Sanity Not Vanity

This business is not about encouraging women to comply with the societal ideal of their hair needing to look a certain way.

When I was a kid my parents had no idea what to do with my hair. At 10 years old, in the late 1970s, I was taken to a salon where it was cut from shoulder length to about an inch long, all over. I remember sitting on the school bus the next day, bobble hat firmly on my head despite it being summer, because well, that didn’t attract attention, did it? A boy a couple of years older than me came up behind me and whisked the hat away and the entire bus erupted into laughter. And so began decades of disastrous trips to various hairdressers. 

As I got older I learned that straightening my hair was the best approach to its ‘unruliness’. The fact that I could manipulate it into looking pretty much the same every day was a revelation. But it needed washing and styling daily and any hint of humidity, rain or exercise would cause it to revert to type.  I’ve even exacerbated a cricked neck by stubbornly refusing to just leave my hair be.

I do want to make this point around the language some of us use to describe our hair. 

There continues to be a notion that au naturale hair is scruffy, ungroomed, unprofessional.

In my experience, it is generally not men who say such things but other women, and even ourselves. In fact, another woman said exactly this to me last month (not about my hair, about hers).

Over 20 years ago when my husband and I were dating I visited the Guildford branch of a chain of well-known hair salons. I had gone in for a pre-appointment consult and told the Art Director what I wanted: no short layers (obviously), cut to wear straight, blow-dried straight: of course I had taken a picture too.

On the day of the appointment the same Art Director turned up late and didn’t remember me (apparently he had been out clubbing all night). I left some time later with my hair diffused into a big ol’ ball of curls. I called my then-boyfriend, very upset, and explained what had happened and he asked if we could meet. I took some persuading because I felt so embarrassed about my barnet, but I agreed. And, well, he thought it looked fantastic, the best he had ever seen it and he still remembers it to this day (obviously I married him).

On the contrary, I myself have previously referred to my hair as:

  • A bird’s nest
  • A nightmare
  • Difficult
  • Tricky
  • Unruly
  • Bonkers
  • Crazy

I’ve often said that I ‘look like I’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards’.

When lockdown 1.0 happened in spring 2020 I decided to stop with the straightening, and judging by the number of out of stock curly hair products, many people had the same idea. I didn’t want to continue to spend 20 minutes five times per week blow-drying it straight - that’s a third of a year over a 30 year period - just to fit in with society’s ideal of well-groomed, overly-styled hair. Of course, if that's your thing and you're happy, then that's fine too.

A year ago I immersed myself in learning how best to look after my hair and how to get the best out of it. It became a real self-care project, almost a lockdown hobby.

I took the same approach to skincare five years ago when I was tired of products irritating my tetchy skin, and sick of marketing claims. I went down an ingredients rabbit hole and educated myself about acids, niacinamide, vitamin C, retinol and of course the most important of all, SPF (INCI Decoder is your friend here). This was not because I wanted to try to look 10 years younger. No, it was because I literally wanted to be comfortable in my own skin, without irritation or allergic reactions, and I wanted to protect my skin from factors such as sun damage.

It’s the same reason I’ve got deep into looking after my hair. Rather than conforming to society’s ideals it’s been about educating myself and using products and techniques that mean I understand my hair, and that results in it being easier to manage on a daily basis so that I can just get on with living my life.

At the end of the day, ‘it’s just hair’ but for me it’s been incredibly liberating to finally give myself permission to embrace it in all its natural glory.

1 comment

  • Berni

    Bang on my thinking Karen. In fact, ‘hell yeh’! If I were the hairdresser that your mum took you to, I’d have flatly refused to do that to you.

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