To mark Black History Month, Yahoo UK launches Black & Beautiful In Britain, a four-part video series in collaboration with digital publisher Black Ballad. Chloe Seivwright recalls a time before YouTube and online shopping, when navigating a haircare routine in Wales was not at all easy.
In 2006, when India Arie released the single ‘I Am Not My Hair’, my 15-year-old self joined the conscious army in declaring that I indeed was not my hair.
Too young to really understand the deeper concepts of the song, I would tell friends “I am not my hair” to avoid having to explain the Jamaica-shaped scab near my temple from a hair straightener, and why my 'new hair' looked more like a sun visor than a fringe.
If bad hair days also described the health of your hair and not just the aesthetic, then it was safe to say I have spent over two thirds of my life having bad hair days.
While I can reflect back and laugh at some of the extreme DIY haircare tricks I used to use, it also highlights a very real and painful reality that black haircare was not a priority in Wales. It wasn’t even a small service - it was practically non-existent.
Watch: Equality and the hunt for hair products in Wales (Still images by Dami Fawehinmi)
This wasn’t an experience exclusive to me and my friends in Newport, South Wales. A survey, commissioned by Black Ballad, found that 27%* of respondents from Wales travelled 45 minutes or more to get to their nearest beauty store with 66%* of respondents finding it difficult (to some degree) finding hair products and 41%** of respondents finding it “very difficult” to source a professional hair dresser.
Being a teenager, I spent copious amounts of time testing out home remedies on my hair before school. On good days I managed to gel, mousse and hairspray my hair flat for a few hours. On bad days, I prayed that no one pulled my hood down and I could make do with a flat-ironed fringe. If you didn’t own a hair straightener, then a tea towel and a clothing iron would do the trick.
There was one more get-out-of-hair-jail free card on bad hair days, and that was if one of the few other black girls had worse hair than you. It was essentially the Hunger Games of bad hair bullying and shame – may the odds be ever in your favour.
There was always that girl who never had to dodge the politics of unkempt hair: the girl who could braid. It is still an unsolved mystery, how that one girl just had the skills to braid hair into any and every pattern. In my school “that girl” was my best friend, Lateesha.
When an under-18s club night was approaching, Teesha would literally hang out of her living room window doing people’s braids because her mum laid down the law: “This house isn’t an open youth club or a hostel – no more kids in and out!”
At 13-years-old, Teesha would travel to Ally and Kitty’s hair shop in St Pauls, Bristol, approximately 30 miles and 80 minutes by public transport. The week running up to her trip, orders would pour in from school: Jamm Extra Hold gel, Blue Magic Conditioner, Pink Leave-In Curl Cream and Dark & Lovely Beautiful Beginnings Relaxer for kids were jotted down. Combs, elastics, scrunchies and a Denman brush – and if you owned a Denman brush, then you had made it. If you missed out on ordering, or if you didn’t have any money, then who knew how many bad hair days lay ahead.
There was, of course, a small chance of saving grace: the bi-annual trip to get singles or box-braids. This was a whole weekend affair, you would travel across the country to Slough, Manchester, Luton or Birmingham, sit in a stranger’s house for eight hours – dead still, no break –and get your hair braided. During the process it felt like a test of endurance where only the fittest would survive.
You would be 11-years-old with backache from sitting on a pillow on the floor for hours on end, but that final result – wow, that final result was so worth it. You would strut into school, braids swinging down your back, soaking up all the compliments. Teacher would say, “Wow, your hair has grown, I didn't realise it was so long!” You would wear your badge of survival for everyone to see. “How long did it take to do?” “Twelve hours” you would reply, adding a bit of extra time for dramatic impact.
Navigating a haircare routine in South Wales pre-YouTube and online shopping was tough for any person needing a conditioner more specialised than Herbal Essences. Now, you can find how-to-guides for protective hair styling and home haircare treatments with a few clicks.
The past process of haircare for black hair was character building; you had to be creative and skilful with next to no resources. It was one trial and error situation after another, and yet, the black hairstyles of the noughties still set trends and showcased the versatility of our crowns.
*A total of 79 respondents participated in this response
**A total of 70 respondents participated in this response
Watch: Black & Beautiful in Britain