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Hairstyle Influences of R&B Stars

In June of this year, a judge in the United Kingdom ruled that a school’s ban on a young boy’s cornrows was “indirect racial discrimination.” The High Court ruled against St. Gregory’s Catholic Science College, a secondary school in North London, England.

In September 2009, the Boy, known as “G,” was refused entry on his first day for breaking the strict uniform policy. It is reported that the school was concerned that some hairstyles represented the gang culture in the area. The school, which is rated as excellent by the regulator Ofsted, allegedly prefers hairstyles with a short back and sides. It apparently also bans fully shaven hair, to avoid the skinhead look associated with right wing racist groups.

R Kelly

Have stars such as R Kelly popularised cornrows for males?

The court was reportedly told that cornrows were part of G’s family tradition and that he had not cut his hair since birth. The family’s attorney, Angela Jackman, from Maxwell Gillott, said: “…St Gregory’s Catholic Science College operates a policy which does not fully comply with current equalities legislation. We believe it discriminates against boys of African heritage by disregarding a widely recognized cultural practice.”

The case caused widespread debate with some saying that all pupils should have to comply with such uniform policies to enforce discipline, and that the ban would apply in countries such as Jamaica.

Since I was a young girl, and still to this day, I have occasionally worn cornrows. However, I recall men and boys adopting the look being a more recent thing in England–hairstyles with a short back and side being more popular when I was growing up. I think the way boys wear their hair owes something to their cultural heritage dating back to Africa or the Caribbean, but it also owes something to fashion and to their cultural icons.

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Hair raising tips for your child’s hair

Hair artist Marcia Hamilton has famously worked with ten-year-old Willow Smith, whom she accompanied on tour with Justin Beiber in March. The sophisticated hairstyles which Smith has sported in her Whip Your Hair back video have led to some critics asking if hairstyles should have age certifications. Below is Hamilton’s guide to the rules to follow and break with your child’s hair.

Marcia Hamilton

Marcia Hamilton by Kawai Matthews (


As well as the wide tooth comb, the hair oil and the satin headscarf, managing your child’s hair takes time and attention; enter the hairdresser who can help define your child’s hair texture and treatment for it. Hamilton says: “I think parents should take their child to a professional at least every three or four months to have their hair conditioned and trimmed. Hair like ours tends to get dry very quickly and when you comb the hair it breaks because it’s so brittle and you get split ends and your hair will never have the chance to grow.”

There are other advantages to working with professionals as Hamilton explains: “A hair stylist lets you know where your child’s hair is at; I think sometimes parents get very busy and that child is left combing their own hair. I remember one of my friends decided to trust her daughter to take care of her hair. One day she combed it herself and found a dread in the back so we need to definitely keep on top of what’s going on!”


In these austere times, paying a hairdresser can be hard so it is important for parents to familiarise themselves with the best products to use. Hamilton does not endorse any specific brand but she has advice about the ingredients you should look for. She says: “You want to choose a moisturising conditioner. Depending on the styles you do on your child’s hair, I would suggest you go a little more natural. Because your child’s hair is so gentle and sensitive, you should sulphate-free shampoo so that the natural oils aren’t stripped out of the hair.”

For a moisturising conditioner and sulphate-free shampoo try Phillip Kingsley’s Moisture Extreme shampoo and conditioner which have been created specifically for all variations of ethnic hair.

Moisture Extreme Shampoo £14.30

Moisture Extreme Conditioner £17.40


Pigtails and canerows no longer define little black girls. Increasingly their emblems are relaxers. Hamilton says: “I think as far as relaxing hair goes, if you’re not a teenager I don’t think you should because your hair structure has not fully developed yet. I think that before applying harsh chemicals you should definitely give it a minute.”

All types of pressure on the hair should be minimised from heat to tight hair bands. Hamilton explains: “Over my years I’ve noticed children who get their hair pulled too tightly starting to develop traction alopecia – thin hair around the perimeter of their head. Parents, do your self a favour and don’t brush or pull so tightly.

“When you’re getting braids be more gentle around the hairline and make bigger sections. Try different styles so not to get their hair accustomed to one thing and to avoid traction alopecia.”

With new young style icons emerging such as Willow Smith, parents are facing dilemmas about how to style their children’s hair. Smith is a singer and actress with superstar parents. Surely this gives her a license to have extreme hairstyles? Hamilton says: “When working with Willow, I usually like to create on what she is feeling in that moment depending on if it’s a red carpet event or if it’s a photo shoot. I build around the wardrobe and I build around emotions.”

Hamilton is almost emotional about the styles she has witnessed in the UK. “People in England just have a sense of their own style and they have and individual look as oppose to that cookie cutter look.”


It can be hard for parents to admit that their child is growing up and leaving the cookie cutters behind. Sometimes we forget how much expression is a part of growing up. Hamilton say’s: “In 2011 I think a girl should be as expressive as she wants to be. If parents are more conservative they will guide their child in that direction. But I think that sometimes as parents we tend to impose on our kids what we feel and I think it’s important to listen to our children and keep an open mind. If they want to dye their hair flaming red; they’re six-years-old, you find a middle ground. Instead of dying her hair red like coolade, do a few streaks and play around. If a child wants to experiment with colour, instead of going full on with a permanent colour, you can experiment with cellophane and semi-permanent.

“Don’t give your ten-year-old daughter weave down her back but if she wants hair falling down her back, think about having braids. Find the middle ground in creating an age-appropriate style for a child.

“I definitely encourage parents to find some way that their kids can express themselves in beauty as opposed to in other ways. When kids don’t get what they want one way they go in another direction.”


I love my hair

I love my Hair: TM and © 2011 Sesame Workshop. All Rights Reserved. Photographer: Zach Hyman.

In October 2010 the I Love My Hair song debuted on an episode of Sesame Street. The unnamed puppet with an Afro who sang an ode to her hair became an Internet sensation.

Joey Mazzarino, the head writer of Sesame Street, was inspired to write the song for his adopted Ethiopian daughter, who he noticed had reservations about her hair. Though the song touched adult and child alike in the virtual community, in the real world there continues to be conflict about definitions of ‘good’ hair.

Hamilton sees a correlation between hair and self-esteem. She says: “With your kids, you always need to let them know that what they possess is amazing and beautiful. Work with what they have instead of trying to get something totally different and teach them to love their own hair and to love themselves.

“I have clients that are in their forties that have had a relaxer since they were twelve-years-old and when I try to tell them well ‘let’s try something different’, they look at me like I’m crazy. Ever since they were twelve-years-old they were brainwashed that having kinky hair is not beautiful. So for me to suggest that to them at forty is like oh no! So if you start from when they’re young then you won’t run into these problems when they are older.”

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Good hair gone bad?

Brixton’s Ritzy Cinema is buzzing with excitement ­– the foyer is overflowing with people keen to watch, or re-watch, Good Hair – Chris Rock’s inspired documentary, which won the Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. To add to the electrifying atmosphere, ‘the Rock’ is in the building and will be fielding questions after the film.

Powerful as it is, the film is informative, provocative and of course hairlirious! Rock is a natural documentarian and it should come as no surprise considering that his stand-up has always involved social commentary.

On this occasion black hair is under the microscope. Rock has faced a backlash from some who complain that he is washing ‘our dirty linen in public’. Indeed his appearance on the Graham Norton show in May caused a stir when he commented on Michelle Obama’s hair. Some felt that this was out of line and he was somehow exposing her.

Now while no woman would want all their beauty secrets revealed, black women shouldn’t feel ashamed about dying their hair, wearing weaves, wigs or hair pieces because such hair options are increasingly used by women of all ethnicities. Hairdresser Andrew Collinge commissioned a survey, which revealed that the average British woman changes her hairstyle 104 times in her lifetime. The main reasons being “boredom'” with their current look or the end of a relationship.

However, the film can easily be misunderstood. At the Ritzy when a white man stood up to ask Rock a question, he wanted to make himself heard amid the background noise. He jokingly referenced his own hair saying “Good Hair” as a license to speak. As the pantomime boos erupted Rock warned him that the place was liable to descend into a football match…

The idea has often been kicked around that black women wear weaves etc because they want to meet western standards of beauty and have issues with identity. In the film Rock passes no judgment but he has said that if the film could make one difference, he hopes kiddie perms could be removed from shelves.

“When it comes to kids you do go, ‘Wow! Are you nuts?’ The little girl in the chair with all that relaxant (sodium hydroxide) in her hair! And she wasn’t even crying. She’s had so much of it that she’s actually used to it. Her head has a high tolerance for burning. Stuff like that makes me go, ‘Why are you putting that in a little girl’s hair?”

Chris Rock

Chris Rock oversees an early application of relaxer

The film was inspired by Rock’s daughter Lola who asked, ‘Daddy, how come I don’t have good hair?” But the kernel for the film was planted years before. He says, “It was over 20 years ago, and I was in Atlanta and I stumbled across the Bronner Bros hair show. I thought straightaway that it was a movie, but back then they weren’t doing funny documentaries. There was no reality TV shows. No Internet. It was another world. So you jump ahead to now, and my daughters are having hair issues, saying, ‘How come I don’t have good hair?’ meaning, hair like they see in the media, not African hair, and I start to think, Maybe I can do a movie about that hair show now?”

But what is Good Hair? It has often been perceived as hair that is manageable and long. Biblically, your hair is your crown and glory. Imagine if you had alopecia or lost your hair due to chemotherapy, wouldn’t you simply miss your own hair whatever it was like? It is true that weaves and extensions can damage your hair through causing undue tension. Pictures of Naomi Campbell in June were testimony to this fact.

Renee Lagrange of the Black Hair Clinic in Harley Street is a Trichologist specialising in black hair, she says, “Good Hair is by definition healthy hair which will retain length and full density. The key to healthy hair is hydration. If you want “Good Hair” you have to work hard at it and be consistent.”

Hair can be a delicate subject but Rock, who has sported several hairstyles over the years including Jheri Curl, is never one to shy away from controversy. He makes jokes about public personas such as Prince.

Rock says, “… You don’t want to hurt anyone. I knew people would all be sensitive about their hair. So no one got hurt. Unless Prince is mad. But I haven’t spoken to him in a while…

“When I’m doing a show, I think a show where people are a little pissed off in the middle is a better show then a show where everybody’s just laughing mindlessly for a whole hour. I want them happy, I want them sad, and I want them clapping, and booing. That’s a show. That’s a journey.”

In the film, several celebrities speak candidly about hair including Salt n Pepa, who reveal where Pepa’s distinctive asymmetric hair style evolved from and Nia Long who debates the impact of hair and dating. Rock has had longstanding relationships with many of the celebrities, and his credits as a Director and Producer on his show Everybody Hates Chris meant that few said no, but there were exceptions.

Chris Rock in the salon

Would you say no to Chris?

“I tried to get Diana Ross, because a lot of people talked about Diana Ross on camera. But we had to cut it out in the end, because she didn’t want to do it, and it didn’t seem right to have them talking about her without her commenting on it. Plus, it’s a documentary, and you’re asking for people’s time, and you’re not paying them for it. Someone like Diana Ross has a right to stay in her house.”

But it is not only stars that are contributing to America’s multi-billion dollar black hair industry. Rock encounters everyday people on his whistle stop tour through beauty salons and barbershops who invest a lot of money in weaves.

Members of the audience at the Ritzy wondered if Rock was moved to invest in the infrastructure of the industry and move it out of the hands of Asian business people but as Rock said, it is literally their hair that is being sold!

His most intriguing characters are part of the hairstyling battles that were reminiscent of the Afro Hair and Beauty Show. But while they make you smile, the people he meets in the scientific laboratories that demonstrate the destructive nature of relaxers or ‘creamy crack,’ and his visit to an Indian temple to see where the human hair originates, makes you wonder if the sacrifices are worth it.

Perhaps the most disturbing scene is when Rock goes into a hair shop and tries to sell real Afro hair and they decline his offer saying it wouldn’t sell. I was saddened when I once saw young girls on the bus mocking a girl because she had her hair out in an Afro and they felt it was unkempt. I wondered if we as their elders owed it to them to embrace our natural selves and remind them how beautiful it can be.

It would be sad if the next generation sees the iconic symbolism of Angela Davis’ Afro as passé. In the film, a young student said an Afro would not be suitable for the workplace. But an Afro should be seen as empowering not threatening. This was a sentiment that I tried to express in my poem I am My Hair published in Nicole Moore ‘s Hair Power Skin Revolution.

Rock did not set out to define what good hair is but why his daughter felt the need to ask the question. He doesn’t tell women how to wear their hair noting that both his wife and mother had relaxed their hair at sometime, the film is not a crusade to encourage black women to grow locks. Instead he encourages women to do what feels right for them.

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