In a series exploring the complicated relationships we, as women, hold with our hair throughout our lives, All the Pretty Birds introduces ‘Our Hair, Don’t Care’, an installment series of women we love sharing their personal beauty journeys.
A writer, Master’s graduate from Rhodes University, performer, and musician, Danielle Bowler is a woman with a plethora of talent. She’s also the host of Bloom, a South African-based community for creative women, and recently interviewed our Chief Lover Tamu McPherson. Growing up as a Coloured woman in Kwa-Zulu Natal, the east coast of South Africa, and now calling the bustling city of Johannesburg home, Danielle is also known for her gorgeous hair.
(Do note, Coloured in this context, refers to the Southern African racial identity – you can read more here.)
Meet Danielle Bowler
This month, she chatted with us about her childhood, going natural, and some of her holy grail products for our ongoing series Our Hair, Don’t Care.
All the Pretty Birds: Our relationship with hair starts at a young age – do you have any vivid childhood memories surrounding your hair?
Danielle Bowler: My first memories of hair are having my hair done by my mother and grandmother, who used to twine my hair with strips of pantyhose. I remember the way my mom would nestle me at her feet, early in the morning before school, and the hair food, bobbles, scrunchies, and accessories that would be next to her. She always created really cute styles for school, and when I think about this time, an image of me aged around 7 in perfect pigtails on picture day comes to mind. On weekends, she would often put my hair in rollers, and I remember being attached to the plastic hooded heat of the hair dryer for what felt like endless hours, which was the worst part, but then also the sheer joy of bouncing my curls around the house when they were taken out and dancing in the mirror (I’m clearly a Leo).
But I also remember getting my first relaxer – called a reverse perm – and how much my hair broke in the front during the process, and how complicatedly different it felt, which was the start of a long journey with relaxing my hair and endlessly pursuing having “straight” hair.
ATPB: Growing up on the coast (specifically KZN) in South Africa, were there any particular hair ideals that you felt you needed to abide by?
DB: There were definitely many unquestioned beauty ideals that were embedded in my early relationship with my hair, growing up – which are deeply ingrained in our South African history, particularly with things like the ‘pencil test’ being a part of the apartheid system of racial categorisation and what hair came to mean within that, and the way that this history and legacy have meant that when we are speaking about hair today, the conversation is expansively connected to a connected history of slavery, colonialism and apartheid – which shapes the foundations of our understandings of ourselves, and that continues to assert a strong presence today in hair ideals through texturism, length, racism, and colourism, and many more aspects of being and belonging.
Home is right by the sea, and the coast is really humid. I remember how much the idea of “neat” and “straight” hair shaped how I treated and viewed my hair as needing to be constantly “maintained” through changing its texture was a constant presence in my youthful imagination. There are phrases like your hair “going home”, that refer to it negatively in reverting to its natural state, that reflects this history and these ideals. And while I loved the ocean as a child, I always knew that the joy of a day at sea meant a long washday after.
Hair, in my community, continues to be a profoundly heightened and central site of concern and oppressive ideals that are so deeply linked to multiple aspects of personhood, and how people are viewed and considered. And even as there are discernable shifts towards natural hair in younger generations, this is not without its own problematic beauty ideals that are entangled with these hair ideals.
ATPB: You’ve been natural for a few years – what prompted you to start that hair journey?
DB: Curiosity! I was watching a lot of YouTube as a student, and seeing hair videos produced by people like Shameless Maya, and I started to wonder what my hair texture was like. I was around 22 then, and realised that I had no idea what it naturally looked like – and that realisation really affected me. It was definitely a challenge in the beginning, of trying to question and untether myself from deeply ingrained hair and beauty ideals, but I had a friend who encouraged me on that journey – and I stayed committed to it, as it was also politically important to me. At the same time, it was exciting and new, and without having a conversation with each other, I arrived home to discover that my sister had gone natural at the same time – so we were sharing and learning together, which was wonderful.
ATPB: How has your relationship with your hair changed as you’ve gotten older?
DB: My relationship with my hair has shifted, particularly now to an embrace and love for my hair and everything it does and is, and a commitment to what it requires to be healthy, and experimenting with its vast and exciting possibilities through trying new styles and looks. But it’s also shifted to learning and understanding there are also profoundly oppressive beauty ideals within natural hair that mirror and are connected to the historical ideals I pursued as a child, through its own texturism, colourism, and racism and how that is reflected in the profoundly pervasive depictions and representation of ideals that hold up looser textures and curl patterns within natural hair – which many have pointed to. There has been a deepening of my understanding of the depth of what hair means in the world as an evolving and historical site of politics.
ATPB: Any major hair “mistakes” you’ve made over the years?
DB: I don’t know if I think about them as ‘mistakes’, but more as part of the process of relearning my hair. But something that definitely comes to mind is when I got my hair blown out and straightened a few years ago, and got major heat damage – I haven’t used heat in that way since then.
ATPB: What’s your hair type and what does your wash day routine look like?
DB: My hair type is 3B. My washdays constantly shift, but lately, I’ve been pre-pooing with a mask the night before, and then following that up with a shampoo, detangling with a conditioner and Tangle Teezer, and applying a protein or moisture mask depending on what my hair needs – which I leave on for a while as I go about my day, before washing it out. I then style my hair section-by-section, detangling again as I go, while I apply a leave-in or styling cream, and a gel. I finish the routine with a combination of air-drying and diffusing – after which I sometimes apply an oil.
ATPB: Any particular holy grail hair products you love?
DB: Yes! I love The Perfect Hair by Taryn Gill so much, it’s been a staple in my routine for a while – and I particularly love that it’s made by a WOC in South Africa, who deeply cares about research and development, hair health, and locally sourced ingredients, and constant innovation. Recently I’ve been using their Mango and Marula range and grow-on-the-go oil. Carol’s Daughter Rhassoul Clay shampoo is my go-to cleanser – I love how moisturising it feels and how much slip it has as a shampoo. When it comes to masks – I love Shea Moisture’s Jamaican Black Castor Oil Range and their Manuka Honey mask.
Want to see more? Follow Danielle on Instagram.
All images by Tarryn Hatchett
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