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Tomiko Fraser Hines on Modeling with Natural Hair

May 30, 2015

Natural hair is very popular right now.  Social media sites such as Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter are overrun with pics, tips and tricks extolling the wonders of natural hair.  As someone who ultimately embraced her luscious locks many years ago, I am thrilled to be a part of this new wave of hair pride that my fellow “naturalistas” are experiencing.  And as a model, I’d love to be able to say that this pride has made its way to the mainstream fashion world, but, sadly, it has not.

While I am now pretty much booked for work because of my hair, that wasn’t always the case.  I remember when I first had to go natural (yes, had to, because my hair had become severely damaged due to years of using relaxers), I was not happy at all.  I didn’t want to rock the already well-established boat that was my career.  And I thought that my tight little curls were going to do just that.  At the time, many black models, myself included, were wearing weaves.  And my weave and I were quite happy with the frequency of work we were getting.  You see, the natural hair movement hadn’t yet become popular back in the late 90s, and you were hard-pressed to find a black model who was wearing her hair naturally.  Not to mention that I was freshly-signed to my campaign with Maybelline Cosmetics (the first African-American woman to be signed to an exclusive contract with them, thank you very much), and I wasn’t trying to mess that up.  There was even a stipulation in my contract that I wasn’t allowed to make any drastic changes to my look.  Nothing seemed more drastic to me at the time than having to wear my hair in its natural state.  Boy, was I uninformed.

And though there were a few black models with natural hair who were working, they had the “socially-acceptable” big and soft curls that modeling clients liked.  There was nothing big and soft about my hair after my mandated Big Chop.  But to my surprise, Maybelline and my other clients weren’t put off by my hair.  I even did a few Maybelline ads in which my own natural coils were on full display.  I was pleased with how my hair looked in those ads, but that wasn’t always the case.

While most stylists were able to work with my relaxed hair and weaves, I was hard-pressed to find ones who were fluent in the styling language of natural hair.  I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve had to do my own hair for a job.  It took my giving the stylists the benefit of the doubt and my hair ending up looking, well, crazy, for me to adopt the practice of always showing up to set with my hair done.  And I always traveled with all of my hair products and accessories because it was highly likely that the stylist didn’t have what my hair needed.

Occasionally, a stylist who had something to prove would dive into my hair with a vengeance.  I had to put a stop to that with the quickness.  But of course, being the kind and respectful woman that I am, I did so in a way that let them maintain their ego.  I just couldn’t stand idly by while they tried to work out their inadequacies.  And I don’t say that to be mean.  I am just of the thought that hairstylists should know how to style all types of hair.  Shame on them if they didn’t take the time to learn how to work with a black woman’s natural hair.  I wasn’t going to be the one to suffer because of their oversight.

To this day, I continue to show up with my hair done.  Believe it or not, I think my doing so makes everyone happy.  But how I long for the day when I can show up to set like most other models and actually feel confident that my natural hair will be done properly.  Until then, I’ll continue showing up with it already coiffed to my liking.

Modeling with natural hair has gotten much better since I first started wearing my hair naturally, but we still have a ways to go.  We’ll get there though.  The “naturalistas” will demand it.

 Photo Courtesy of Tomiko Fraser Hines

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