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.
‘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’
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 HeavenI 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 hairdryer (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 useJohn Masters – Deep Follicle Treatment and Volumizer, or Aveda’s – Volumizing Tonicspread 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 hairdryer 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.