The are no more cookie cutter beauty ideals. You’re beautiful the way you are! These women prove it.
Express your fabulous self
for so long I sort of forgot that my hair was naturally curly. When I was young, I used to brush it out really big for laughs, but at a certain point I started doing stuff to it so it didn’t look like a joke.
I wanted to have straight hair like Jennifer Love Hewitt in Can’t Hardly Wait – that’s what I wanted my hair to look like. In 2010 I went on a trip to Thailand with my best friend. We were in the ocean all day, and I felt so sad from just losing my job that I didn’t want to look at myself or do anything, and so I just didn’t touch my hair at all. When we came back to the hotel at night, I looked in the mirror and my hair was this giant big mass of curls; I remember thinking, ‘I can’t believe that I have only ever thought of my natural state as something to use as a joke rather than something to be celebrated.’ Forever I had tried to tame the things that ended up being my greatest powers. That’s the main thing I’ve probably learned in my adulthood: my self in my most natural form is my secret weapon. It’s my warrior garb.
But I’d be lying if I said I always feel confident, I don’t. There are times I feel so out of control that I try to counteract it with a personal style that is much more pared down, like when I straighten my hair. It feels nice to show restraint. At the same time, straight hair feels like a funny joke because I know my insides are all curlicues and doodads. It’s not an effort to erase myself; it’s more like the hair equivalent of dressing up. You know it can’t last forever, and when it gets wet you’re going to be a poodle again.
And then there are times, like right now for the most part, when I’m in a political environment that feels aggressive – that’s when I usually want to be my most energetic and vibrant self. In general, I feel that many women are pushed to make themselves smaller and be the most minimal version of themselves. So I’ve been wearing my hair naturally curly, and now I’m starting to brush it out so it takes up as much physical space as possible – but this time not as a joke. For me, beauty is about wholeness, and I’m doing it all for myself right now.
I’ve gained back so many hours of life by having my hair in dreads. And what did I do with that time? I learnt to play guitar and banjo. Seriously: from age five to 18, I wore my hair permed straight, and every two weeks I had to stop whatever I was doing and sit through this painful, hours-long process of having my hair chemically straightened. And my hair is really thick – I could break a comb trying to get through it – so it took me another hour to style it before leaving the house. I was just tired of spending so much effort on it.
I first considered dreads because the guy I was dating had them and he showed me how to start mine. I thought, ‘If it doesn’t work, I’ll go back to a perm.’ At first the strands were about 5cm long, sticking up all over the place – it took six months for them to actually lock. That was the ugly period. Each time I washed my hair, I’d separate the twists again. But about a year in, I really fell in love with them. That was 16 years ago.
Today my dreads are very long and I can wear them in different ways: I use strips of newspaper and all kinds of things to create curls without heat. And I leave them down a lot so they don’t get worn out, with holes or breaks (they’re like cloth!).
Once a week I take a long bath and soak, and wash my hair with a clarifying shampoo. Afterward I’ll put oil on it and sit under my bonnet dryer. I look like an alien, but it dries my hair in about 20 minutes while I’m watching TV. If I’m working on music or other things around the house, I’ll put in rollers and let my hair air-dry for about six hours.
When I’m performing, I have to pull up my dreads or they’ll try to play my guitar. I’ve had some experiences where people will see me walking with my guitar, and they’ll be like, “Oh, you play reggae?” And I’ll be like, “No, I don’t. I just play what I feel.” And they’ll laugh and I’ll laugh, and we’ll move on with our lives.
People tend to make assumptions about others based on their looks, but it doesn’t bother me. More than anything, I get amazing compliments, and I love that.
For me, my dreads represent all the time I got back by not spending it on my hair. A lot of musicians begin as children, but I started on my own in my 20s and slowly learnt by just practising 10 minutes a day. I still teach myself that way, experimenting with a new chord or song with tiny bits of time. Before my dreads, I would’ve spent those moments on my hair. Now I spend them writing and doing things that I find way more engaging.
“When I’m performing, I have to pull up my dreads or they’ll try to play my guitar.”
Is a fan of brushed-up brows and MAC red lipstick, and the fact that social media has given her – and women of so many sizes and colours – a voice in the fashion industry. Paloma Elsesser Model, 25