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Fur We Love: Tessa Houstoun

Posted by: Sara Jane Emmons
05.24.19

This post is part of an ongoing series called Fur We Love, where we focus on people's relationship to their hair and the routines they've built around haircare. This week, we talked to Tessa Houstoun, a DC based artist and writer, about finding the humor in waxing nightmares, the journey to self-acceptance, and Gaby Hoffmann's eyebrows.

Tessa Houstoun pictured next to her watercolor artwork.

What are some of your hair care and grooming routines for hair all over?

I started waxing my body hair in 7th grade. My mom dragged me to the very dingy basement of a hair salon to be waxed by a Georgian woman named Maka, who asked me what ‘shape’ I’d like my pubic hair in. “For boyfriend,” she said, “lightning bolt?”

My mom, a Persian woman, knew that starting at a certain age, she’d have to give her daughters the strict talk about no shaving above your knee, leaving your arm hair be, and cleaning your bikini line the proper way, to avoid ingrown hairs and itchiness.

For a while, I was bound to waxing upper thighs, bikini, happy trail, eyebrows, and upper lip, always running the risk of ingrown hairs. Only recently have I made the beautiful discovery of an electric body hair trimmer/razor! No longer paying $50 every 4 weeks, I’m easily trimming my own thigh hair.

As for my eyebrows, lips, armpits, vagine, and happy trail, they are all left happily untouched.

Image by Tessa Houstoun, depicting her wax.

What hairstyles makes you feel the most confident?

At first, I wrote “AU NATURALE” with a declarative period at the end. And then I realized that was a complete lie.

I do like to shave my legs, letting them grow out in between periods, so it’s even more of a treat. That's when I’m craving a clean-shaven, soft to the touch look.

When it comes to the presence of hair, rather than lack thereof, I’ve grown to truly love my dark, thick, hairy armpits. We really aren’t talking cute tufts of blonde hair that have become a fashionable statement and can only be seen when the light hits them just so, we're talking being able to see my armpit hair even when my arms are at my sides. I now feel most confident when I feel like I’ve taken the most control over my body. Whether that control means grooming and trimming my hair or letting it grow naturally and unruly depends on the day.

 Watercolors by Tessa Houstoun

Was there ever a time you didn't feel comfortable with your head or body hair?

Noooo, I’ve always been comfortable with having coarse black hairs sprout out of every pore on my body, only to have women, whose names I didn’t know, rip them from my skin, while begging me to let them wax my arms for free ;) But what really made me most comfortable was when high school boys asked what was on my leg in class (it was left over purple wax that took days to come off). Or when they’d ask why my hair felt the way it did. Well, boys, it felt that way because I put so many products in it trying to make it thinner and straighter that all the products congealed and dried together to make a stiff plastic-y texture.

But in all seriousness, enjoying and accepting my hair is new to me, relative to the span of my life.

 

What's one trick that always works for you?

Being constantly near an ocean so you can dip your hair in salt water to give it a naturally tousled summer look.

My hair changes every day, so I don’t know what “tricks” there really are except pulling my hair up in a bun (when even that can somehow look off).

Actually, I’ll say washing my hair less! We need natural oils, especially thick hair. Your hair may go through a greasy phase when you first start washing it less, but once it adapts, it's much healthier and fuller.

 Tessa Houstoun

How has your relationship to your hair changed over time?

Well, it went from a deep hatred to a profound respect over the course of 10+ years, so it’s been a journey. It went from wanting all hair on my body to be permanently erased, to wanting it visible, strong, and protective. I find myself increasingly comfortable with the fact that the way I want my hair to look or be changes often, and knowing that I can play with that aspect of my look and identity is thrilling.

 

Do you have a hair icon or someone in your life you look to for inspiration?

In 6th grade, my hair icons were the blonde girls in my grade whose silky ribbons matched the texture of their hair. NOW, it’s anyone who wears their hair (body, head, etc.) proudly. I'm particularly inspired by Gaby Hoffmann's eyebrows.

 Gaby Hoffmann

What do you love the most about your hair? 

The journey between me and my hair has given me a way better sense of humor and self-deprecation. That’s the big up side of hating a part of yourself! Thanks to being vulnerable and self-conscious for many years, I now respect my hair and its many secrets.

Also, I have always thought that because my hair is so thick, if I ever start thinning, I’ll be left with an average amount of hair. So, in some ways, it’s always good to have an abundance.