Sorry, I'm a Mammal: Interview with Tish and Snooky, Founders of Manic Panic (pt. 2)
Interview: Shaina Joy Machlus
Photos: Meg Wachter
Read part one: here
Imagine a big, black, plastic bucket filled halfway with household cleaning bleach patiently sitting on the tiled floor of a family bathroom in NJ. Now picture a person, around age 13, with straight hair just below the shoulders, standing in said bathroom. Finally, visualize this person flipping their head upside down and dunking the better half of the aforementioned hair into that aforementioned bucket of bleach.
Not my best hair decision, but honestly, also not my worst (at home bang trims, ehem). I wanted to color my hair something outrageous and had heard somewhere that the first step was bleach; hence the bucket situation. Upon lifting my head out and seeing half of my hair literally disintegrated, it became clear that 1. There are special bleaches made for hair 2. I look great with short hair 3. People will go to extraordinary lengths to be able to express a little of who they are with their hair.
We have all had the life changing experience of having a haircut and/or color that magically makes us feel more ourselves. As a teenager, my weekly march to Sally’s beauty to buy another do-it-yourself piercing kit and hair color jar became an integral part of finding where I fit into the world. What became clear walking down those aisles was that I was not a blond, nor a brunette, nor a red head; the regular dye boxes just could not appease my hormonal soul.
Being very curious and equally angsty, I found myself buried in books, learning about a world I was desperate to change. Valerie Solanas, Emma Goldman, Susan Sontag, bell hooks, Virginia Woolf were my heroes for their fearless dedication to shaping the world around them, instead of letting it shape them. My hair was like a flag of refusal to “conform”, I thought of it something like the banner Joan of Arc carried into battle. I proudly got detention after detention for coming in with bright blue, pink, purple, green, hair. If you were a teen in the 90s you know, there was only one brand that could truly shock school administration into endless, consecutive detentions (and ultimately, expulsion): all hail the power of, Manic Panic.
Read any of the other pieces from this series and you will find, I am a hairy person. Because I happen to also be a woman person, my abundance of hair was not something that always made me feel secure (and if I am being honest, at times still does not). Learning how to continually accept and use my hair is something that takes time and energy. It has been a long but surprisingly linear journey; top to bottom. What started with a bucket and the hair atop my head, lead me to keep working downwards. Experiencing the freedom of doing whatever I wanted with my head hair helped me gain the courage to do the same with things like not shaving my armpits or my legs, being proud of my mustache, venturing to the beach with some pubic hair peaking out, only plucking my nipple hairs when I am really, really bored. And wildly enough, this freedom to find my physical self a bit outside of the patriarchal standards can all be traced back to those first gooey tubs of Manic Panic.
So, it should come as no surprise that I jumped at the opportunity to talk with the creators of Manic Panic, Snooky and Tish. I wanted to dig into the big picture of hair and beauty standards; think about the ways we treat different hairs on our body differently; talk to two women who have built a career of stepping outside the lines and giving others the permission to do so themselves.
Finally, in the hopes that no other 13-year-old need suffer a similar fate as myself, the folks at Manic Panic created an incredible “How-to” for armpit hair coloring, just in time for summer. And please, please, please share your own hair color photos and stories in the comment section. We especially want to see the after photos from anyone who uses the armpit hair tutorial!
What made you both initially start thinking about working with hair and when did you both start altering your own hair?
When we were young kids, our teenage cousin Jeannie would do our hair, giving us these elaborate lacquered beehive hairdos, which we thought were the coolest things ever. She used tons of hair spray, which I became obsessed with—it’s all I wanted for my 10th birthday!
When was the first time you saw someone dying or altering their hair?
Our mother had grey/salt and pepper hair and she dyed it blond when she was going back to work. It was quite a shock to see our mother looking so glamorous!
Who and what have been your biggest inspirations?
Our mother, our friend Cleo Rose, the band Blue Coupe, (Dennis Dunaway, Al & Joe Bouchard,). All of Italy, Paris, Machu Picchu Peru, New Orleans and New York City! Anything vintage or antique, all of nature especially animals and especially animals with whiskers!
Is there a difference between altering your hair to be a color like brown, blond, etc and green, purple, etc? Why?
Yes, there's definitely a difference! Coloring your hair green, purple, etc. is much more of a statement and so much more fun! Color can change your world. It's therapy!
Can you talk a little bit about grey hairs?
There's no shame in going grey––it happens to almost everyone and as a matter fact, gray is the trendiest hair color right now! If you do want to color your grey, go with a darker Manic Panic shade. Grey hair can be strong and sometimes resistant to color so if you want to go pink try a darker pink or fuchsia. Or you can bleach your gray hair first to achieve the exact shade in the Manic Panic jar.
How to dye your (armpit) hair!
For full instruction on how to bleach & dye your hair (anywhere) check out their full detailed tutorial!
1. Apply To Dry Hair
Empty the desired amount of Manic Panic Hair Color into a plastic bowl (approximately half a jar for short hair, a full jar for longer locks).
Using a tint brush, apply the hair color, starting half an inch from the scalp and working it evenly through, all the way down to the ends. Then, from the nape of the neck where the hairline begins, work upwards through the hair. Make sure all of your hair is saturated with color.
2. Comb Color Through Until Frothy:
Once the hair is frothy, this indicates that the dye has been thoroughly absorbed. Lighter shades of Manic Panic Color may need extra combing to achieve maximum penetration and longer lasting color.
Leave the dye on for at least 30 minutes or longer to process. At room temperature, 30 minutes is the average time for Manic Panic Hair Dye to process. Infra-red heat lamps can reduce processing time by about 5 to 7 minutes and can help towards deeper coloration. For resistant hair it’s advised you cover the hair with a plastic cap and leave for an hour or longer to process.
3. Rinse Hair With Cool Water, Away From Face:
No after-treatments are required with Manic Panic Hair Color products.
4. Keeping It In: Manic Panic semi-permanent hair color is made from vegan friendly ingredients and uses no animal products. It coats the hair follicles best when used on porous hair, such as that which has been bleached, lightened or processed. Results may vary depending on the condition of the hair when dyed.
Why do you think dying ones’ hair an "unnatural" color has been seen as a sign of rebellion and have you seen this change over recent years?
Dying one's hair an unnatural color has been used and seen as an act of rebellion because it's a fast, easy, blatant but harmless way to make a bold statement. In the early days of Manic Panic, it was also dangerous. We were the subject of ridicule, derision and abuse for years. Now it's safe––it's everywhere form the sidewalks to the catwalks!
How does "unnatural" hair color relate to body hair and the expectations of women to look a certain way?
People are coloring their armpit hair and "hair down there" with "unnatural colors," and it seems to evoke a similar kind of reaction to when people started dying their hair on their heads unnatural colors years ago; shock, anger, disbelief, etc. It's fun! It's funny! Why should women feel they need to shave their armpits? And if they don't, why shouldn't they color it?!
Would you like to share any experiences about being expected to look a certain way?
Snooky: When I was a young punk rocker, with bright red hair and dressed in my favorite outlandish outfit of the time, I was walking down the street minding my own business when a guy in a Rolls Royce pulled his car over to the sidewalk, stopped and rolled down his window, and yelled at me "Y'know, you look ABSOLUTELY RIDICULOUS! ABSOLUTELY RIDICULOUS!!!" He had to say it twice for emphasis and to maximize my public humiliation. The way I was dressed just made him so mad he had to stop his car to ridicule me-maybe to try to make me feel as bad about myself as he must have felt about himself!? It didn't work!
Did you face any major obstacles when first starting the brand?
Yes, we had soooo many obstacles! We were women in a predominantly male business, we were young, we were inexperienced, we had no business training, we had no money, we were in a bad neighborhood. We were so näive and trusting. We learned our lesson the hard way—we always need to get everything in writing!
Any thoughts on how Manic Panic is disrupting beauty norms?
Breaking beauty norms is what we've always been about—it’s the premise on which our brand was founded! We've always encouraged our devotees to dare to be different. We have never conformed to mainstream society's beauty norms. We encourage everyone to live and love her/his own unique beauty!
Why do you two think we treat hair on our heads with such luxury, but hair on our bodies as something to be ashamed of?
We think most of it stems from social and media brain-washing by men who want to degrade women, and make them feel inferior and inadequate. They also wanted to sell us all sorts of products to de-hair us! When we were young we followed the hippie tradition of not shaving our armpits and leg hair.
Can your products be used on all hair types? Is this significant to the brands mission in any way?
YES! Our products are perfect for every hair type. Our mission has always been to include everyone!
As far as creating environmentally and socially ethical products, where does the brand stand?
Manic Panic hair color has always been vegan and not tested on animals since our start in 1977! It's been our credo for over 40 years! Even though it's just an obvious marketing ploy of some of the other brands who are jumping on the vegan, not tested on animals bandwagon, we're happy that they've finally come around to our way of thinking. We also donate 15% of our profits to various charities!