“Coronavirus hairstyle” spreads awareness in East Africa

Updated: Jul 7, 2020

Kenya - The coronavirus has renewed a hairstyle in East Africa, one with braided spikes that echo Coronavirus’ typical shape.

The style's growing popularity is partly due to economic difficulties linked to virus restrictions. “It's cheap,” people say, and to the goal of spreading awareness that the coronavirus is a real threat.

Gettrueth Ambio, 12, has her hair styled in the shape of the new coronavirus, at the Mama Brayo Beauty Salon in the Kibera slum, or informal settlement, of Nairobi, Kenya. Image credit Brian Inganga, AP

The hairstyle had gone out of fashion in recent years as imported real and synthetic hair from India, China and Brazil began to flood the market and local women’s demand increased. Pictures of the flowing or braided imported styles are stapled in beauty salons across all African regions.

The band now, in an improvised salon in Kibera, a shantytown in the heart of the Kenyan capital Nairobi, the 24-year-old hairdresser Sharon Refa braids young girls' hair into the antennae-like spikes that people call the “coronavirus hairstyle.” Girls shift in the plastic chairs as she pulls their scalps.

“Some people don’t believe that the virus is a real threat, but then most young children appear to sanitize their hands and wear face masks. Many adults do not do this anymore, so that is why we came up with the corona hairstyle,” Refa said, with her face mask folded under her chin.

Kenya's number of confirmed virus cases was rising, reaching 700 cases on Monday. With the widespread shortage of testing kits, however, the number of cases could be higher. Health officials are especially worried about the possible spread of the virus in crowded favelas.

Mothers like Margaret Andeya, who is struggling to make ends meet, said the coronavirus hairstyle suits her daughters' styling needs and her pocket too. Virus-related restrictions have muted the daily work for millions of people with little or no savings.

Image credit Brian Inganga, AP

“This hairstyle is much more affordable for people like me who cannot afford to pay for the more expensive hairstyles out there and yet we want our kids to look stylish," Andeya said.

Indeed, it the “Coronavirus hairstyle” costs 50 shillings, or about 50 U.S. cents, while the average hairdo costs 300 to 500 shillings ($3 to $5). That’s money most people in Kibera cannot afford at the moment.

The technique used in braiding the coronavirus hairstyle is threading, which uses yarn instead of synthetic hair braids. This is the secret to making it affordable, people admit.

“The pandemic outbreak has destroyed the economy, taking our jobs from us, and now money is very limited. This is why I decided to have my child’s hair done up like this at an affordable 50 shillings, and she looks pretty good," said 26-year-old Mariam Rashid.”

Nonetheless, the hairstyle is not only an affordable way to meet women need, but it also helps to spread information and awareness across the public.

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