Sharam Diniz is a 27-year-old model born in Angola, Africa who now lives in New York City. She's walked the Victoria's Secret runway, starred in Tom Ford and Chanel campaigns, and is set to launch her own hair extensions line, Sharam Hair, this summer. After years of chemically treating her hair, she recently decided to shave it all off. Here, she tells Samantha Sasso why she wishes she'd done it even sooner. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
I started relaxing my hair when I was five years old. The texture of my natural hair was so painful to manage that I remember crying every single time someone would try to braid it. One day, my auntie — who had her own hair salon at the time in Angola — told my mother, “Listen, maybe the easier thing to do is relax her hair.”
I always wanted long, straight hair and I could never have it. When I looked at covers of magazines when I young, I didn't ever see a Black girl rocking an Afro, so I became obsessed with the hair I saw on TV and in music videos and magazines. I wondered why I didn’t have that. But after 15 years of treating my hair with aggressive chemicals, it lost its life, so I took a break from relaxers and started wearing wigs. That felt amazing.
My first experience with the power of wigs came from my mother, who was a flight attendant. Growing up in Angola, there weren’t many products around to treat or style natural hair in the best way possible, so when my mother would come back from places like Paris, she would bring me amazing products, including wigs. I would try them on at home, playing with all different styles — wavy, curly, straight, bangs.
Growing up, I always wanted to be an actress and I found the wigs to be a way of playing different characters. I would just be in front of the mirror pretending that I was acting with someone else and the reflection in the mirror was my co-star. I never liked having the same style for too long; I would get bored. If I didn’t have my braids, I would go to the salon every single weekend — and I still do — looking for something new.
I was 17 when I entered a modeling competition and ended up winning. Soon after, I moved to Portugal— I’m half-Portuguese — because I knew the fashion industry in Europe was more developed than in Angola. I signed with my first agency, which put me in all the main markets: Milan, Paris, London, and later New York. The first thing my agent at the time told me was that I was beautiful, but needed to straighten my hair. I had an Afro, and although it was a weave, it was labeled as "too commercial" at the time. To land high-fashion, editorial jobs, I needed straight hair. I didn’t really understand why, but because I already had so much experience with changing my hair often, I was okay with it.
After a couple years, I moved to New York and started getting tired of straightening it. I would go to the salon to put a weave in and it would take a whole day. I couldn't have any appointments or meetings booked because it would take at least eight hours to braid or relax my hair. Then, once I found Brazilian blowouts — one way to straighten my hair without damaging the curl — I would have to wash, then dry, then braid, then sew in the weave. It was a lot. By then, I was done with it all.
Shaving all my hair off has been something I’ve been thinking about for a long time. Seeing so many beautiful and bold women, like Maria Borges and Lupita Nyong’o, rocking their natural texture and forcing the industry to accept what natural beauty is made the decision easier. It felt like the time for me to make a change. I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone of long, “feminine” hair and from what people were always expecting to see me as. I can be edgy. I can be masculine. We’ve been brainwashed to think that being feminine means having long, straight hair. No, you can see the beauty of a person with short hair, too. It's a movement now.
I had a lot of fears about cutting it all off — I had all the fears. How would it affect my career? Would I lose jobs? Would my agent drop me? It was my decision to make, but it still took me five months to actually take the risk and do it. But I wanted to make the cut different, too — there are so many models now with short, natural hair — so I dyed it pink. Now, I know I'll never, ever, complain about braiding my hair again, because bleaching your hair is painful. I had to do it three times before dyeing it pink!
Now, it's like I have a whole new lease on life. Everything looks different! Not just my hair, but my makeup, too. After I cut it, I wore pink eyeshadow for the first time to Beautycon in New York and the reaction was so positive. Women with short hair were coming up to me, complimenting mine. The reaction on social media and walking around the streets just confirms I made a great decision, and even my agents at One Management, who I was most worried about, love it. I feel like I’m on a wave. If I had known before it would’ve been this good, I would’ve cut it much sooner.