Why I'm Finally Looking After My Mixed Race Hair

After 28 years of heat styling and chemical straightening, it's time to give it a break with braids


'We've got them,' my friend Vicki shouted into my ear, waking me up after a Big Night Out one Sunday morning in 2015. 'We've got Glastonbury tickets.'

We'd missed out on the first batch, so here we were: manically refreshing our browsers, connected to two-bar WiFi, battling against 1 million other people doing the same thing (probably with better internet and clearer heads) with just 150,000 tickets available. But we got them this time.


You'd have thought I'd be ecstatic: I love festivals and I've been to many, but I'd never been to 'Glasto'. 

But my first thought? 'What the hell am I going to do with my hair for five days straight at the muddiest, rainiest of all festivals?'

Ridiculous, I know. What 28-year-old woman cares about her hair that much that it starts to impact on where she's going and how long for? 

Me, that's who. And the realisation about how silly I was being made me call into question how I've been treating my once curly mixed-race hair since I was 16-years-old and how, maybe, it's time to get a grip.


A bit of background on my background: my grandfather is Jamaican. There's some Venezuelan and Welsh thrown into the mix too, but when I was born my hair was a big, brown, bouncy (sometimes frizzy) mop of curls. Fine in texture but loads of it and, on reflection, beautiful. And then I messed with it. 

When I was 11 – when I started secondary school, probably not a coincidence – I suddenly and desperately wanted my hair to be straight. I wanted long, glossy, shiny, flowing locks that could easily go back into a ponytail. 

Here's a bit of life advice: always listen to your parents.'Leave your hair alone,' they said. 'It's beautiful.' 'You'll regret messing with it.' 

'Nope,' I thought in typical pre-teen fashion. 'I know better.' And thus started my mission to make it go as unnoticed (read: flat) as possible.  

I gelled it down. I scraped it back into a bun. At one point in 6th form, I actually wore it au natural until I was given the nickname of 'Sideshow Bob'. And then I did the worst thing I could do: chemically straighten it. 


BIG MISTAKE. I arrived at a salon, aged 17-years-old, where they slathered on a lotion that smelled of Veet. Boy, did it burn and itch. 

But, it did the job: my hair was poker straight and cut into a shoulder-length bob. But as soon as I washed it, I realised the curls were gone and what was left was a limp, flat, frizzy mess. 

From then on, it was less about achieving an unattainable hairstyle that I realised I didn't actually want and more about being stuck in-between hairstyles. The limp, no-curl frizz of when it's naturally dried versus the too-slicked-down hair straightener look.

And so here we are at present day and now that I'm a wise 28-year-old (no, not all), I've decided that I'm going to get my original hair back, or as close to it as possible.

I've stopped using chemicals (I started to get bald patches, which have since grown back), I moisturise it, I deep condition it, I trim it. And now I'm going to stop using heat. But the curls aren't back and it doesn't grow past shoulder-length, so what to do? Because right now, my hair sure doesn't look like Solange's.

In fact, that's what I said on Glasto ticket morning. 'What am I going to doooo?' I wailed, dredging up feelings about something I've been putting off for near to a decade: the possibility of wearing it curly. 'I don't even want straight hair anymore, I just want my old hair back!'

'Get braids,' said Vicki flatly, while trying to secure our tickets. 'They'll give your hair a natural break from heat, they'll get it to a healthier state before you start wearing it curly again and they'll be low-maintenance.'

I hit her with a barrage of questions: will it damage my hair even more? Will it suit me? Am I appropriating a culture that I've barely been a part of? Will it help my hair ween itself off heat styling? Will it moisturise itself back into a condition where I can wear it big and proud? 

After a few recommendations from friends – my hair was so fragile that I was terrified of going to any old place – I found a salon called Errol Douglas London in Knightsbridge, which specialises in a fusion of European and Afro hair styling. And to be honest, after booking a consultation appointment, I freaked out, hopping on and off my bike several times en route. I was changing my hairstyle for the first time in nearly 10 years. Was this really such a good idea? 


As soon as I stepped into the salon, I felt calmer. Quiet, clean, serene, it totally put my nerves at ease. I decided to go for the Zoe Kravitz style of box braids – long and tapered to the ends, and actually a celebrity the Errol Douglas London stylist had worked for – and while my hair colour was being matched to that of the extensions, I felt better. This might be it, I thought. This might be the first step to getting my old hair back.

'The braids will last for six to eight weeks, as long as you take care of them,' said the Errol Douglas London stylist. 'Wear a Silke London Hair Wrap around them to sleep (a silk scarf that helps keep the moisture in and stops friction between the braids and your pillow, preventing breakages, damage and frizz), wash once a week with a light shampoo or it'll get gunky at the roots, and spritz some scalp oil every few days. Oh, and enjoy them! Don't look scared, it'll be fine.' 

From this…
…To this

And it was fine. It was more than fine; it was completely relaxing. Six hours, one book, one omelette (yes, they have a food service there!) and two magazines later, I left with the exact braids I wanted. Stepping into the office the next day, my colleagues had a lot of questions: Did it hurt? Nope, not all. Does it feel tight? No way. Can you sleep in them OK? Like a baby. 

Despite the grimace, me and my new hair had a wonderful time at Glastonbury

And what happened at Glasto? It went swimmingly (literally, it was very rainy). I didn't think about my hair once and instead put all my focus into standing upright in the mud.

So that's part one of my journey to achieving my natural hair. Once I take the braids out I'll attempt the Curly Girl Method – and having two months of no heat styling will give me a great starting point.

I'll leave you curly haired girls with the words of Baz Luhrmann's Everybody's Free To Wear Sunscreen: 'Never mess too much with your hair / Or by the time you're 40, you'll look 85'.

Be proud, wear your curls and appreciate what nature (and your mother) gave you. And if you are looking to get out of the 'straightened hair' trap, then braids might be the way to go.

With thanks to Errol Douglas London, 18 Motcomb Street, Knightsbridge, London SW1X 8LB, 020 7235 0110, reception@erroldouglas.com. Prices vary, free consultation.

Silke London Hair Wrap, £45. 

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