Laurence Sessou: "I Don't Match European Standards"

 
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My name is

Laurence Sessou

(MONIASSE).

I was born in France and my roots are from the West African republic of Benin. I am a black woman with dread locks, tattoos and scarifications. I happen to do some modeling every now and then.

I have been modeling for the past 4 years; it has been great fun. I love being creative and explore how far I can go with my looks. Some people have started calling me the ‘chameleon’. 

I’ve decided to grow locks 16 years ago simply because I wanted to have long hair naturally. I had done so much damage to my hair with perm and weaves,; it was time to embrace my natural crown and decided to lock my hair. The journey with tattooing and scarification started in 2004.

I guess this article is about my experience as a black model with locks and body modifications. 

When I started modeling, it was difficult for me to find photographers that would want to work with me, I was often labeled as ‘too strong’ ‘challenging’ or ‘too edgy’ the list can go on and on. I was aware that my ‘look’ was taking them out of their comfort zone. At first I was taking it personally, I was offended but then with more experience, I realized and respected the fact that you cannot create anything if you don’t feel inspired by what’s in front of you. How can the magic happen otherwise? Inspiration is key to creation.

Luckly I managed to find photographers that were willing to do something different. Most of the time I organize my shoots, I get in touch with designers, MUAs get the team together and we bring ideas to life. 

The reason why I organize my own shoots is because often people think that I can only pull out one look ‘The tribal ethnic warrior’ which is part of who I am but I can also do other things and I had to prove it.

Social media often get frown upon but I am grateful for it because it was an easy non-expensive way to feature my work. I don’t feel I need anyone’s approval to do what I do and if people like what they see, they’ll follow and appreciate something different. 

It would be nice to be making a good income out of it but it hasn’t happened yet partly because I am not represented by a well established recognized agency. I was talking with a couple of my girlfriends the other day about the general beauty standards and how black women were expected to be represented in the fashion industry, we noticed that not one single model with locks had made it mainstream. Not. A. Single. One. Why? Because unfortunately black women are expected to conform and sometimes sacrifice the way they originally look to succeed, our hair in their natural state are often seen as too much, too wild, too messy, unmanageable the list goes on. We have black models with bold heads, weaves and sometimes afros but we still haven’t yet seen a dreads head on a billboard.

I think a lot of it is due to lack of education, locks in my opinion is one of the most misunderstood hair style, the amount of time I was either offered or asked for drugs at parties or festival is insane. I like to think that I am a classy lady, I am a health practitioner, I have graduated in 2007 with a Bsc Natural Therapeutics at the University of Westminster, I’ve been practicing Bodywork and Neuramuscular Therapy for just over 10 years. I do have my little vices, I smoke natural tobacco and I enjoy a glass of whine or ruhm every now and then but I don’t do drugs (not my cup of tea), so I find it offensive when people make such assemptions.  

Wearing locks isn’t just a ‘style’ in my view, it is a way of life, my locks carry so much energy, we have a great relationship I resonate well with them. I was told a few times that I should cut my hair, that way I’d get more work, it would be easier to style me and I’d be more versatile; to some extend, it is true but it would also mean that I would blend with everybody else and this idea does not appeal to me. I like to be an individual and authentic. It took me 16 years to grow my locks, I love them. I’d only consider cutting my hair if I felt my connection with it was off, or maybe one day I’d just fancy a big change, who knows but the idea of cutting my hair to get more work is like saying I am not enough the way I am, it doesn’t feel right. It is part of my identity and I am not quite willing to compromise it.