Every woman has a special relationship with her locks. We present three very different stories of crowning glories
Actress and writer Natalie Blenford, 31, explains why it took her nearly 30 years to stop seeing red. She says: “When I was little, my bright-red hair brought me compliments, not criticism. Every Saturday, as I shopped with Mum, we’d be stopped by strangers saying they loved the colour of my hair.
In secondary school, things became complicated. When I joined a youth group, I had to put up with rounds of chanting: ‘G-i-n-g-e-r! Ginger b***h!’ when I walked into the room. Needless to say, my self-esteem wasn’t sky-high.
I considered dying my hair brown but couldn’t find a hairdresser who’d go near it. ‘People pay hundreds of pounds for hair like yours,’ they all told me, so aside from a few blonde highlights, I was stuck.
When I worked as a magazine writer in my early 20s, my relationship with my hair changed. I was forever telling our readers to love themselves, and the message slowly sank in.
What’s more, every day, I’d see models troop in and out of the office for castings and began to realise that beauty comes in all shapes and hair colours. One day, while assisting on a photo shoot, a hairdresser called Ben Cooke, who went on to become Victoria Beckham’s stylist, made a fuss of my hair, urging the team to gather round and admire it. For the first time, I started wearing my hair loose with pride.
Then when I trained as an actress, I discovered my red hair was a huge advantage. When I graduated, the only other redhead at my drama school and I were snapped up by top agents, while our brunette and blonde friends struggled to get noticed.
It seems that in an industry full of beautiful, talented people, any point of difference helps you stand out. Since then, my red hair and pale skin has helped me to get noticed at auditions and land commercials for brands such as Waitrose, as well as leading roles in shows such as The Sound Of Music.
At costume fittings, I’m often given the most interesting outfits because they usually contrast with my hair, and hairstylists fight to style me, enjoying the novelty that unusual hair provides.
My colour kit
*Concoction Lemon Verbena Nourish + Protect Live Blend Shampoo with added Ravishing Red Superserum, £12.50 (1). This shampoo is bespoke made and contains natural raspberry leaf to give my hair a subtle colour boost while smoothing frizzy ends.
*Umberto Giannini Curl Friends Silky Curls Smoothing Balm, £4.99 (2). This sets my curls when I take them out of heated rollers and it even works on my super-thick hair!
Blogger Justine Knight, 33, detangles her complex relationship with her hair. She says: “‘Medusa worm plaits’ is what girls in school whispered behind my back. It was hard to disagree. No girl I knew had natural Afro hair – everyone from my mum to the cast of The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air straightened or braided theirs. I saw my hair as a problem that needed fixing.
In my teens, I started using hair relaxer lotions, which, despite containing ingredients that can cause breakage and damage follicles, are a staple for millions of black women.
Within a few years of using them, my hair was so damaged that it all had to be chopped off. But that didn’t stop my pursuit for straight hair. In my 20s, I spent thousands of pounds trying to look like Naomi Campbell. I tried every type of extension to copy her look. For me, weaves equalled glamour. What’s more, my boyfriends loved the look too.
But the hair extensions took their toll. After seeing paparazzi shots of my favourite supermodel’s severely damaged hairline, followed by a tearful appointment at trichologist Philip Kingsley’s hair clinic, I hit hair rehab and sought out a salon to cut off my wispy ponytail and wean me off extensions.
A new crop of icons such as Solange Knowles and Thandie Newton have helped me realise that natural hair can be sexy. This is despite what people have to say – even my boyfriend tells me that my hair makes me look like a child.
But I’m not changing my mind, or my do. While the decision to embrace my natural texture may have stemmed from concerns about its condition, the process has helped me untangle the mainstream messages which have damaged my hair and my definition of beauty. While it’s taking time to get used to, I am much happier with hair that’s all mine.”
*Anita Grant Whipped Butter, £5.75 (3). My hair’s addicted to this nourishing palm oil, murumuru and cupuaçu butter mix, which I use daily to keep my strands soft.
*Tangle Teezer Brush, £9.99 (4). This gadget’s teeth glide painlessly through tangles.
*Beyondthepalebeauty.tumblr.com. Sharing my hair experiences
has inspired me to stay natural.
Co-director of music theatre company Starling Arts, Emily Cook, 26, reveals why she decided to lop off her waist-length locks. She says: “My long hair became a security blanket as I entered my teens. Suffering from severe acne, I began to hide behind a wall of it, hoping it would distract people from my skin. So, unlike other girls my age, I didn’t see my hair as something to be proud of or as something to style and have fun with. It just hung there like a pair of old curtains.
It didn’t suit me either – at just 5ft, my long tresses dwarfed me, and threw me out of proportion. But despite hairdressers always suggesting a shorter cut, I was never brave enough to take my hair above my shoulders and face the world.
When my boyfriend of six years dumped me on my 21st birthday, I shrank even further into myself. I had lost the person who understood all of my insecurities and didn’t care about my spots.
After the break-up, I woke up crying every morning for what felt like months. Friends and family tried to cheer me up, but nothing seemed to lift my spirits. When I finally resurfaced, I realised that as my identity had been so tangled up with his, I needed to do something drastic to discover who I was.
So I did what girls are meant to do when they get dumped: I booked a haircut. I told the hairdresser that I wanted her to cut off all my hair. I didn’t know what to ask for – I’d had long hair my entire life – so I pointed to a receptionist and asked her to copy that.
I stared at my reflection in the mirror as my hair tumbled to the floor. I felt my insecurities falling away, and by the time the hairdresser added the finishing touches to my short hair, I didn’t recognise myself. I felt no regret, and I practically skipped home.
The way people treated me changed. Girls I barely knew gave me compliments, guys who hadn’t noticed me before asked me out. I was told I looked taller, prettier and more confident.
Two years later, having experimented with several short hairstyles, I met my current boyfriend, Dan. He confessed I was the first girl he’d fancied with short hair and it crossed my mind that he would try to persuade me to grow my hair again. But it’s Dan who still encourages me to cut it shorter, boosting my confidence by saying that he prefers it cropped so he can see my face.
My crop kit
*Batiste Dry Shampoo, £2.99 (5), is a style saviour. When short hair gets greasy, it’s noticeable, so I spray this on the roots to revitalize before a night out.
*I love VO5 Extreme Style Matt Clay, £3.69 (6). Less sticky than wax or gel, it sculpts without weighing down my fine hair.