Tell me about yourself!
Hello! My name is Eleanor Barkes. I’m a proudly South African curly girl originally from Cape Town who has just moved to Johannesburg after having lived in Tokyo for 2 years. Even though I’ve been natural for a few years it was only while living in Japan that I learned about natural hair care and started caring for my own hair properly. Now that I’m back in South Africa, I’m continuing my natural hair journey and I’m enjoying connecting and meeting up with other naturals in the country.
Were you a transitioner or a Big Chopper? What was your journey like?
I was a transitioner, even though I didn’t know anything about natural hair care at the time, or the natural hair movement for that matter. I just knew that I didn’t want relaxed hair ever again.
I had worn my hair naturally curly for most of my life, with little bouts of relaxers in high school and in my twenties, as I thought my curls were too out of control. I also went through stages of rolling it in those massive rollers, blow-drying and then flat-ironing it weekly to achieve that sleek, straight look. I would even still wear my hair curly in its relaxed state. But it wasn’t up until a few years ago that I decided that I didn’t want to try and tame my mane with harmful chemicals or heat anymore. So I had my last relaxer sometime in 2010 and I gradually let the relaxed hair grow out.
Had you always embraced your texture?
Yes and no. I’ve always loved my curls, but I didn’t know how to handle or style them, which is why I turned to relaxers and heat styling. However, once I started caring for my curls properly I really fell in love with it and started embracing it to the fullest.
How did family and friends react to your decision to go natural? What was your response to them?
My family and most of my friends have always been supportive of my choice to wear my hair naturally, so I was very grateful for that. The people I experienced the most resistance from was surprisingly hair dressers. With every salon visit they would always try to sell me a relaxer or some type of Brazilian keratin treatment under the guise of, “Your hair will be so much easier to handle”, or “Your hair is so dry, a relaxer will take care of that problem for you.” Well, I grew tired and frustrated with this notion and ended up hardly ever getting a decent cut. So I was happily looking after my tresses myself.
It wasn’t until moving to Tokyo in February 2013 though that I realised I actually knew nothing about caring for curly hair. With the dry winter I faced there, my hair started breaking off badly. What made the situation worse, was that I was in a country with absolutely no resources on how to care for afro textured curly hair. So I started doing research via my only accessible source, the internet.
Through connecting with other naturalistas across the world on online forums, websites and blogs, I finally started my healthy hair journey in April 2013. I am now a very keen natural hair enthusiast in support of embracing every single curl on your head, by sharing information and inspiration, in the hope that my experience can help someone else along the way.
Because of this my family and friends are now even more supportive of my decision to go natural.
Describe your hair (fine or coarse, thin or thick, highly porous, low, etc.)
My individual strands are extremely fine. But I have a lot of it so I would describe it as high density. I have a few different textures going on: most of my hair is curly coily, while some parts on the crown of my head are curled even more tightly and tend to be drier than the rest, so I have to make sure to moisturise that part carefully. Conversely, the hair in the nape of my neck is very loosely curled, all of which can make for some very frustrating styling days, when I end up looking like a stingray from the back because some hair refuses to cooperate by hanging down “longer” than the rest, simply because of the looser texture.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done to your hair?
I really wanted blonde hair for a while so I bleached my hair a very coppery blond about 10 years ago. I loved it at the time, but now I cringe every time I think about it.
What’s your biggest hair related regret?
My only regret is that I didn’t learn about natural hair care earlier in my life.
What’s your current hair routine? How often do you wash, condition, and style? Favorite products! Deets!
I usually wash my hair once a week and start by prepooing and detangling with coconut oil (my favourite oil), as well as Tres Emmé Naturals Conditioner or Giovanni Deeper Moisture Conditioner. Then I’ll hop in the shower and alternate washing my hair between a natural shampoo and a gentle cleansing conditioner. So one week I’ll wash with either Giovanni Tea Tree Triple Treat Invigorating Shampoo or Aubrey Organics Honeysuckle Rose Moisturizing Shampoo, and the next week I’ll wash with a gentle cleansing conditioner. Currently I’m hooked on As I Am Coconut Co-Wash Cleansing Conditioner, as well as Carol’s Daughter Marula Curl Therapy Gentle Cream Cleanser. I gently wash the hair section by section and twist up each section before I move on to the next.
I deep condition once a week as well and either apply a DIY deep conditioner or a natural commercial one, after which I cover my hair with a plastic shower cap and leave the conditioner in for anything from 30 minutes to an hour. Then I jump back in the shower and rinse it all out. My favourite deep conditioners include Black Vanilla Hair Smoothie and Monoi Repairing Hair Masque, both by Carol’s Daughter.
To moisturise and seal I’ll start by spritzing on aloe vera juice, followed by a moisturising leave-in conditioner. My favourites include Mixed Chicks Leave-in Conditioner and Camille Rose Naturals Curl Love Moisture Milk. Finally I seal in all the moisture with coconut oil, or my home-made whipped shea butter cream during the winter. I’m also in love with Shea Moisture’s Curl Enhancing Smoothie and Camille Rose Naturals’ Curlaide Moisture Butter and Almond Jai Twisting Butter. Then I twist the hair up into 2-strand twists and let it air-dry overnight. I wrap it in a silk scarf, while I sleep on a silk-lined pillowcase.
During the week I keep the twists in for 3-4 days, after which I need to restyle. I usually take out the twists and wear my hair in a high bun, or another protective style such as 2 plaits on either side of my head, or 2 large chunky flat twists. I mainly wear my hair out over the weekends, in which case I’ll sport a braid-out or a twist-out.
I maintain my hair’s moisture levels by spritzing with water, a little touch up of leave-in conditioner and sealing with coconut oil and/or one of my butters. Depending on the style I’m wearing and how my hair feels, I might re-moisturise twice a day, daily or every few days.
What’s your favorite hairstyle? Where do you get hairstyle inspiration?
My two favourite styles are braid-outs and wash and gos. I’m not one for intricate up-dos as my fine strands are way too fragile for it and break easily with too much manipulation. I don’t do wash and gos that often either as it can lead to lots of tangles and more manipulation and breaking while detangling. I usually get hairstyle inspiration from YouTube or other natural hair blogs.
Who is your curl crush?
I don’t have one. I’m simply able to appreciate other women’s beautiful hair.
How do you maintain your hair at night?
It depends. If it’s in a wash and go I’ll put my hair in a high ‘pineapple’ ponytail and wrap a silk scarf around my head to protect my hairline. Other times, I’ll shape it into a loose bun. If it’s in twists, I’ll wrap a silk scarf around it and sleep on a silk-lined pillow case.
How do you maintain healthy length?
I focus on maintaining my hair’s health by keeping it moisturised and using low manipulation and/or protective styles such as twists, braids and buns. The length usually follows.
What’s the best thing about being natural?
The best thing about being natural is that my hair is mine, all mine. I love that I’m unique in that way and that I’m comfortable with my God-given texture.
Where can folks find you on the web?
For business enquiries, please mail me at: [email protected]