I’d get comments like ‘you look like you got electrocuted!’ As a little girl, you internalise quickly what the beauty standard is, and that you don’t fit it.

The older I got, the more comfy I became in own skin, and that was directly tied in to my starting to surround myself with people who look like me. As I became a part of that community, I started to see the uniqueness and beauty to the way we look. Education and exposure are key.

R: My younger days were the hardest. Young black girls are discriminated against in terms of whether we look tidy, and hair is a huge part of that.

This is what my hair looks like, and you’re told that’s not appropriate. It’s really hard to shrug that off as you get older. Even now, in the world of professional work, I am so conscious of how my hair looks. I always feel like maybe if I slick it back more, or wear it straight, that will somehow be better. My memories from school are that if it’s out it’s messy and will not look professional. In Australia, there’s a bias against curly hair – that it’s inherently untidy, and something to fix. So lots of girls try to do that.


W: It’s a big thing to know your hair type, especially so you can find the right products. mine is 4b.

When I was younger I’d see these hair care ads with this Jamaican guy with locs, and he’d wash them and come out with straight hair! And even when curly hair tutorials started on YouTube, it was very much one size fits all, like all curly hair is the same. So I’d be using all these products that were just not working for my hair type. Once I started educated myself, I realised that I had kinky hair with tight coils, and learned to use the products that work for me.

I shampoo my hair once, put in some conditioner, wash that out, and then put in a treatment. I like deep conditioning that way, and often use a homemade flaxseed oil treatment. I mix flaxseed, water and olive oil, boil it up until becomes a gel, then put it in. Then I wash that out a little, and rub a little more flaxseed into my wet hair. That way it stays in your hair, and locks in the moisture and your curl pattern. My mum taught me all these things about my hair! She always comes up with natural things and shares them with my sister and I. She used to perm her hair, back when that was the thing to do, but now she’s all natural.

R: My hair type is 3b, so it’s a bit of a looser curl than Win’s, but still defined.

In terms of how I care for it, I have only recently learned how important finding out your hair’s porosity is, which is crazy given I have always had curly hair. So now I know that my hair is highly porous, it’s great, because I have always liked to use a lot of oil-based products and now I know that’s best for my hair. I like to put coconut oil or argan oil in my hair, then on top of that I’ll go in with a deep conditioner like SheaMoisture’s Jamaican Black Castor Oil Strengthen & Restore Leave-In Conditioner, and I leave that on for a couple of hours. When I was trying to grow my hair during lockdown, I used to do that treatment once a week, and it was crazy the results I got when I really tried to take care of it for once. Now that I’m more lazy, I just do a deep conditioning mask and only do that whole process if I can be bothered. On a day to day basis, I wash with shampoo, put in leave in conditioner, dry it and then wear it like that for three or four days, and by day five it’s usually ready to be done again.

I never really use dry shampoo. I see it as a white thing! The risk with my hair is it making it matted. I always want to avoid that, so I try not to touch my hair too much, and I wear a bonnet to sleep in for the same reason. I leave it as long as I can between washes. I don’t do anything to my hair if I’m just at home. I can’t be bothered. I might take the opportunity to wash it if I have a couple of spare hours, do some plaits, put on a bonnet, or just put it up and out of the way.


W: It’s annoying to have to style it, but for me, once it’s dry, it stays in that position, so I have to know it’s a position I want it to be in!

I always like to be doing something with my hair. I cut all my hair off in 2019, and kept it short for a little while, then I did this moisture treatment to grow it, then cut it, and now am growing it again, so it’s a sort of in between length. I’m at the point right now where I can tie it up, or put it in cornrows or braids, like maybe butterfly locs or passion twists, and add in extensions. I think I can almost get it into a bun. When you have low porosity hair, the shape twist outs more easily, so twisting your hair at night with product can work well. Then when you take it out the next morning it sits in shape. I use a bonnet or big soft hair tie to sculpt that shape I want and preserve the look and the individual curls.

If I’m home all day, I try not to put things in it I don’t need, like extra products. I’ll do a simple style, or wear a head scarf, something easy, so it’s still maintained but it’s more casual. But if I am heading out, it’s slick. Hair is a big thing for black women. It is something really precious for us, we love to take care of it, and it’s a form of expression, so we enjoy doing things to it.


R: Edges are definitely a thing.

Having your baby hairs laid, having your edges on point, kind of works with all of the styles we have. It’s about a lot of routines, and castor oil. Castor oil edges are right. And definitely keep your baby hairs!

W: Again, awareness is so important. There is this cultural wave where white girls would be laying their edges, and it’s sheer appropriation. That’s a whole conversation in and of itself.

What’s frustrating is these girls can pick and choose when they want to do that,; that’s their privilege. Whereas we have to do it, they just pick up on the trend once they see white celebrities (who they can relate to) do it. Then it’s allowed, generally, because it’s become cool in the white space, even though black girls have been doing it forever and it wasn’t cool before then. Until recently, it was considered ghetto in the professional space.  A lot of people doing it now have no idea of its history.


W: Wearing your hair naturally can be a double-edged sword.

If you’re in environments where you feel like you have to make yourself smaller, like maybe in a corporate space or, for kids, in school, it can be hard as you might feel like you don’t want to stand out. Whereas now, in my day to day life in my community, we look at having natural hair as a literal form of expression, and so I wear my hair to suit how my mood is that day. Some days I want to put a wig on, or do braids or bright colours, and really have fun with it. Now, I see how much we get to play around with our hair, and that is a huge advantage. I

f you can start to see it that way, you can see so much beauty in it, but to get there you do have to empower yourself and educate yourself. It’s not easy, as there are environments that will test you and will make you feel like you can’t embrace your natural self, and that your natural self is not the norm. I have been in situations where I want to be in a wig and then worry if it’s right. But once you can get to the point of feeling comfortable, embrace it. White celebrities wear wigs a lot, but your average white person doesn’t, so it’s an extra level of creativity we get to have with our look because wigs are such an accepted part of our community.

R: I grew up in a very white-dominated space, where there were no African hair salons, and we didn’t have anyone around that knew how to do our hair. I was fumbling through it.

It wasn’t until I was 16 that I first went and got my hair braided at an African salon. It was run by an Ethiopian girl, they played Ethiopian music and had Ethiopian food and coffee, her daughter was there… it was all very wholesome and joyful. I loved every second of it. I walked out of that salon and felt like I looked so good. I felt beautiful! It was an amazing experience. From then on, I started getting my hair consistently braided. I would go every three months, and it was a whole experience of having this community I’d never had before, and having conversations about hair with other black girls that I’d never had with anyone else. I literally didn’t know this world existed, and it’s so special. I had thought hair like ours could only be braided or straightened, and that’s where it ended. Much as it is definitely a double-edged sword, that is an amazing thing we have.

W: I have really happy memories of getting my hair braided at home.

It was a thing my mum would just do for me, especially before I started high school and wanted to fit in and wouldn’t let her do it. I used to wear my short hair in tiny little box braids, which were not stylish, but I was obsessed. Mum would sit on a chair on a Sunday night, and brush my hair while I sat in between her legs on the floor. It was a whole process, and it was long and draining but also really calming and makes me feel really nostalgic to think of.  When I was older, and had started doing extensions, my cousin was living with us and she would come up with the best hair styles. She was so good at braiding that she started doing it for work, and when she was too busy to redo my fronts, I started learning how to do my own by working off the pattern of what she’d done already. She gave me the blue print and I learned, through a lot of trial and error.


W: We’ve definitely all had hair disasters. I was out once with Rahel, just walking down the street and tall of a sudden my ponytail was lying on the ground.

I mean, you just have to live in hope that it doesn’t happen. You secure it with pins, but newbies don’t know how to install a tail.

R: Put your natural hair in a really tight bun, then add the drawstring ponytail, and tighten it. Then you use bobby pins around the ponytail so it’s secured.  

YouTube tutorials are great. With pieces or full wigs, you learn over time. Be cautious, but also remember – we’ve all been there.


W: I am very into having a proper skincare routine. In the mornings especially, it used to be a whole thing, but then during lockdown in 2020 my face started breaking out and I had all of this hyperpigmentation, so I started being a bit gentler.

I like to wash my face with CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser, and then use Paula’s Choice Pore-Reducing Toner and The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5. I use the Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant too, but try not to do that in the morning. I love the Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel, which has this great texture. And then I finish up with SPF. I pretty much follow the same routine at night, but I change up my moisturiser to CeraVe Facial Moisturising Lotion PM.

For makeup, I am obsessed with Morphe. I went through a phase of trying to really pull back my spending, and then I wanted to buy things that were a bit more expensive again (like the Charlotte Tilbury Airbrush Bronzer, which I love). But I am largely back to Morphe again, because the quality for the price point is just so good. I live at theMorphe store in Melbourne Central, where you can buy the individual products, not just the kits. It can be exciting to have certain part of your makeup collection be high end, like bronzers and foundation, even a fancy lipstick, but it’s good to have a convenient, affordable option for eyeshadows and eye and lip liners. I always line my lips and use eye liner for a winged eye, so I really go through them. I gravitate towards neutral shades, and then how much makeup I wear depends on where I’m going. For work, I’m not doing a full face, maybe just mascara and pressed powder, but if it’s the weekend, I like to put something more on because I like applying and wearing makeup. I’m not the best at it, but I enjoy learning what works best for me.

R: I really don’t do much skincare at all. Sometimes I just wash my face with water, especially given I don’t really wear makeup during the day.

At the most, I cleanse with CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser, apply Neutrogena Hyaluronic Acid, and use The Ordinary Natural Moisturizing Factors + HA.

If I’m working, I’ll fill in my eyebrows, and I might put on some lashes.  When you find fluffy lashes that work with your look, it’s such a gamechanger. I really like the Miranda ones by Manicare Glam at the moment. Sometimes I will use concealer under my eyes, too. I like one by this American brand, LA Girl HD Pro Conceal, which has good colours for all different complexions.


R: Wishing I had different hair is not something that enters my mind anymore.

Now I wouldn’t want any other type of hair, partly because I have learned how to take care of it properly, and also because I’ve picked up other techniques like using wigs and braids, so I love the versatility of my hair. There are days I feel lazy, but if I do want to do a messy bun like some people can do with their natural hair, I put on a wig!

It’s frustrating to see all the stigma still attached to black hair, from the misguided but usually well-intentioned ‘I love your hair’ comments, or people wanting to touch it, to outright discrimination, which is really hard, obviously. At the end of the day the good outweighs the bad, though.

W: my experience is quite similar. I wouldn’t change anything about my hair now.

I am educating myself more about products, which makes it easier for me and more fun to enjoy the hair texture I have. Right up until I cut my hair off a couple of years ago, I was so uncomfortable with it in its natural state, because of its texture and way I had (not!) looked after it. I had straightened it to the point that it looked damaged in its natural state. Now, for me, it’s all about educating and empowering. What I love about my hair is how diverse it can be. I have so many different looks, and can really play around, whether it’s with different curly looks with natural hair, or braids, or wigs. It may take more maintenance and more time than some hair types, but I am used to it and doesn’t affect me. I mentally prepare for wash day, and know what it involves, haha.


W: I think the main thing that people who never have to think about their hair can do, is just be aware that there are people out there who are different to you, and in a different situation.

Realise you might have the privilege of fitting into the beauty standard, and know you’re not in the same situation as people who receive racial discrimination based on their appearance. Remember on the bachelor when the white girl with red hair was saying she faced discrimination? I think some people are out there with that mentality! And I mean, there shouldn’t be some ‘hierarchy of struggle’, but know what it is to walk in your privilege. I think, too, it matters so much to keep up to date with the world and what’s going on around you. Australia is historically a very white country, and white is considered the norm, but we are now actually very diverse. Most of us understand it’s a multicultural country, but some people are still stuck in their ways. Our country is still growing, the demographics are still changing, and as that happens, we all need to be conscious and aware of the changes.

Interview and story by Zoe Briggs. Images supplied by Wintana Kidane and Rahel Ephrem, and from Instagram @win.tanaa and @rahelephrem_.

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