Post by Thandie
I stopped chemically straightening my hair 4 years ago. The final release from relaxing addiction came when my friend Zadie Smith said “But if you want to wear it straight you just blow it out, right?”.
Zadie is mixed heritage and makes hair wrapping, natural, or a smooth blow dry look effortless. Of COURSE I didn’t have to chemically straighten my hair to create the perfect blow dry, or any other style for that matter…
But when I was a teen, years of hair horror growing up amongst straighties had driven the desire for flaxen hair deep into the marrow of my wishbone. I not only wanted straight hair, I wanted the straightness growing from my ROOTS. I mean, how bonkers is it that at 5 years old I took my ‘fro to a Catholic school run by Irish nuns – women who barely even HAD hair under their wimples (Did you see the movie ‘Philomena’?). And there I was with hair like a wild bush of virility – the nuns must have been salivating with desire to punish that Bantu ‘fro into submission. I’ve chuckled to myself about how my black presence in the school gave the nuns the missionary vibe they were famous for overseas.
Thankfully a degree in anthropology, Toni Morrison and Buddha lead me out of the darkness, and I’ve come to realise that my desire for straight hair was a desperate desire to be ‘normal’, to be loved. I wanted to melt my curl, my fuzz, my brittle, kinky, messy, awkward, eye catching, different, sigh-worthy, brush-hating curl away forever. Once I’d christened my head with poisonous dollops of Lye, I could be closer to God. And I spent the years that followed fearing water like the witch that I supposedly was – never swimming, never laughing in the rain, never going too near a sneeze for fear of the fuzz revealing me as a charlatan. I was like Daryl Hannah in ‘Splash’, terrified of her tail-turning legs and Tom Hank’s shame. I smile as I write – the crazy, ego drama of my hair is a long way past – and so is the pain. The pain of a little girl, with beautiful hair that should have been wild and free; like bird wings, or tall grass, or kisses. I’m making up for it now – seeing my daughters’ hair rave all over their happy heads, and me having FUN with my curls for the first time in my life.
And here we are – a blow dry is no longer a necessity for me, or a style to make me ‘normal’ or ‘better’. It’s one of many looks that I have fun achieving – it’s artistry, and a celebration of the medium that we all have growing out of our skulls. Let hair be our yarn, our weaving materials, our feathers, turban, crown. Let hair bring us closer to God, not further away.
After taking my hair to Hair Heaven I wrap it in a towel for a while. The extra heat from the towel further softens my hair, and leaves it damp rather than wet. Less wetness means less time under the heat of the dryer – and make no mistake, heat on the hair is not a good thing.
Obviously your hair texture will determine how you straighten your natural hair. My hair is very curly, but soft enough to blow-dry straight quite easily. So, I don’t need to spend long with the flat-irons – in fact I could get away with just using the hair dryer (but I wouldn’t achieve the nice shiny finish that a flat iron gives).
So, to protect the hair from the damaging heat I always put some sort of lotion through it. Depending on time of year, and climate you will need to figure out what you need. If my hair is in need of extra volume I’ll use John Masters – Deep Follicle Treatment and Volumizer, or Aveda’s – Volumizing Tonic spread evenly through. Also a good serum on the ends is a must – at the moment I’m using Giovanni’s Eco Chic Hair Potion. This step needs to be done quickly – it’s important not to let your hair completely dry before blow drying – in fact I always have a spray bottle filled with hot water nearby in case I need to re-wet the ends.
A good hair dryer is obviously important. I love GHD‘s tools, used throughout this Post. Always start with the hair that’s most kinky, or that dries the quickest. I always start with my hairline. Don’t rush this, and be patient. Section a piece out from the front, and always put the hair not being worked on back into a twist (to keep it damp). Take your front piece, gently brush it through (I use a Tangle Teezer) and then with a round brush, brush it FORWARDS over your face, following with the hairdryer a few inches behind the brush bristles. Repeat this until your section is dry, paying special attention to the ends. I always blow dry the hair on the front half of my head FORWARD because it makes the hair fall much more naturally around my face. If you blow dry it BACKWARDS, away from your face, it gives an 80s crest at the hairline, straight out of The Cosby Show.
I flat iron each section after I’ve blow dried it. Sometimes I’ll add a little extra serum on the ends before I hit it with the devil’s paddle – my daughters are always aghast when they see the plume of smoke twirl away from my hair – “It’s just the product” I reassure them.
For styling I always use Tancho Lavender Hair Wax – a little warmed up in my fingertips to smooth down fly-aways, seal fluffy ends and give the hair a bit more ‘weight’. It’s also great for accentuating a bend. I tend to use the wax a bit like moveable hair spray – it’s brilliant stuff.
Thank You Billie Scheepers for your beautiful photography! billiescheepers.com
Hair by Thandie, assisted by Ayo Laguda
Make-Up by Kay
Posted by Kay
Thandie and I often discuss a particular type of large hair and beauty supply store, usually Asian-run, that seem to be found on the perimeters of most city centres in many of the countries we visit. They’re the jam-packed, no-nonsense kind, with ranges of hair and beauty goods designed especially for ethnic communities who are presently not catered to within high street chemists/drugstores like Boots (in the UK) or Duane Reed and CVS (in the U.S). It’s not ‘experience’ shopping, it’s about necessities and getting what works. The only customer service needed is someone telling you which aisle has what you’re looking for and if it’s on the left or right.
Naturally, they are usually found within areas where there is a high ethnic population, in fact Thandie & I live a short drive away from one of our favourites in Harlesden called PAK.
The largest community of West Indian, Asian and African people in London, however is in Brixton, so along I went with my friend Nicola, to a shop she regularly goes to, called Catwalk on Atlantic Road.
There’s nothing fancy about these stores lined with never-ending, US-style aisles, but they serve an important purpose and are a thriving industry that take many people from the cradle, all the way through their hairdressing phases and ultimately to the effects of age on the hair and skin.
We all love Boots but the huge population of black and Asian women are not shopping there, and they are not supplying products for their needs, and whichever way around that dynamic is happening, the reality is that the market for beauty is still divided. It’s only a matter of time (I’m seeing baby marketing steps) that these women, along with the largest growing minority in the UK- the mixed race population- will soon find their conditioners, electrical tools, hairpieces and skincare and make-up all filtering happily into the high street. It’s simple, good old fashioned economics.
But these stores are a beauty Mecca for all women, and especially professionals-I mean where else can I stock up on individual eyelashes at 7pm at night on a Sunday when I have an actress’s premiere to do the next day, buy myself clip-in hairpieces (thank you Thandie for introducing me to a whole new world of fabulousness), buy handfuls of hair ties, a bucket-load of hairpins in ALL forms, pure Shea Butter, Iman Cosmetics or pro-hair brands like Phyto…the list is endless.
Whilst we all ‘girl-cooed’ over our limitless hairstyle possibilities, Nicola took me down a veritable memory lane of beauty products from her childhood. I sensed that there was an almost emotional connection with many of these products, memories of her mother taking care of her via her hair…
The time and thought that black hair takes to prepare before the hairstyle has even begun- is a whole story that straight-haired, ‘wash ‘n go’ people are blissfully unaware of. This kind of hair means you’d best learn to be your very own pro-stylist. It’s no wonder Thandie got so good at doing her own during years on set, as so few hairdressers without ‘the black hair knowledge’ know how to prep, style or know the right products that condition and style it.
Ultimately, understanding your own hair means having the freedom to enjoy doing many things with it, from Afro to the straightest blonde, there is so much beautiful potential.
Hair is a ritual and a whole culture within the black community. For any of us with even a hint of Sub-Saharan African blood, ‘wash ‘n go’ is simply not an option.
‘What lovely hair you have’ people might kindly say to me when it’s been done enough for a hair-down moment. Little do they know how much trial, error and product ‘bespokery’ goes into my high maintenance hair. But to be fair, apart from my post blow-dry fear of rainfall and the diary-worthy time consumption that my tresses devour, it’s not been so hard. I say this because when I was a child I used to watch my Jamaican friends endure their weekly hot comb/Dax Pomade and cane row routine (in West London’s West Indian community it was called ‘cane’ nor ‘corn’ row) that only lasted the week and longer if it was rather painfully plaited. So I guess my (caucasion) mother cutting off my hair to Starsky (as in Hutch) -style curls made sense.
said Nicola of her childhood hair routine. “My mother would always talk me through what she was doing, and when she was doing it. She said ‘this is what you need to know, when you start doing your hair’ and I still do exactly what she did at the stages that she did. Some cultures pass down recipes, the black community inherit the knowledge of how to take care of their hair, it’s part of growing up, I don’t know any black girls who were not taught how to take care of their hair.”
So thank heavens for the Paks, Catwalks, and all of the excellent places that Thandie mentions in her post here for supplying women of colour with the products and the tools to take care of their precious hair and skin.
All pictures above taken at Catwalk, Atlantic Road Brixton, London SW9 8LJ
Thank You Nicola St Louis!
And thanks to Jackie Dixon for the fabulous photography.