Why These Model's Manes Are So Important

Photographed by Shanita Sims.
If you've been paying attention during the past decade, you'll have noticed a global movement of women truly owning their hair. Be it going natural, choosing rainbow-hued tresses, or opting for a shaved head, women far and wide are shifting away from what's "trending," choosing instead to celebrate their hair with whatever style, color, and cut that excites them. As with many beauty trends, what started on the streets is now spilling onto the runway — and it's a refreshing sight in the high-fashion world.

Backstage, key words like "uniformity" and "straighteners" have been replaced with "individuality" and "air-drying." We're seeing a welcome shift toward celebrating models' hair as something that makes them stand out from the cookie-cutter crowd — whether it's kinky-curly, straight, shaved, dyed, mulleted, or butt-grazingly long. It's all in fashion.

In honor of the non-extensioned, anti-blowdryer, real-hair era in which we're living, we've decided to highlight seven muses who are shifting the conversation away from the one-hairstyle-fits-all mantra. Read on for what they had to say about their relationships with their manes, and let their words (and beauteous pics) serve as inspiration to let your own unique flag fly.
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Photographed by Shanita Sims.
Sunita

How long has your hair been like this?

"I've been natural for the past two-and-a-half years. I've never had a problem with my hair growing. I've cut it a few times in my life, but for the most part, I've always had long hair."

What are some struggles you've had with your hair?
"I grew up in Wisconsin, where everything [is] homogenized. Individuality wasn't really celebrated, and as a child, you don't want to stand out or bring attention to yourself. It took me a very long time to feel comfortable with my hair because I wanted it straight, perfect — no frizz, no fuss."

Was there a point when you started to love it?
"When I moved to New York [was] when I started to get over all of my hang-ups. Living here, you see so many people embracing their natural beauty, so I wanted to do that, too. I got to a point where I stopped fighting what I looked like, and it's a really good feeling when you can own it."

Won Hundred top; Assembly pants.

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Photographed by Shanita Sims.
What products do you use?
"I just use a conditioner — Pantene Curl Perfection. And then, I let it air-dry. When I want my curls to have definition and hold, I use Kinky-Curly Leave-In conditioner and ApHogee Curl Definer."

Do you have problems on set because of your hair?
"I think that people have this perception that if you look a certain way, everything that's on you must be the same as everyone else that looks like you. I think people don't realize that [my hair] is finer than others' with natural hair. It isn't coarse. It doesn't take a lot to manipulate it. You have to look past the person, and just focus on the hair."

Do you feel like you've been an inspiration to other people to go natural?
"I do! I have a friend who told me that I've inspired them to stop blowdrying and flat-ironing their hair. I was on my way down [to this shoot], and someone stopped me on the street and said, 'I follow you on social media! You do your thing!' It feels amazing to know I've inspired someone like that.

"The best thing about what I do is getting to meet fun, amazing people. The people who say I inspire them end up inspiring me. I'm just really excited that natural hair is being embraced, and that people are saying it's okay to have different kinds of hair. I think that the direction we're going in is great."
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Photographed by Shanita Sims.
Victoria

What is your natural hair color?
"I was born with blond hair. My original hair color is dirty-blond — I'm Brazilian on my mother's side and Austrian on my dad's side. About three years ago I bleached it for a story, and I've never gone back."

Do you feel that non-natural hair color is having a moment?
"I do, and I think it's awesome. People are more accepting of it. Three years ago, when I dyed [my hair], it was just the start of that acceptance. There's more freedom now."

Do you book more jobs now that you have this hair color?
"I was actually hesitant to dye my hair at first because I didn't know how people would react. But once I did, I started booking more jobs. And they're a lot edgier. I just did my second cover for Glamour, so I'm very happy about that. I also just did a CK2 ad. I'm happy because I feel like I finally know who I am."

ICB top and skirt; Tarin Thomas earrings; model's own ring.

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Photographed by Shanita Sims.
Have you had bad experiences on set because of your hair?
"I had a very traumatizing experience recently, so now I've really had to take control and let hairstylists know how to deal with my hair. I feel like I always have to be on high alert and ready to let them know if they're messing up. And I'm not afraid to let them know."

How do you take care of your color?
"I actually make my own coconut oil. I'm Brazilian! It's so easy. You crack a coconut, get the shavings out, and then mash them up to get the oil out. I heat that and apply it to my hair once a month before I dye it. I sleep in the mask the night before I go into the salon.

"I also make my own hair mask to help prevent breakage. It's my coconut oil, half an avocado, and then an entire banana. You apply it to your hair and then cover your hair with aluminum foil and leave it on for a bit."

Do you feel like you've been a hair inspiration to others?
"I feel like I've influenced other people to be experimental with their hair. Some of my friends are models, and we're all very quick to judge and be skeptical. I kind of tell them to just do it. It could be the best thing for you, and you don't even know it yet."
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Photographed by Shanita Sims.
Geli

Have you always had natural hair?
"When I was a kid, I always had natural hair. But I had braids. When I was 17, I decided I wanted to perm my hair. I did that for a year and hated it, so then I transitioned to my natural hair. It's been red for about three months now."

Do you feel as though your hair is part of your identity?
"My hair has been natural all throughout my modeling career. It defines me altogether. I'm a very holistic, natural-minded person. I think, This is how my hair looks, this is how it grows, and I'm okay with that. People recognize me because of my hair."

How do people react to your hair?
"People always want to touch it, which is weird because it's short. When people ask to touch my hair, I know they're not trying to be rude. At least they're asking! Some people would just reach out and touch my hair without asking."

Claudia Li dress; Tarin Thomas necklace; Meadowlark earrings.
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Photographed by Shanita Sims.
How do you take care of your hair?
"I'm very minimal[ist]. I just co-wash it...and then either twist it at night for definition or just do a wash-and-go. Sometimes I'll use a leave-in conditioner. Right now, I'm using the As I Am line. I use all of their products. Their leave-in is super-creamy and moisturizing."

Do you find that you're booking more jobs because of your hair?
"Usually I do book jobs because they like my hair as is, and they don't touch it. But sometimes, stylists won't know how to approach straightening Black hair. They won't have the right products, or they won't understand that if you put a gel [in my hair]...it will go back to curly."

So do you feel like the industry still has some catching up to do?
"I mean, when you're in this industry, and there's so many different people, being a great hairstylist is knowing all different types of hair. I think it's the system's fault in terms of not teaching experts how to do different people's hair and makeup.

"What's worse is when [the hairstylists] don't want to admit that they can't do Black hair, so they'll try to do it. Now, I bring products just in case. It's so ridiculous to say that the industry should catch up because we have always been here. The natural hair 'movement' is silly, too, because it isn't a 'movement' to have my hair. It's just my hair."
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Photographed by Shanita Sims.
Elizabeth

Do you think your hair plays a role in your identity or self-expression?
"Since I'm naturally a redhead, all my life my parents told me to never dye my hair. My grandmother had this hair color; nobody else in my family is a redhead. So I really identify with being a redhead and enjoy embracing my color."

What products do you like?
"I love Lush's shampoos. I swear by them. I don't do much to my hair. I take a shower at night, and then I just let it be wild. I like coconut oil, but other than that, I use whatever conditioner...I have."

Do you cut your hair?

"I donated to Locks of Love once. But I haven't cut my hair in a while, and [my agency] hasn't told me to. I'm not sensitive about it, though. If they want to cut it short, then that would be all right with me."

Arthur Arbesser top; Adeam shorts; stylist's own ring.

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Photographed by Shanita Sims.
Do you think having red hair makes you stand out from other models?
"I think so. Somebody told me once that there's always work for redheads, and I was like, 'Okay, that's cool.' Redheads are unique. Some girls dye their hair red, but it's never as vibrant."

Were you always comfortable having red hair?
"No. When I was in middle school, I was so sensitive. I was the only redhead in my grade, so even though I was never picked on, I just felt weird about it. I wanted to dye my hair black and be a little punk."

Was there a point when you started to love it?
"Probably my senior year of high school and going into college. I embraced my uniqueness. My mom is really out there and artistic, so she helped me a lot. She would be like, 'What are you doing, caring about what other people think of you?' So, she always pushed me in the right direction."
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Photographed by Shanita Sims.
Mia

How long has your hair been this way?
"I've had this hair for about three months."

What made you decide to do a bleached pixie like this?
"It's kind of funny, because growing up people made fun of me for 'looking like a boy.' But in New York, this look is very edgy and 'in' right now. I had bob-length hair, and then I did a full-on Miley Cyrus cut that was short on the sides and long on top. I got this haircut when I moved to New York, and it's what got my agency's attention."

Do you find you're getting booked for the look you have?
"I feel like my hair kind of goes in and out of style. Short, bleached hair is a little extreme. I don't know if I'm getting booked for my hair. People either want this kind of look or they don't. Sometimes, it does still work against you. But when I was working in L.A., I had long, blond hair, and I was getting booked on more commercial shoots. Now, I'm booking more editorials and [fewer] lookbooks. Which is good, because that's the work I prefer."

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Photographed by Shanita Sims.
How do you take care of your hair?
"I'm actually kind of terrible at doing beauty-type things, so I really kind of just use some Big Sexy hairspray. I also use coconut oil to help hydrate it. I wash it with Aveda Blue Malva Shampoo and Conditioner to keep my hair from going yellow. I touch it up and bleach it once a month at Cutler Salon in New York."

What do you think you want to do next with your hair?
"I want to do a bunch of crazy things with my hair! I want to dye it green or purple — I'd like to experiment any way I can."
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Photographed by Shanita Sims.
Alisha

Was there a point when you started to embrace your curls?

"Sophomore year was when I started embracing my curls and wearing [my hair] natural. I permed it when I was 17 and then, after two months of it being permed, I was like, I want my curls back. So I did the big chop at like 3 in the morning — it was such an impulsive decision. Eventually I grew it out, and ever since then I've been wearing it this way."

What would you say your hair means to you? Does it play a role in your self-expression or identity?
"Maybe not identity, but self-expression. When my hair is straight, I feel more sleek and sexy, and a little grown up. When my hair is curly, I feel wild and playful, and maybe a little bit mysterious. I like when my hair is curly because I feel most like myself."

Were there periods in your life when you weren't comfortable with your natural hair?

"When I was younger, I didn't know how to deal with my hair too well. My mom is Caucasian, so she didn't really have to deal with curly hair growing up. She never knew how to do it. I started doing my own hair when I was 7, and I was just over it. I was like, Everyone has straight hair; I want straight hair. Once I did a relaxer, it just stayed straight all of the time. But as soon as I did it, I regretted it."

L'Enchanteur necklace.

Lane Bryant 6th and Lane Faux Suede Dress, $108, available at Lane Bryant.
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Photographed by Shanita Sims.
Do you ever have struggles on set with hairstylists not knowing how to do your hair?
"Yes, most definitely. There have been so many times [when] I go to a shoot and I end up doing my own hair, because they just don't know what to do. I always bring my own curling iron — I have it with me now. Hairstylists don't know how to deal with my type of curl, so I'm just like, 'I'll do it, I'll help you out.' And I'll go to the side, so nobody sees me doing it."

Do you usually come to shoots with your hair done?
"I come with it washed and with a little bit of product so the curl holds, especially if they want my hair curly for the day. I try to help them out a little bit, no matter what."

Is it frustrating to know that your counterparts don't have to do those things?
"It used to be frustrating, but now it's kind of like, Well, I can show them how it's done. So, it's kind of fun now. I guess with anything in life, you have to turn it around and make it a good situation."

How does it feel now, with so many people embracing their natural hair?
"I think it's a beautiful thing that more people are embracing their natural hair. It feels better, personally, and it kind of forces you not to care what other people think. Now I'm just like, My curls are free and I love it."
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Photographed by Shanita Sims.
Yao

What does your hair mean to you? What role does it play in your self-expression or identity?
"My hair makes me feel so free and fresh. It's boring to play it safe. I like to have fun with a unique style. My short hair adds character to my face, and it makes me feel more confident."

What are some struggles you've had with your hair?
"My short hair actually gives me some advantages! For example, it takes only two minutes to dry my hair."

What spurred your decision to cut your hair?
"I've been modeling for four years, and I was taught to have long hair for clients, because it was easier to style. But I was very bored with my long hair, and I didn't want to look like everyone else. So, I cut it. I loved my hair immediately, because it was exactly what I want to be — a unique me."

L'Enchanteur earrings.

Adeam Asymmetrical Haori Wrap Top, $530, available at Moda Operandi; Jin Oh Wide Pant, $675, available at Spring.
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Photographed by Shanita Sims.
How has your modeling experience changed since getting the cut?
"A month after I cut my hair, I came to New York to see if there was any chance I could work as a model. I walked into an open call to my agency, and got signed the next day. So, I've had this cut since I started."

Have you influenced friends or others with your cut?
"Yes, some of my friends in the fashion industry love my short hair. They actually thought about changing their hair for a long time, but they didn't do it because it's so safe to look like everyone else. Then, they see my chic, short hair and how it totally changed my style, and some of my friends followed me."
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Photographed by Shanita Sims.
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