Why SZA’s Huge Natural Hair is Our New Obsession
by Chioma Nnadi
After the ethereal sound of her voice, the single most mesmerizing thing about singer SZA is her hair. Her super voluminous curls fill the frame of music videos and lend a spellbinding halo effect to performances center stage. “I’m a late bloomer and a total tomboy,” says the New Jersey native. “My hair is definitely my saving grace where femininity is concerned.” As the only girl on a record label roster that includes West Coast hip-hop prodigy Kendrick Lamar, the talented 24-year-old certainly holds her own, and releases her first solo album, Z, on TDE next month. Her vibrant tresses have a triumphant story of their very own: After falling ill as a teenager, she lost all of her hair from medication-related side effects, and her wild natural curls have been a badge of honor ever since. We sat down with SZA to talk about her childhood influences, Lauryn Hill’s dreads, the joys of co-washing, and why every girl needs a pot of coconut oil in her life.
When did you start wearing your hair so big?
Well I guess I’ve been looking this way since middle school, before big natural hair was even popular. My mom was adamant about not doing anything to my hair. I grew up Muslim, and wore the hijab through middle school. The only girl that I could look to for natural hair inspiration growing up was Lauryn Hill. I wanted dreads but my mom wanted me to wait until I was sixteen, by which time I didn’t want them anymore.
How did you look after your hair growing up?
I broke so many combs and brushes growing up that eventually my mom decided that we should perm it. I was in eighth grade. So all my curls were stretched out and I had these superlong pigtails that fell down my back—but chemical straighteners break your hair, and I ended up going through so many hair transformations from there on. I remember bleaching part of my hair platinum blonde, Cruella De Vil-style, the day before an important meeting with Howard University when I was in eleventh grade. My mom was furious. I also got really ill in high school and my hair fell out because of the medication I was taking.
How did losing your hair affect you?
It’s such a big part of my personality so it was really tough. I hid behind my hair before, but I had nothing to hide behind in that moment. I think the very idea of femininity fell apart for me, but in a good way, because after that, the superficial things didn’t matter so much. None of it mattered. I don’t even shave my legs. Today is the most made-up I’ve ever been in my life. My mom on the other hand, is the classiest woman I know. She has elegant hands, and always gets her nails done. I wonder if I’ll ever grow out of my jerseys and into a lady.
What do you do to look after your hair now?
I like to co-wash, which means washing without a shampoo. I just use a conditioner and coconut oil, and then I rinse my hair with lukewarm water instead of hot water which strips hair of all the moisture. I make my own deep conditioner from coconut oil, avocado, a drop of Pantene’s conditioner for women of color, cinnamon, and tea tree oil. Then I sit and catch up on TiVo’d episodes of Chopped and Iron Chef. If I have time I’ll twist it, but my hair takes days to dry so I usually blow-dry it out with a diffuser instead. I’ll lean over the blow-dryer and divide my hair into four sections, but I never comb it through because it breaks up the curls. I use a silicone-based heat protector to keep it from getting super frizzy, and coconut oil, and that melts in your hand and won’t weigh your hair down either. I haven’t had a chemical relaxer for at least six or seven years.