#WomanCurlsWednesday - Gina Atinuke Knight
Hair as a way to connect with herself
Gina grew up in the multicultural South East London. Originally from Nigeria, she was raised in a white family. For her, hair was a bridge between her and her roots. “Growing up, I didn't know about my own hair at all because culturally my Mom and Dad didn't really know how to look after my hair. So I had to learn how to look after my hair by myself. While I was doing that, it helped me to connect with my culture, with other women, and my peers. "
After her Fine Arts degree, she worked in natural beauty retail where she discovered a holistic approach to hair care. “In 2008, I decided that I wasn’t going to relax my hair again and went on my natural hair journey. Imagine that at this time there were not any products for curly textured hair. I was one of the first in the UK to blog about holistic ways to care for natural afro hair. People underestimate how big the Natural Hair Movement was for us.”
Her journey into CCCA
Gina noticed a patch of loose hair in the center of her head after her first daughter was born. When she went to the doctor for help, he pointed to the fact that it might be linked with her hormonal changes but also her hair practices.
“I was misdiagnosed and racially profiled medically. As Black Women, it feels like we are blamed for the conditions we have. When something touches us predominantly, it’s something that gets ignored, we have to figure these things out for ourselves. Hair loss is so prevalent but it’s not something we talk about. So many of us have CCCA and there is still so little research on this condition. It’s time for GPs to listen to their patients and put the pieces together to see that it is happening to a lot of women.”
However, a year after her first patch, Gina’s hair continued to fall out and it was already too late to stop the process.
Central Centrifugal Cicatricial Alopecia is a form of scarring alopecia on the scalp that results in permanent hair loss. It is the most common form of scarring hair loss seen in black women. The exact causes of CCCA are unknown, however, it is linked to being an auto-immune condition. Steroids, injections, and other “miracle” cures never attracted Gina. “When the follicle is dead, the hair is not going to grow back. I didn’t see myself going through this false hope when hair loss was inevitable."
"A lot of the time it’s permanent, so the sooner you get to terms with that the better you’ll be emotionally and psychologically.”
In 2018, her alopecia became so vast that shaving off her head was the only option. “I remember wondering why I was getting so upset about it, but it’s because your choice is taking away from you. Being bold by choice and being bold because you have to is a completely different experience. It faced me with the reality of it all: this is hair loss and that is what it does to you.”
A Gina wig adventure
One of the specificities of CCCA is that when the hair follicle closes up, it leaves scar tissue. At first, the scarring on her scalp made her feel uncomfortable: wraps and wigs became like a crutch. Nonetheless, the wigs that she found didn’t match the part of herself that she lost.
“All the wigs that I found were really European centric hair, it never felt like it was me, nothing spoke to me nor my personality. I love natural afro hair so I was looking for a wig that could be the extension of my real self. The mainstream is not thinking of us, so I had to create my own afro-textured wig based on my own needs. By sharing my journey on social media I realized that a lot of women were having the same issue. That’s how my business came out organically.” Gina decided to create her own line of wigs, Gina Knight Wigs, that celebrate afro hair textures and focus on truly protecting hair without the use of glues or adhesives.
“As much as I’m selling wigs to people, I always try to make it known that these are options. The most important is about protecting and giving you back the part of the confidence that you lost.”
A journey into self love and acceptance
It took her a long time to embrace her new self. “I accepted that I had hair loss and alopecia. It’s just until now that I accept that I look good without the extra. My wigs now are only when I’m feeling bougie! Today, I 100% prefer to see myself without hair.” The changes not only transformed herself but also her older daughter.
“Seeing me without hair made my daughter understand that everyone is different. She loves her hair and I am so happy about that. However, I want to instill in her more love and pride in herself as a whole as opposed to just being about her hair.”
Don’t get her wrong, being bold demands an entire regiment that no one ever thought about. “I still have to wash my scalp with shampoo, apply conditioner and scrub my scalp so it’s not flaky, I apply oils to keep my head smooth and makeup to cover the discoloration. Beauty is not just about having the perfect hair and I’m trying to get companies to understand that.”
Gina and her crown
When Gina saw our video on Tiktok, she finally found what she’s been looking for for so long. “When you are bold and you try to put on a wrap, it still looks like you are bold, it doesn’t look full at all. I really wanted something that looks like a crown, something that you can look at. Bold women don’t have a lot of options for adornments other than wigs so it’s important to have another go-to.”
“I like the fact that it gives you the effect of fabric being more than it is. It looks like there is a lot going on but it’s not! It’s made with a nice fabric that is not rubbing on my head and that is not making my scalp dryer. It’s really unique, I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
“It’s important to allow yourself to go through any process that you need to go through in order to accept yourself. How you accept yourself is down to you and it shouldn’t have anything to do with anybody else. I’d always advocate for people to be natural and to embrace themselves but the reality is that it’s not how we’ve been condition to act because the society we live in isn’t appreciative of our hair and doesn’t make us feel beautiful.Show up as your authentic self and that can be any way you want as long as it makes you feel great, confident, and comfortable. It is a process and acceptance will happen at the end.”