Celebrity hairstylist Felicia Leather with Kenyan hair stylists in Nairobi. PHOTO | COURTESY
By Carol Odero, Daily Nation
Whenever two or more women are gathered, the conversation will most certainly drift to hair. Perhaps discussing the same things over and over means we missed certain cues.
This is why the last thing I expected Hollywood celebrity hairstylist and inspirational speaker Felicia Leatherwood to unearth when she was in the country is how our cultural and political kinks and knots, mirror relationships between Kenyan men and Kenyan women and women’s relationships with themselves.
Felicia is referred to as “The Hair Whisperer” for her ability to coax each strand to thrive. Clients include Viola Davis, Jill Scott, Will Smith, Terence Howard to Teyonah Parris. I think her superpower lies in what hair stylists are famous for; therapist.
“Our hair is a part of our identity. We focus on it yet there is so much more. That’s why going natural is a journey. It is so important to listen to your thoughts around hair. You will be shocked at the things you learn. Then you will realise it is not even about your hair,” she said at a workshop at DusitD2’s Rouge Deck.
We sing to India Arie’s ‘I Am Not My Hair,’ but it turns out we may, in fact, be just that. Felicia says “Women have self-esteem issues. With women of colour it goes even deeper, almost like someone reached in and scrapped out the good stuff.”
She said women with kinky hair or dark skin girls who got fed last, talked down to or made to feel unattractive, how mothers ill equipped to care for their children’s hair have inside of that frustration, shaped them.
“You hair is not separate from your body. That’s what people don’t understand. It is not just hair. With a child, you are shaping a whole human being and teaching them how to love themselves.”
As we grow older women put in incredible effort with hair. Expressions like ‘the struggle is real’ become mantras.
Felicia says “I think the struggle is more mental than it is physical. It’s about what is going on in your mind.”
True to her inspiring vibe she says, “In the journey, there is a bit of a spark. It grows bigger and bigger, radiates, starts to influence everybody else. That’s why when people look at you they think; I want to look like her. I want what she’s got. Women passing the torch, inspiring each other, it gives me chills.”
Whereever she visits, women will aways seek her out. “They come to me after my talks and cry. It used to make me sad. Now I am happy because I can be there for them, that I have an opportunity to be a part of a community that supports them.”
While here, a young woman sought her out because her father insisted no one would ever love her with her natural hair. It led to arguments at home where she has to wear a straight wig. “For a woman, her father is so important. He is the first relationship you will ever have. If you don’t trust him, who can you trust?”
Ironically, more men approached Felicia than women. “I was so surprised; a lot of your men care about hair. I don’t think I have ever seen that. They said I am inspirational. They hate weaves here. In the US, when weaves first came out, men had the same reaction.
They got used to it when they started looking good. Here men are much more outspoken about women’s hair. But I’m shocked the women aren’t influenced by that. Back home women want to be sexy and beautiful for their men. They ask how to catch a man with their natural hair. In Kenya women are so outspoken men don’t seem to have much of a say. It’s like what they think does not count. I find it very interesting.”
She said men also asked her how to grow hair, prevent baldness and how to talk their women into going natural.
“One man asked me to make a video on his phone for his wife telling her that she was beautiful with natural hair. Kenyan men wish their women would go natural.”
Evidently a woman’s crowning glory is more than the type of hair. “It’s an energy. A confidence. People put so much on the outside. We have something really golden about us and we don’t recognise it.”