Audrey Kanongara On The Challenges Of Rocking Afro-Textured Hair And Wigs On Love Island

Image courtesy of Channel 9
Love Island Australia contestant Audrey Kanongara
From pool time to tasks that create a big splash, some activities in the Love Island villa don't necessarily take into account the challenges that Black contestants may face when it comes to their hair.
Audrey Kanongara, who is one of several new contestants arriving on Love Island Australia this week as part of its Casa Amor special, has opened up about the struggles of maintaining her natural afro-textured hair and her decision to wear a weave in the villa after watching previous Black contestants on the show.
"Honestly, my hair is my biggest insecurity," Zimbabwe-born Kanongara told Refinery29 Australia, saying she grew up in Australia a "tomboy" who didn't know how to manage her natural hair.
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"I was always the kid with like pom-poms and afros in her hair [and] space buns," she said.
"When I got to the age of about 16, I was always wearing braids because in African culture that's what a lot of kids would wear, and my sister just kept telling me, "You know, you've got to grow up. We've got to start mixing your hair up, you've got to get weaves but also wigs."
When the 21-year-old began her modelling career, she wore braids to auditions and castings but struggled to book jobs.
"I did try the modelling thing with braids, and it was very evident that braids were just not doing it for clients," she claimed, adding she later understood why that could've been the case once she switched to weaves and wigs.
"It's genuinely just to create more on-set, like there's so much more you can do with different textured hair," she said.
"Once I switched from braids to weaves, I started getting way more jobs. Obviously, it does suck to have to conform to one ideology of society to be able to succeed, but I was happy with it because my look has always been long straight black hair and whether or not that was a form of braids or in my extensions, I was happy with it. "
The Queenslander said one of the most challenging aspects of navigating and embracing her hair has been the lack of salons and supermarket products catering to afro-textured hair, and the fact that any available products are quite "expensive".
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Going into the Love Island villa, Kanongara follows a suit of Black female contestants on international and local reality TV that have attracted backlash because of how they wear their hair.
Kanongara said she's chosen to steer clear of wigs in the villa and will wear a weave that consists of extensions sewn into her hair.
"If you had a wig on and you jumped into the water with a wig – because wigs are only really secured with glue – you will just you see it floating on the other side," she said. "So I thought, you know what, maybe I should just stick to weaves.'"
The model said it took time to find a salon that would work for her. "Because I've got quite a puffy afro, we finally found a store that sold the product," she explained.
"So I chemically straighten that and what they do is they cornrow that and then they weave extensions on so your hair looks nice and flat and natural. They seal it up with a closure which is what you put at the front of the hair to make it look the utmost natural and that is a lot better because you can get that wet as much as possible."
In 2019, Love Island UK contestant Yewande Biala was criticised for not showing her natural hair on the show or on social media. She responded by defending herself on an Instagram story sharing a photo of her natural hair.
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“I’m aware and I’ve seen all the comments that I should have had my natural hair out for my last post,” she wrote on the social media platform, explaining her hair type is 4C, a term used to refer to particularly dense coily hair that can be fine and soft, or quite coarse.
“My hair is 4c and I PERSONALLY find it hard to manage without heat!” she wrote. “I don’t like putting heat on my hair ! my schedule is busy and protective styles suits ME! I love my hair and I’m not ashamed to have it natural… my black is beautiful!”
Cynthia Taylu was Australia's first Black contestant on Love Island in 2019, and chose to wear wigs on the show after growing up not feeling comfortable displaying her natural hair.
Earlier this year Kaz Kamwi made headlines on the UK's 2021 season of Love Island for wearing wigs in the villa. She later opened up about how her "hair went through a lot" due to different challenges involving water and the pool.
"With a lot of the challenges, they’re not really set up for Afro hair, let alone wigs," Kamwi told Spotify’s Who We Be Talks podcast after filming ended. She also revealed she had to throw two of her wigs away after certain challenges involving paint.
Kanongara said she admired Kamwi's decision but didn't feel comfortable following suit because she's still learning more about how to best work with her hair.
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"I feel like Kaz on the UK was very ballsy for doing wigs," she said.
"But I saw her putting in all these products that I was like she probably just has more knowledge and education on what to do. Whereas I've just got very basic entry-level skills and a weave is always the safest way to go."
Kanongara was born in Zimbabwe before moving to New Zealand with her family at age one and then relocating to Australia a few years later. She's proud to be representing the Black community on Love Island and hair talk aside, is looking forward to meeting a partner in the villa who "matches [her] energy".
Love Island Australia continues on Monday at 9pm on Channel 9 and 9Now.
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