Towards the end of 2012, KFM Breakfast presenter and feminist Sherlin Barends refused to keep up with beauty standards or the obsession with female beauty being equivalent to a hairstyle, its length or colour any longer…so she shaved off her shoulder length hair and never looked back. Her goal was to directly challenge traditional beauty standards and become, as she puts it: “…completely and unapologetically Sherlin Barends. She answers some in-depth questions with us revealing her refreshingly frank take on beauty and how she approaches her radio career as a millennial.
MELENIAL: Growing up as a coloured girl in Cape Town, did you find that there’s subtle politics of hair in your community similar to perhaps colourism?
SHERLIN: I grew up in a community where straight, sleek and long hair was seen more desirable. ‘Poor’, ‘unattractive’ and ‘untidy’ were some of the words associated with ‘kroes’ hair.
Bald head shaves were put in the spotlight after Britney Spears’ infamous head shave in front of the paparazzi which became associated with dramatic life changes. What stereotypes have you been subjected to after the big shave?
People sometimes assume I’m a lesbian, that I have alopecia, or that I’m a Xhosa speaker. None of these bother me.
Is it really as a momentous occasion as it has been made out to be?
Yes. Shaving off all my hair at the end of 2012 has been the most liberating and empowering thing I’ve ever done. I’ve broadened my own definition of what it means to be beautiful and I’ve long let go of the notion of pairing beauty with suffering. I’ve learnt that beauty trends change, but the love we have for ourselves need to be constant. We are enough.
Have you experimented with designer barber haircuts while you have been bald?
I’ve dyed my hair blonde and once went for a fancy fade. But I prefer to keep things simple.
Do you find a correlation between the ideas around boldness and baldness?
Yes. Being your authentic self is one of the boldest things you can do. Being bald is one of the ways I give expression to my true self.
As a beauty non-conformist – what are your thoughts on how the global beauty industry has approached race when communicating or trying to sell to their consumers, especially in light of Dove’s most recent scandal?
Beauty non-conformist. I like that.
When I was about five or six I had my first relaxer. I was gifted with a blonde Barbie and a promise from one of the more seasoned stylists: “If you just sit still for five more minutes, then your hair will be as pretty as your doll’s.” The message is clear: We must suffer to be beautiful. By ‘we’ I mean womxn (a more inclusive and progressive term for women) and more specifically black womxn. We are made to believe, both consciously and unconsciously, that our natural tresses are not sleek enough, our skin not light enough. Somewhere down the line this spills over into other spheres of our lives and we start to believe that WE are not enough. We need to hold brands accountable and be conscious consumers.
What have you learnt about beauty in the past 5 years that you’d like other women know?
Shaving off all my hair at the end of 2012 has been the most liberating and empowering thing I’ve ever done. I’ve broadened my own definition of what it means to be beautiful and I’ve long let go of the notion of pairing beauty with suffering. I’ve learnt that beauty trends change, but the love we have for ourselves need to be constant. We are enough.
Radio, much-like other traditional media forms, has been criticized as regurgitating content posted by online users without much re-inventing. What is your approach to content creation and production for your show?
We live in a digital age, so it’s only natural to be inspired by online content. However, it is important to put your unique spin on it to keep it fresh. My approach to content is simple. I always ask myself: “How will this make the listener’s life better? Is what I’m saying entertaining or informative?” If the answer is ‘no’ the content is not aired. I also like to share personal stories (like my burst geyser, how I maxed out my credit card, etc.), as people often have shared experiences.
With podcasts and music streaming sites, do you think traditional radio can compete in an instant gratification market? Does it have a space in modern media consumption?
Radio definitely has a space in modern media consumption. People thought radio would die out after the invention of the TV and IPod, but that did not happen. Radio allows for instant connection between presenter and listener, something the above mentioned mediums do not offer.
As a millennial in a traditional media space, why do you think large corporations have been experiencing massive listenership and circulation drops?
The size of the pie has remained the same, but now there are more stakeholders, all wanting a piece. Radio shouldn’t compete with digital spaces, instead we should harness its strengths to our advantage. A relevant radio host is active on social media, podcasts their on-air interviews, etc.
What can digital media practitioners learn and take from traditional forms like radio?
Identify your unique selling point to withstand the test of time. Adapt. Always ask yourself how your content is improving the life of your listener/viewer/consumer.
On the Pleasures of Public Transport
As a fellow non -driver and public transport user myself, I’m adamant to prove that you can navigate JHB without a personal machine like a car, quite comfortably. Do you have a similar point to prove or has it just been a matter of circumstance?
I’m 27 and I can’t drive. To be honest, I’ve lost count of my failed attempts. If you ask me the ‘K’ in K53 stands for killer! Ironic, isn’t it? The womxn giving you traffic updates on Kfm Mornings can’t even parallel park, let alone change a tire! To get around in the Mother City I walk or make use of various modes of public transport: I Uber to work, take a taxi to gym and a MyCiTi bus back home in the afternoon.
People are my passion and connecting with different people on a daily basis is important to me. The world is already so small, there is really no need to make it even smaller. We do this by only surrounding ourselves with people that look and sound like us, those who share similar backgrounds and fall into the same income bracket. Public transport keeps things interesting.
However, getting my driver’s license is on my very long to-do list.
Images: Supplied by 20 Across