I came across Cipriana Quann via her site, urbanbushbabes.com and was struck by how similar the outlook of these 2 New Yorkers (with her online partner Nikisha) was to Thandie and I’s.
These two lovely ladies , one from Baltimore (Cipriana), the other from Toronto (Nikisha) are best described by themselves on their brilliant online portal so I won’t attempt trying to define them. After reading this, however, I’m sure you’ll find out what they represent and be a regular urban bush babe visitor-if you’re not already of course.
I was taught real beauty was on the inside and “never to judge a book by it’s cover” was a well known motto I heard ever since I can remember, so when my Mother- who I idolized- came home with a chemical process, it wasn’t a loss of beauty I saw but a loss of connection in my own image…but as I begin to think back on it now, I realize how powerful image can be.
I never wanted to have straight hair or hair that was less kinky than my own. I can honestly say I never even secretly coveted it, the idea just never crossed mind until I saw my Mother walk through the door that day, and a week later at the age of 13 I had my first chemical process.
My Mother was so gentle and patient with our hair that my identical twin sister and I used to debate on who would get their hair done first.
Watching 21 Jump Street or FAME I would sit between my Mother’s legs and rest my head on her thigh while she detangled my hair
Age was ” just a number” and it was present in full force in my household. I remember at 5 years old, barely able to reach the kitchen sink, my father pulls up a bucket and said, “never make excuses for why you can’t do something, find a way and make it happen”, this was my introduction to washing my own plate after eating.
I also experienced the non-traditional upbringing as my Mother played the more “masculine” side as a working woman in the corporate force field while my father acted in the more “feminine” role as the caregiver at home.
I asked my Mother years later why she even wanted a leisure curl and she said without hesitation it was just a recommendation by her trusted stylist at the time as a more “safer” chemical option for more “manageable” hair. We now know this couldn’t be further from the truth but she never once thought about appearance and the impact it may have on her daughters, but more on functionality and saving time, especially dealing with her lifestyle and two daughters with a mountain of natural hair.
My bout with chemicals would last till I was seventeen when my father decided the bi-monthly touch ups were too costly. I would revisit chemicals twice more in my lifetime but I started to realize the impact of my Mother’s image and how her presence unconsciously affected my natural hair journey.
Why I decided to become a ‘born again natural’ definitely had to do more with what was going on internally rather than physically.
I was manipulating my natural state through chemicals, which eventually transitioned to heat to create a texture that wasn’t mine. Especially since I was a model for over 10 years, my afro-textured 4c strands felt more like a hindrance rather than something that should be appreciated and loved.
I made a decision to step away from the industry, people and men who felt I needed to conform to upkeep a certain type of image, allowed by my own state of fear in expressing my creative growth…I was tired of stifling my natural beauty to become someone else’s ideal.
As I got older I felt the impact of how our subconscious past and image plays a big part in society, especially with young girl’s regarding confidence in their image which correlates into confidence in other areas besides the physical.
I feel we all have a responsibility to our youth in one way or the other, whether we choose to partake in that responsibility is solely based on the individual. Without the strong foundation in my youth of my mother not only celebrating, but encouraging my natural beauty I am not quite sure where my journey would be today.
laid the building bricks of coming back to my roots from a time when I strayed away from this belief, due to a loss of self confidence in trying emulate a beauty not my own. I not only wanted to be the example to myself in loving my natural beauty, but show others the importance of creating a new “standard or ideal” of beauty in our uniqueness and “imperfections”.
A few years ago my Mother sends me an email with a picture of a natural updo style I was wearing and said “I want to look just like that”…seems I had come full circle and it felt like home.
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.
Posted by Kay
Thandie Newton and I first met on a Vogue shoot about 6 years ago. It didn’t take long before I felt that I’d always known her. She is one of the most inspiring women I’ve ever met and I’ve been fortunate enough to make-up, wax lyrical and travel with her ever since. I have made her up more than anyone else in my whole career, in an entirely different way each time.
We often discuss what it is like to be mixed race, our experiences, what it means to us, what we continue to discover and most importantly perhaps, find ways of celebrating it. Our hair is not easy hair. It frizzes, it tangles and it knots and takes a lot to understand. There is still much stigma with a large ‘hair culture’ surrounding it, plus a multi-million dollar industry supplying women with ways of taming it.
Thandie has been growing out her hair relaxer for the last year and she’s now 100% Lye-free, (the controversial chemical in black hair straightening products) and is finding that wearing it big and natural is extremely liberating.
Your hair looks so different, what made you decide to go natural?
Its taken about 2 years to fully grow out my relaxer. I always thought I would go back to curly, because I didn’t want my daughters to judge their beautiful curls. I assumed they’d want to be like their Mum, and they’ve only ever known me with straight hair. However, it turns out they’re so secure in who they are as individuals that I don’t think it occurs to them to be like anyone else, and that includes me.
What inspired you to allow your hair return to it’s natural state?
So, the ultimate personal wake up call was when I saw Chris Rock’s documentary Good Hair, and saw how the active ingredient-Lye (that’s in all black hair relaxing products)- can melt a Coke can. Also the fact that the FDA take no responsibility with harmful chemicals when it comes to beauty products. Scary.
How does having wilder looking, bigger hair make you feel as opposed to the elegantly-on-trend hairstyles we’re used to seeing you with on the red carpet?
I have to feel comfortable with having ‘all eyes on me‘, which I do when I work, less so in life. Ironically I don’t want to draw attention to myself because of celeb spotting, but my big hair, for a time will work as a disguise! Straight hair has been ‘on trend’ for years and years, so having big-ass curly hair means “I’m stepping outside the mould, outside what’s accepted and applauded”. It takes a little courage to do that.
Mainly, I want to wear it natural because it looks amazing!
Do you think cultural attitudes within the black community are changing with regards their hair?
The kinky-haired Afro has been practically ironed out (pun intended!) within the mainstream black community. Now, black women have silkier, smoother longer hair than any other women. And there’s no stigma attached to black women and false hair (weaves, extension, wigs) whereas if a white woman wore false hair they’d seem more of a phony and inadequate. That’s changing a lot, but men certainly don’t expect white women to have false hair, whereas black boys know that there’s ‘No touching above the neck!’ And there’s no embarrassment about it.
Being mixed race myself, know that there is a lot of stigma steeped in history surrounding black hair and it still exists today. Tell me a bit about your experiences.
The stigma with some black women seems to be that ‘nappy hair’ is almost as bad as loo roll trailing from your shoe. I have always let my daughter’s hair be wild and scruffy. I love the shapes and fluffy halo. But when they were ‘papped‘ in the States I had remarks about how I don’t take care of their hair. The truth is I choose to keep it that way. When I see hair that’s been pulled, stretched, brushed till bullet smooth I just think ‘ouch‘. I have my limits mind, sometimes I have to beg Nico to let me tidy it up for fear of her looking like she’s been neglected!
It was relatively easy for me growing up in West London amongst all colours and cultures, but how was it for you, growing up in Penzance, Cornwall?
Well for a start I only visited a hairdressers once in my entire childhood. It was a nightmare. They washed it and then (drumroll…) blowdried and BRUSHED it. It was like a huge candy floss – no curl definition. It looked ridiculous. And it cost my Mum 20 quid – that was the thing I hated most, that my Mum had to say thank you, pretend she was pleased and pay all that money. The truth is the salon had no idea – we were a loooong way from London. A long way from any other black person. I don’t think you could even buy a decent conditioner. Vitapoint was the only product, I bloody loved Vitapoint. The smell meant ‘friend’.Without the support of a black ‘hair culture’ around you, how did you learn to manage your hair?
I think the closest thing I had to long, straight tangle-free hair was when I had it braided into ‘singles’ during the Summer holidays. By the time I was 13 I could do it myself. That’s one huge plus, I’m REALLY good at doing hair – I HAD to learn, and I did and I can do it all. I can braid, fit extensions, do my own weave, cut it, blow dry it bone straight, make hair pieces, fit wigs, style it beehive, forties, Afro, you name it. I started young and then from 16 when I started acting, I learned from the best of the best.
Thandie at the premieres for left ‘Run Fat Boy Run’ & right, ‘W’. m-up km
How was it for your Mum, coming to a culture where her ‘normal hair’ was suddenly non-’normal’, then having children, and approaching their hair in this alien place. What was her approach to your hair?
Mum wanted me to fit in, and I don’t blame her. My hair hampered that. Poor Mum. I remember when I was 7 at my convent school, it was school photo day so all the kids came looking their best. Mum did my hair in 20 or so ‘corn rows’ with green wooden beads on each end to match my school uniform. The nuns were appalled, they wouldn’t let me have my picture taken. I felt embarrassed, disappointed, ashamed. Can you imagine how my Mum must have felt? There was a mild rukus and the next day I had my picture taken. But then I read this year a piece in The Independent about a student who appealed against not being able to wear his hair in (what the school felt was a hoodlum style) braids, and he won. That’s 30 years since the Nun’s dissed me… This shit keeps going round and round.
Apart from the school photo incident it was 1 or 2 plaits every single day, and a bun when I was doing ballet. Never, ever, ever loose. Never.
So when did you discover hair products designed for black hair?
There wasn’t any ‘Dark & Lovely’ in Cornwall but I can say it was like Christmas when we discovered that a ‘home perm’ has the effect of loosening curls. I was around 14 then.
So what is your experience of modern hairdressers today-are they all clued up about how to manage your hair?
To be honest I do struggle with hairdressers, even now. The main problem is that hairdressers (and some at the top of their game) don’t understand how my type of hair changes dramatically depending on what climate, substance, effects it. Water in any form is like a cheeky magic wand – even mist! But with the correct tools, my kind of hair can do ANYTHING, which is brilliant! So hairdressers like the genius Kerry Warn, or Maarit Niemela, are leagues better than others because they can work black hair from wet to dry in any style.
I’m surprised that more people don’t understand this (even though hair salons still seems to be culturally divided between ‘black’ hairdressing or ‘caucasian’ hairdressing), there are many black models and actresses around that they work with.
I think a problem for top hairdressers is that most black models and high end clients have weaves (Indian hair), so the technicians never work on authentic black hair. Whether black, white, blonde, brunette, I’d head to a local black hairdressers any day of the week- because if a technician can work black hair, you can work ANY hair.
So tell me about products. You’ve been an international actress all of your adult life, you must have tried everything!
My favourite shampoos, conditioner, serums and sprays etc are from John Masters Organics and the ‘Brilliant’ range by Aveda.
I have lots of ‘beauty icons’ that, to my mind, represent a more diverse attitude to beauty, that hopefully represent a wider scope of womanhood. Do you have any ‘hair icons’?
I just watched Flashdance with my girls. Jennifer Beales hair! (below left)
In the same breath I get a total wide on for my friend Laura Bailey‘s hair (right). It’s unreal. Thick, shiny, heavy swinging blanket of the good stuff.
Who doesn’t love Rihanna’s red? Or Stevie Wonder’s braids?
What would you say to young girls and women of colour who struggle with hair ‘issues’?
Ultimately the goal is to be free to do whatever you want with your hair. But what we ‘want’ is influenced by so many factors. When I was little I insisted my parents stopped calling me Thandie because it was so ‘different‘, my desire was influenced by a community where the way I looked was not celebrated, where my uniqueness was seen as suspect. Whatever we are repelled by, or don’t want – right there is the bud to a root we need to dig up and investigate.
Once we’re conscious of the story behind our discomfort, we can reject that story and be free. And then we can have it all, and love it all.
Watch the trailer to Chris Rock’s insightful documentary GOOD HAIR HERE