In honor of Black History Month, The Tease will be bringing Black excellence to the forefront with inspiring stories from Black tastemakers, innovators, and creatives in the hair industry who are changing the game and inspiring others to do the same. Their impact, power, and creativity in the hair industry is undeniable and we celebrate them!
Tinisha Meeks knows a thing or two about crafting memorable hair moments. As the hair department head for Grown-ish, Meeks is constantly dreaming up incredible natural hairstyles for Yara Shahidi’s character, Zoey Johnson, to rock each episode. From beaded bangs to hair puffs and braided ponytails, this talented hairstylist never ceases to amaze us.
For those who don’t know, Meeks has been celebrating all textures of hair on-screen for most of her career, having worked on a number of beloved TV shows such as Scandal, Black-ish, and K.C. Undercover. But, even off-screen, she’s just as dedicated to helping women look their best with her hair salon, Sparkle Hair Imports.
Meeks recently spoke to The Tease and spilled all the tea on styling Shahidi’s hair for the show, her favorite on-set hair products, and the state of Black hair representation in Hollywood.
The Tease: How did you first get started doing hairstyling for major TV shows?
Tinisha Meeks: My first job was actually working on K.C. Undercover. From there I went to work on Black-ish, but I’ve always wanted to do hair on TV. I grew up seeing all the nice hair on shows like Moesha and thought one day, I’m going to put my hairstyles out there and have little kids wanting to recreate them. So, it was always a goal of mine. I met actress Tangi Miller some years back and she had a problem finding people to do her hair type. She actually helped me to get in the union.
Did you start doing hair for TV right away or did you work in the salon first and then transitioned into that area of hairstyling?
Meeks: I’ve had my own salon for at least 15 years now and so back then, I had a salon. I was doing hair in the salon and then I would do some music videos and print work and stuff like that. It was a while before I was able to get into the union to actually do things for television and movies.
You worked on Black-ish before heading up the hair department on Grown-ish. Having worked with Yara Shahidi previously, did having that initial foundation from Black-ish help you in any way with the hairstyling that you do now on Grown-ish?
Meeks: Yeah, because her character was already established in who she was. So, it was easy when she got her own show to keep that going and to still keep her hair up in the same way. During my first season on Black-ish, I actually didn’t do Yara’s hair. The next season when I became her hairstylist, we decided not to use any heat on her hair and were just going to go with natural hairstyling from then on. So, from season 2 of Black-ish till now, we’ve just been doing her natural hair and it’s been great.
When it comes to styling the hair on Grown-ish, what really goes into your thought process for selecting a specific hairstyle for Yara Shahidi’s character Zoey and where does the inspiration come from for you? Does it start with the script?
Meeks: It always starts with the script because we have to break down the script and see what the producers and the writers see for her. Sometimes it is written in the script what they want to see for her and sometimes it’s not. We always try to make their vision come true, but when it’s not in the script and we’re just going by the ideas that I have, it depends on what’s going on in the script. Is it a party? Is it not? Is it just everyday school? Is she in the bed? You know all that stuff plays a part in what her hair is going to look like because we definitely want it to be true to everyday life. Like, you’re not going to be in bed without a headscarf or not wrap your hair at night. We always try to stay true to how we really live and what really goes on in our world.
And, I try to do hairstyles that I love or that I see. I pull inspiration from magazines, runway shows, Pinterest, and wherever. You know, it could be someone just walking down the street and I’m like, “Oh, that’s great! I’m going to put a twist on that.” I always try to stay current in what everybody’s doing and keep her up-to-date and modern.
How were you able to create or define the hair story for the other major characters on the show like Ana, Nomi, Jazz, Skye, Viveck and Aaron?
Meeks: For the other characters, again, you get the first script and you envision who that character is or what the producers and writers want to see that character wearing. You want to bring the character to life, so each character has their own story.
Jazz and Skye are athletes and they’re always in practice. Of course, they have their party nights and we try to do their hair up on those kinds of days and the days when they’re at school. So, we always have a good ponytail style or headband for them because they’re athletes and nine times out of ten, your hair is not always going to be styled because you’re an athlete. We try to stay true to who they are.
With Ana, she’s more conservative so we don’t make her hair over the top and usually give her a nice hairstyle. Nomi is always fun and we try to portray that in her hair. It’s the same with the guys. Trevor [Jackson] and his rat-tail is always written in the script, so we always try to play on that. With Viveck, we try to add a little color on him just to give him some extra pizzazz because he’s that guy. You know what I mean?
What can fans of the show expect with the hairstyling for the upcoming season 4?
Meeks: We always try to do something different from season to season. Right now, we’re about to go into season 4 which is senior year. Senior year is going to be fun. We want to grow them up and make it look different from the beginning to now. We want to elevate the characters.
You’ve designed so many amazing hair looks for the show. Is there any one hairstyle that you are most proud of or that really stands out to you?
Meeks: There’s a style that we did that was a twist on this African hairstyle where she had beads in the front with an updo. We changed it up a little bit and put the loops on the beads. That was super fun for me because we had looked at it for a while and were hoping to do it one day, but everything always has to line up with script and the timing since we don’t get a lot of time in the trailer. We get like 30-45 minutes tops, so I have to have enough time to do the hairstyle. It also has to be on an episode where she doesn’t have a lot of changes because that would mean that I would have to take it down and put it up and take it down, which would cause a degree of difficulty. So, sometimes the hairstyle depends on timing and what we can do in an episode.
We were so excited to finally get an episode where she was pretty much in the same hairstyle for the entire episode. We were like, “Now is the time that we’re going to finally do this hairstyle.” We did it and it just came out great! It was so exciting and I loved to see people recreate it. I saw a little girl, who was probably eight or nine, recreate it on herself and it was amazing to me because that was a moment I always dreamed of —having little girls look at a hairstyle and say, “I’m going to do that!”
When it comes to working on set, are there any hair products that you swear by?
Meeks: Of course! I actually developed my own hair oil —a hair growth oil called Diamond Drops (available for purchase here). I developed it just for Yara and a few other people to keep their scalp healthy and stimulated throughout the day. We do a lot of hair changes and for me, healthy hair is key. It’s the same thing that I’ve been using on Yara’s hair since season 2. I’ve finally packaged it and I’m now selling it online. I use it every season and her hair grows, even if she cuts it off really short. By the end of the season, it’s really long. My testament to the product are the actors. Chloe and Halle and all the people that I use it on are always like, “I need to buy it. You better have my bottle!” So, that’s one thing that I always have.
And, I say this all the time, but the things that I can’t live without are water and a spray bottle. Without that spray bottle and that water, my job would not get done. 99% of it is water because you don’t need a lot of product to keep your hair healthy. I use a good edge tamer for those edges, always. That’s my thing. A good spray bottle, water, and a nice brush —that’s what I need to go through the day. I also use the Dyson blow dryer a lot. I love it and I love the attachment. It works faster and better than a lot of other blow dryers. Those are pretty much my key items that are in my kit.
In Hollywood, the need for hairstylists who can work on Black hair has been a huge topic of conversation. What can you share about Hollywood’s Black hair problem on set?
Meeks: I think that we definitely owe it to our actors and our producers and the people that we work for nowadays because it’s a lot different now than it was back then. When I came on, Kenya Barris [creator of Black-ish and Grown-ish] gave me the space to create these incredible looks, but he was also like, “Let’s make sure that it’s true to how it is and that they’re hair is cared for. We want to create the looks but we also want to have someone there that knows what they’re doing.” People like him is why things are really starting to get better. Just look at Viola Davis as Annalise Keating and Olivia Pope! All these hairstylists that do all these beautiful styles that we see everyday —before, it wasn’t a thing. We can thank our celebrities and our producers and all the people that are like, “Hey, she needs her hair to be cared for. She needs a proper stylist that will do her hair and we need to get this person into the union.” If not for Kenya Barris or someone like that, I wouldn’t even be doing Grown-ish. He definitely takes note of my talents and fights for me. I’m sure it’s like that for plenty of other people that are in a space that I am and are able to work with actors that need extra care with their hair.
Have you noticed a difference in how Black hair has been portrayed in TV and media since you first started out?
Meeks: It’s a lot different. I don’t want to keep on sounding like a broken record, but nowadays, it’s down to the director or the producer. Whoever it is, they see the need for wanting their vision to come to life and they take care in those things —in the little details, like hair. Before, that wasn’t an issue. We weren’t valued in that area as much. Nowadays, the people like Kenya Barris and other producers are like, “We need this look, but we need somebody that can really execute it.” That gives us an opportunity. Before, we weren’t given those opportunities. It was whoever was in the union that could do it. They would do it and whatever you get, you get.
Actors, they want to look nice. They want to feel great. If your hair isn’t nice, then you might not give your best performance. It’s very important to have somebody around that has experience doing your type of hair or plenty of different hair textures. For me, I love all textures of hair —straight, curly, coily, and wavy. I feel like with any hairstyle, it doesn’t matter your texture of hair because it’s just manipulation. People are often like, “You can’t do that with 4C hair,” and I’m like, “Yes, you can! It’s just that you have to take your time and figure it out.” Any type of hair can be manipulated into any style. That’s how I feel and I’ve always been like that.
What’s your message for other Black creatives who want to create their own space or make an impact in the hair industry?
Meeks: From my own experience, I would say to never give up. Also, you have to put it out there. I’m not big on social media and I hate posting and all that stuff. My kids even tell me, “Mom, you need to post. You need to get yourself out there.” If you’re a person that doesn’t mind posting, you need to get yourself out there because trust me, people are seeing it. The gift that you have, the world needs to see it. Find out what you need to do to accomplish your goals and each day set out to do it. Don’t give up because nobody can stop you from doing whatever it is that you want to do. Giving up is our worst failure. Don’t give up and you’ll get there. The world is waiting to see that gift that God gave you, so just get out there and show it to them?
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
To see more of Meeks’ work, be sure to follow her at @sparkyourhair on Instagram.