by Tanya Petersen (IOL)
Leslin Jones, a vlogger from the Cape Flats, said that since childhood, she was expected to look a certain way. As a result, she ended up damaging her naturally curly hair due to slapping on harsh chemicals in a bid to tame her mane into a look that was more “acceptable” to society.
But everything changed for the 34-year-old when she started her YouTube channel last year. “Some of my close friends and family always suggested that I start a YouTube channel for different reasons. Some suggested I be creative and do skits, while others just wanted me to do a video diary. The close few who know me said they saw something in me that they want the world to see,” she said.
Jones said while she was unsure about what the content of her channel would be at first, she knew that she wanted to do something that would inspire others.
“After about two years of considering this, I was finally brave enough to start my own channel – Life As Leslin. The extra push came when I was following a YouTuber who was only getting 20 views or less per video. I remember thinking that even if she was getting those number of views, she was making such a huge impact on the people watching her content.
“I was extremely nervous putting myself out there, but I wanted to prove it to myself that I could do it,” she admitted.
Since starting her channel, Jones has done a lot of videos from lifestyle to travel, but her focus is now on her own natural hair journey.
“Around the same time I started my channel, I also decided to return to my natural hair. Growing up, my hair was difficult to manage. I hated wash day.”
She would have to go to the salon every three months to have her hair chemically straightened. Each costly procedure would take up to five hours to complete. Washing, blow-drying and flat-ironing her hair on her own would also take up to three hours to achieve a straight look.
Jones admitted that because of her naturally curly hair, she often felt she was not pretty, believing that her hair “was not good enough”.
“I couldn’t understand why I was labelled so differently. I was always admiring girls with the long, straight hair. From a young age, I could see there was a standard of beauty I needed to uphold; what society wanted me to look like.”
Her first straightening perm was just before she started high school.
“I must say, I felt beautiful after having my hair straightened, but it was short-lived.” After a while, her natural regrowth began to show, and she had to redo the perm.
Jones, who used to work on a cruise ship and traveled the world, recalls an incident while in Asia, where people called her hair “kinky”. Those utterances made her feel proud of her hair for the first time, she said. “It sounded so nice, it sounded so much better than ‘kroes’. I came to realise that all these people all over the world accepted me for who I am with my hair textures and all, but yet it was such a big issue in my own country.”
On her return to South Africa in 2014, Jones started researching techniques on how to get hair back to its naturally curly and healthy state.
“The big decision came when my colleague pointed out to me that my hair was breaking off and he was concerned about my health. I said enough is enough. My hair was breaking off and damaged because I was conforming to meet someone else’s standard of beauty. I didn’t want to be judged by my hair preference any more,” she said.
This also inspired her to take care of her physical health.
“Besides the harsh cancer-causing chemicals inside the chemical relaxers, women of colour would avoid exercise to keep hair perfect. There are so many unrealistic beauty and body expectations that jeopardise women’s health, self-esteem and career; conforming to society’s ideal image is exhausting and self-limiting.”
Jones has been completely natural for six months now.
“The transition to return to natural hair was more than just hair growth. I could see myself, and it was as if a mask was being taken off. I was becoming the woman I was supposed to be. The transition to being natural allowed me to love myself in a different way, by truly accepting my flaws and all. I have never felt this beautiful, confident, creative, conscious or this bold before. This was one of the best decisions I made in my life.”
Jones believes that more people should encourage young children to love their hair in a bid to change the standards of beauty that exist today.
“I would love to see the day when this is not a conversation any more, but a norm.”
You can follow her natural hair journey on her social media pages: @LifeAsLeslin