Celebrity natural hair stylist and specialist Felicia Leatherwood was in the country for a couple of days holding seminars and workshops to show Kenyan women how best to care for their natural hair. When I got news that I could interview her, I jumped at this rare opportunity, first because I have had serious natural hair trouble for as long as I can remember. My hair is the type that won’t grow at the back, at the same time it breaks so much, sometimes I feel like I will wake up one day to a bald head. Secondly, I have seen her works and to say that she is good would be a terrible injustice. From Olivia Davis to Will Smith to Jill Scott, Felicia is amazing at what she does. She is even dubbed the ‘Hair Whisperer.’ She has mastered the art of caring for natural hair and she does it with such skill and excellence. Third, I thought it would be a gold mine for other women like me who have problems growing and maintaining their natural hair.
As we sit to begin the interview at the serene Dusit D2 Hotel, she greets me with such warmth. She has her hair short and dyed a cool purple. For a moment I think about those Nairobi ladies that make us despise using colour on our hair because of how rainbow-ish their braids and weaves look against their skin complexion. Felicia though, makes me want to try out hair colouring as she understands what colours work with her very light-skinned complexion. This is what she had to say.
“Growing up my mum and grandma did not know how to do my hair, so my father would do it and it would hurt a lot. So I would do it myself and I developed a passion for it. I started working on hair seriously in 2000 as a hobby. Then I used to work at BET, but I found it very difficult because of the sexual harassment and lack of control over my life. I did not enjoy working there and eventually I left Warner Bros. for the industry.
I would wear braids and they would choke me sometimes and so one day I decided I was going to wear my afro and I did. And the black men highly disapproved saying I looked bad and that they preferred me in weaves and braids. But I didn’t care. I was happy and that is all that mattered.”
How did you get to be so good in handling natural hair and making it grow?
Through a lot of practice. Anything I do on any of my customers I have done to myself. Every product I use on anyone I have tried on mine so I know how it works and how long a product last and its effect on what type of hair. I enjoy every hair I work on and I crush on every woman with natural hair, whether an afro, twisted, braided or cut short.
Thoughts on women’s hair in Kenya?
I think lots of women in Kenya are hiding their gorgeous natural hair underneath the braids, wigs and weaves. I believe that every African hair is beautiful and should be given a chance to flourish and grow healthy.
Greatest achievement so far?
That would be being here in Africa with you. (Yes, me J) I don’t know whether African women know this but African Americans are displaced. We face a lot of racism in America and we cannot exactly trace our roots in America. It is sad when the same thing happens to us when we come to Africa, the very place where we are supposed to feel at home, and we are segregated as Americans.
To be here in Kenya or Nigeria or South Africa, where people want me to teach, to educate and inspire because I feel accepted and that is a good feeling. Natural hair makes me feel more connected to Africa.
Natural hair commandments?
Number One: Thou shall not use a lie. No lie is a lie. Be true about your hair
Number Two: Thou shall not speak against yourself
Number Three: Thou shall not tear down your self-esteem and natural beauty. Always say the best things you could possibly say about yourself
Common Natural Hair Myths and Misconceptions
That all African hair is the same. The truth is, the kink in our hair varies from person to person. And different products work well with different types of hair. You just need to find what works best with your hair type.
Advice to women about what men think of their hair
When I cut my hair I could only attract men that loved that. I went bald and some men could not even stand to be seen with me, and I would wonder whether they loved me for my hair or for who I was on the inside. You need to be with a person that will stick with you even if you break both your legs. A man that will stand by your side whether you braid, twist, braid, perm or cut your hair short.
What should women do to feel better about and appreciate their natural hair more?
I seek to inspire women all over the world with my short natural hair. It is how you feel inside that matters. Look in the mirror three times a day and say “I love you.” It brings tears to the eyes.