Mashirima Kapombe wants you to wear your natural hair freely and confidently
“I’ve been waiting for this moment,” a delighted Ms. Kapombe is heard saying before removing it and tossing her braids, which have been cornrowed back into a ponytail, free around her back.
She is the one who originally posted it on Twitter in October 2020, writing: “One thing that gives a woman relief at the end of the day.”
This was a year before she appeared on screen with braids.
Kapombe, who anchors the mid-morning news show Sema Na Citizen and the 7 p.m bulletin, Citizen Nipashe, has become known for not just her eloquent presentation of the news but also her hairdo, which is hard to spot in Kenyan TV news.
Going on air with the style for the first time, she says, was unplanned. Fresh off her leave in September last year, Ms. Kapombe resumed work with new braids.
“It actually happened by chance, I had come from leave last year and I thought my braids still looked fresh and putting on a wig is hectic and quite painful,” Ms. Kapombe told Citizen Digital.
“It was on a Monday and I thought ‘I can’t put on a wig’ and can’t undo my braids. So I went to the makeup room, got my makeup done, and went up to my editors upstairs and asked ‘Do I look unprofessional?’
The editors in the newsroom told her that she looked “very nice”, but she had to check with a boss about it, lest all hell break loose on her.
One of her bosses had, however, previously seen her in braids at the office and not only complimented but also dared her to wear the look on air, to which she had replied “one of these days!”
“We have standards that are set for your on-air look and braids is one of the things, sort of an unwritten rule, where you don’t show up on air with them,” says the anchor, adding that it was what had restrained her even after the boss proposed it.
Upon consultation with the boss, she was given a go-ahead: “He said ‘why don’t we try it?” And off she went. “I went on air at 10 a.m. and the response was nice!”
Nice, in this case, being good feedback from viewers whom she had mixed feelings about on whether she would be professional enough for them to be taken seriously if she showed up on screen with braids.
For a very long time, Kapombe says she did not think one can go on air with braids, look ‘good’ and have people still think you are professional.
“When I was starting out in the media 11 years ago, somebody told me that braids look untidy on air and it really broke my heart because I thought, I don't think they look bad. But when a supervisor says they look untidy then, it makes it hard for you,” says the bubbly presenter.
She was also getting familiar with guidelines as to what a female anchor should look like on air: “There were all these pictures of anchors from CNN, BBC, with their nice, neat, weaves with the waves and all,” she says, gesturing straightened hair.
The next time she wore braids on TV, it was for the evening news and the feedback this time was ‘overwhelming’.
“From there on they just told me to keep doing it, to which I was so glad!”
For someone who names South African rapper Sho Madjozi as her hair icon, it is not hard to guess, then, how grateful she is for local news personalities who she says awakened her into reevaluating her perception of natural African hair.
“I had started seeing women who do these nice Abuja lines on air, Mary Kilobi-Atwoli, Anne Ngugi, Kanze Dena would also do it once in a while… and I did not think they looked untidy,” she says.
“I thought ‘who sets these standards?’ and with time I think, people have become more welcoming to people who go on air with their African look. It’s not a new thing, it’s only that people had not embraced it.”
The naturalista does not demonize the wigs, though. She says she understands their role, especially on ‘bad hair days’ when the last thing a woman wants to do is touch her hair.
“They keep you away from having to wash your hair every time and using heat during ‘bad hair days’, but I like the authenticity that comes with having your natural hair,” says Kapombe.
“I think people need to have the freedom to be confident in how they do their hair or how they dress, as long as you keep it professional and neat, I don’t think it should be a problem.”
Keeping it neat, for her, is holding the braids, in all their coloured glory (“They are always coloured!”) in a bun and getting down to work.
“It is so that it is not distracting because people are looking at your face and listening to what you are saying,” she notes.
“I don’t want to keep straightening my hair and all that, I just hold them in a bun and I’m good to go… There are so many women who have their Afros, and they look so good! You watch them and you want to have that hair because there is something authentic about it.”
Her verdict on the Natural Vs Perm war? “I think it’s a choice, because also, natural hair is not for the faint-hearted. Kinky hair is difficult to manage so for anyone, just choose what works for you and run with it. ”
Additional reporting by Ella Obota.
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