Model-Filmmaker Semaj Peltier on Creating Characters Through Her Hair, and Drawing Inspiration From Her Ancestors
In high school, straight hair was her go-to look. “I was rocking the scene-girl look hard,” she says. Orange and red highlights were also heavy in rotation. “I really struggled in this era to feel I was meeting this silly beauty standard and also did a lot of heat damage to my hair.” Her 20s have been all about experimenting with her hair “from a place of joy and expansion of myself,” she says. The conversation between her and her hair has become more lighthearted. “Now we have made some peace and we like to have fun. We embrace the mercurial behavior of one another.”
These days, she draws hair inspiration from her ancestors—“It’s been assuring to witness styles and designs that have existed before me”—as well as horses. Peltier says she’s had an affinity for the equine species since childhood, when she also started riding for fun. “I try to embody their spirit and beauty in my life,” she says. “I love their long hair, their elegance, and the respect they entice from others.”
Peltier credits her mother, who was once a model for Black hair magazines, with showing her the value of experimentation. “I quickly learned from her that experimentation is a lifestyle for Black femmes, and they are often shamed for their uniqueness,” she says. “From her, I learned about the Black beauties before me and the way they adorned and dressed their hair.” Donna Summer in particular inspired her appreciation of bangs, which have become Peltier’s signature look. “Bangs are nearly an essential part of my identity at this point.” She refers to her tight curly bangs and waterfall layers as her “princess” cut, “because I feel so delicate and enchanting with this look,” she says. “There is nothing more beautiful to me than big hair that resembles a raspberry bush in full bloom.”
As for her favorite products, Peltier keeps a simple regimen: Avocurl products offer a deep cleanse, while Garnier Whole Blends Conditioner and Melanin’s hair oil provide moisture. Got2b Glued is her go-to for sleek looks, while her hair pick and Tangle Teezer are staples when it comes to detangling.
Next, Peltier hopes to explore color. “When I had green hair I felt so transformed and free. I’d like to get that feeling again with a different color,” she shares, adding that blue may be next, along with embracing the frizz.
“I’ve gained a lot of confidence in shedding my concerns about the way in which my hair conflicts with the rigid paradigms of whiteness,” Peltier shares of her biggest hair lesson thus far. Allowing herself the freedom to explore different styles has ultimately been a way of honoring her creativity and beauty. “I used to be very self-conscious of my frequent hair changes, but I find a lot of pleasure in the characters I can embody and the auto-fiction of Black hair. I could, through my hair, create any story I want.”
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