Photo: Flickr / Laura D'Alessandro

There’s something Leamington needs to hair

Leamington hairstylers should be catering for diversity, says Henrietta Bennett

Looking into a hairdresser’s window your eyes are drawn to choppy bobs, flowing locks but most of all, to straight, European hair. Going to a European style hairdressers when you have afro/curly hair can be a nightmare. It takes a long time and I developed a look of horror as the chemicals, burning plaques and endless repair treatments were brought out to play. Having grown up in a predominately white country (Luxembourg) as mixed-race, these trips have been a constant feature of my life but it disappoints me to see that Leamington Spa shows the same hair bias as my hometown.

Many fellow mixed-race/Afro-Caribbean readers will understand the constant pressures to style hair a certain way in Western Europe.

Straight hair is more ‘smooth’, ‘desirable’, ‘easier to manage’. These words whirl round our heads without a second thought and we forget that if cared for correctly, curls bouncing round your face can be just as gorgeous. A few weeks ago I had this revelation and decided to go back to my curly roots. It turned out to be a much more difficult task than expected.

I was endlessly researching: “CURLY HAIR HAIRDRESSERS”, “CURLY EXPERT”, “BEST CURLY HAIRDRESSER IN LEAMINGTON”! All these searches came up with the same pictures of diagonal fringes and deals on blow-dries but no options for braids, weaves and smoothing treatments. It wasn’t until I searched ‘Black hairdressers in my area’ that anything useful came up. I managed to find somewhere in Birmingham, but as I strutted back happily with my newly curly hair, an underlying factor irritated me. That search box not only reminded me of the frustration that I’d felt throughout all my hairdressing experiences, it also suggested Leamington was no different to Luxembourg.

For those who haven’t had this experience, it should be understood that I have walked into a “European” hairdressers and come out looking great. Then, the day wears on, and the frizz returns worse than ever. I notice the split ends that the flattering hair salon lights had conveniently hidden and I understand that regardless of the ‘repair’ treatment I had, nothing was going to stop my hair from bouncing back with the slightest bit of moisture. The benefit of Afro-Caribbean hairdressers is that they have experience and understand the frustrations of more textured hair. In Birmingham, I felt comforted by the fact I could openly discuss hair problems without the (now-expected) perplexed looks and awkward giggles of hairdressers trying to gain control of something they don’t know how to handle. But with such a culturally diverse student population it’s a wonder that Leamington does not seem to accommodate for ethnic beauty.

It’s not only at the hairdressers that this occurs, as seen down the endless isles of straight hair products and light foundations in any given make-up shop. It took me a while to realise that however much bronzer I put on top, Sandy Beige is never going to be my colour. I don’t think this is an attack on the darker population, but it begs the question: why do Leamington’s beauty products not cater for the diverse cultural population of Warwick University? Luxembourg is a predominately white country without an obvious enforcement of accepting racial diversity. However, Leamington Spa is home to students from an extremely diverse university in a country where the topic graces the news almost daily. With a 10% non-white population it is fair to say demand is not seemingly high, but this gap in the market could spark a flourishing business for people (such as I) who would appreciate Rimmel stocking a shade darker or two.

The lack of Afro-Caribbean hairdressers in Leamington Spa can lead to many discussions of race and discrimination but that is not the point I want to make. While searching for a hairdressers, hundreds of posts from white British women with curly/afro hair appeared, all unable to find a hairdresser to suit their needs. Just as I felt typecast by the search box, these women felt uncertain as the enforced image of beauty in European style hairdressers showed glamour as sleek, soft and straight. There is a universal demand for knowledge of curly hair, yet the pressures to have poker-straight hair are ever-present.

The gap in the market for more racially diverse hairdressers and beauty products in Leamington Spa should be seen as a fantastic business opportunity.

Providing beauty products to the women who come from all over the world to study at Warwick is to fully embrace the culture seeping through the lanes of the parade. Places like Leamington Spa need to branch out of the safe refinements of straight hair and venture to the curly side. An underlying ignorance seems to be present here that may not indicate racial discrimination, but a lacklustre attempt at diversifying the town’s image of beauty.

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