While tearing up the dance floor at a local pub a few weekends ago, one of my friends presented a dilemma I hadn't considered before. She described a tricky situation in which a coworker of hers (let's call her Afua) who had always rocked natural hair came into the office one day with a relaxer. In the past, my friend had grown so accustomed to seeing her natural hair that after a while she stopped giving Afua compliments. So when Afua showed up to work with long, sleek hair, my friend was in a pickle. The change was so drastic she had to speak up! However, by complimenting Afua, wouldn't she be affirming that her hair looks better straight now?
When she realized that she was caught between a rock and a hard place, my friend simply decided not to say anything to her about her hair that day. My friend understood that her words have a deeper meaning. You can't deny that society persuades girls and women to look a certain way, and this pressure manifests in our everyday interactions with people. Growing up I found it puzzling that some people would swoon over my weaves, but would say absolutely nothing when I got box braids or cornrows. As an adult I now understand that they likely meant no harm, but it's a blatant indication of what our society values in terms of beauty. I think my friend's active decision not to feed into the "straighter is better" mentality was wise, and I applaud her for her thoughtfulness.
As I write this, on the other hand, I can't help but think to myself hair isn't always political! Afua has every right to wear her hair however she pleases. We kinky-haired girls are blessed with endless possibilities when it comes to our hairstyles — relaxers included. Maybe Afua has never felt pressured to straighten her hair. Perhaps she just wanted a change, in which case my friend's struggle to be politically correct would've been for naught. Moreover, there's no doubt that a compliment on her relaxed hair would've made Afua's day. Not saying she's seeking attention or anything, but that's just how we humans are programmed; we like to receive compliments.
So what's the right thing to do? Honestly, I don't see this problem as being binary. I think there's a grey area in which we can support each other without getting bogged down in the politics. Rather than commenting specifically on a person's new relaxer, wig, or weave, I would simply tell them that they look great. That way they receive the ego boost they rightfully deserve for all the time and energy they put into their new look, but without any sociopolitical strings attached. And, of course, as our mothers taught us: if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all.
Do you get more compliments from people when your hair is straightened? Share in a comment below!
Last week the Huffington Post published an irksome article about the newly crowned winner of Nuestra Belleza Latina, a beauty pageant reality show that, objectively speaking, seems to be mired in racism. The first line of the article reads "Francisca Lachapel was the unlikely contestant to win Nuestra Belleza Latina 2015," and goes on to cite how as an Afro-Latina, Lachapel and women like her have had difficulty finding representation on the show. From getting selected as contestants to being judged fairly against lighter-skinned, straighter-haired models, women with typically African features are not celebrated as they should be. In fact, the Huffington Post quotes one of the show's judges as having asserted, "Black Venezuelan women are not very beautiful." Even the one judge who advocated most for Lachapel implied the curls in her hair and richer complexion were hindrances. The hilarious part is Lachapel is only partially Black. If she had such a hard time winning the title, would someone with 4C kinks and chocolate skin even stand a chance? A reflection on recent events provides the resounding answer...
It would be aggravating enough if these were isolated cases, but the upsetting truth is Black women are used to this prejudice. Regardless of location, many of us grow up being told our hair isn't presentable unless it's straightened, that we shouldn't play in the sun lest our skin go darker. Our noses are too wide, our bums too big, and our lips too fat. And just when it seems there's nothing left, along comes cultural appropriation to tell us that in fact our features are desirable ﹣ just not on us.
I know the subject has been beaten to death, and yet cultural appropriation still happens on the regular. Whether or not it's intentional is up for debate. I prefer to believe the majority of these perpetrators are ignorant rather than malicious, but maybe that's just a foolhardy coping mechanism on my part. Anyway, Katy Perry was put on blast last year for mocking girls who wear their hair in cornrows and who slick down their baby hairs (ie: Black and Latina girls). Despite her blatant and offensive insensitivity, the video in which she shames us for our unique style has been viewed nearly 290 million times. Similarly, Miley Cyrus will go down in history for putting rachet culture on the map and for inventing twerking, behaviour that mainstream society has spent decades telling Black people is "trashy" or "ghetto" when we do it.
Enter Kylie Jenner, the most recent celebrity to waltz obliviously into this mess. Last week she posted a selfie in which her lips were noticeably enlarged. She invited all her fans to join her in her #LipChallenge, which involves stimulating blood flow to the vessels in one's lips so they appear fuller. People have been achieving juicier kissers in all kinds of questionable ways, including sucking on shot glasses and water bottles. I'm sure you've already come across the hoards of bloggers imploring the young people of the Internet not to partake in this potentially dangerous challenge, but far fewer people are talking about the more insidious harm behind Kylie's latest craze: its societal implications.
When I first found out about the lip challenge, I chose to give Kylie the benefit of the doubt. I wanted to believe she was using her fame to promote an alternative standard of beauty. I wanted to believe she was telling the world that big lips are pretty, period. Of course after watching how the lip challenge unfolded on social media, I couldn't help but notice the stark unfairness of it all. I know many of the participants are Black. I also recognize not all Black people have big lips and not all white people have thin lips. However, the undeniable truth is it's Black people who have been ridiculed for hundreds of years for possessing this unchangeable physical trait, and yet overnight Kylie Jenner has somehow made big lips universally irresistible.
Back when blackface was a thing (*shudders*), makeup artists strove to paint the actors lips as ridiculously gigantic as possible. The actors would then behave like total fools, underscoring the belief that Blacks were animalistic. Today, the aftermath of this racism is evident in the low levels of self-confidence and self-love many people of colour feel at some point or another in our lives. So when someone like Kylie or Katy or Miley presents these "epic trends" to the Earth with no history or context or respect, it's infuriating. These are people with great social influence who can ﹣ and have ﹣ changed the world. I am not questioning their character or their right to express themselves; they are independent human beings who can do as they please. My issue is their lack of public acknowledgement of the double standard. They are unabashedly adopting for their own fame and fortune the very elements that make Black people unique ﹣ the elements that have been the nexus of so much of our pain.
Ultimately I understand that beauty and fashion are constantly evolving, and some people might even consider all this proof that society is becoming more open-minded. While I do value that sentiment, the lack of appreciation for existing Black culture as a manifestation of Black history continues to trouble me. I guess what I'm really wondering is: why does the world need to see how pretty big lips are on a white girl to realize how pretty the've always been on a Black girl?
I think I'm addicted to natural hair events. Last week I attended three in the span of four days. I just can't get enough. On Tuesday, Ryerson University hosted a panel of natural hair advocates at an event called My Hair, My Look, My Swag as part of their Black History Month lineup. In attendance were a variety of speakers, vendors, Ryerson students, and members of the general public. I was pleasantly surprised to see a handful of male attendees scattered throughout the crowd, and there were even two on the panel. (I'd be lying if I said I wasn't also pleasantly surprised to have been given this amazing free cookie just for showing up.)
Because of the diversity in the room, we were able to dive into an array of questions regarding issues like how natural hair is perceived in romantic relationships and what it's like for men to rock their natural hair in an office environment. It was fascinating to hear the guys' take on what natural hair means to them. I thought it was especially interesting when Greg H'Side Samba, a professional dancer, stated that the decision whether or not to have natural hair boils down to health above all else. He cited the dangers of chemical burns from relaxing as reasons he wouldn't even consider going down that road, regardless of the styles relaxed hair would enable him to achieve. While it is possible to have a flourishing scalp and lustrous hair while relaxed, as some panelists pointed out, Greg believed the associated risks weren't worth it. (I tend to agree.) Even though the subject matter sometimes grew a little sombre there was always an air of humour, and we laughed constantly.
You'd think I'd have been exhausted from all the natural hair chat by this time, but the very next day I excitedly attended another meetup, this one called Curls, Coils, and Cocktails. It was hosted by one of the panelists from the Ryerson do, Bridget "Bee" Quammie, and her pal Ann Marie aka SoulAfrodisiac.
When I first arrived I was a bit nervous because it seemed everyone was already comfortably seated next to someone they knew. I timidly peeked around the tables in search of a free chair, hoping I hadn't already been at it too long. You see, I'm one of those people who feels hella awkward approaching strangers, but once the introductions are over with, we're BFFs. And that's exactly what happened when I spotted an open seat at a table with two ladies seated diagonally from each other. I was so glad I had somewhere to sit, and even more excited by the fact that they were both so friendly ... and funny!
The event was phenomenal. Bridget and Ann Marie gave us all a chance to socialize over appies and dranks at our tables before launching into the program. Their style of questioning each other and then inviting each of us to share our experiences and opinions was refreshing because unlike other events where there's a clearly established group of speakers and the audience is deemed separate, this felt like a group discussion where we were all invited to speak up whenever we wished. Some people ended up sharing some really personal and beautiful stories, which made the meetup that much more powerful and worthwhile. Overall, it was a fantastic opportunity to get in touch with other naturalistas ﹣ and enjoy some tasty cocktails!
Looking for a natural hair event in your area? Click here.
Remember that post I wrote about the importance of surrounding yourself with other naturalistas as you embark on your hair journey? Well, on Sunday I practiced what I preached and attended a meetup hosted by Toronto Naturals called The Politics of Black Hair. The discussion of the day centred around the question "Is protective styling political or simply a style choice?" Needless to say, the conversation got pretty colourful! Monique London of London Ivy Products led the event by posing a series of questions to a panel of five naturalistas who have each found great success in the realms of vlogging, blogging, hairstyling, jewelry design, and wig making, to name a few. Because of their varied backgrounds, every panelist was able to bring a fascinating and unique perspective to the table.
I feel incredibly fortunate to have experienced the event at all because despite arriving twenty minutes early, I was too late to buy tickets at the door! I know, I know... I should have purchased an advanced ticket, but this event was so hot even those had sold out the week prior. It was disappointing to be turned away, but then someone piped up suggesting I stick around just in case there was a no-show at the last minute. I could hear upstairs that the venue was getting pretty full already, but I had a feeling it would be worth the wait. After all one of my favourite YouTubers, Toni Daley, was on the panel and I was pumped to see her in person. Luckily the event organizers were able to squeeze me in literally at the last second, and they even had some free lipbalm left!
When I got upstairs, I was pleasantly surprised by how funky the venue was. Harlem Restaurant (on Richmond and Church) has an eclectic and casual vibe to it. The stage area looks a bit like Graffiti Alley -vibrant hues of different paints, random cables strewn on door hooks, and exposed brick walls. Much to everyone's enjoyment the bar was fully stocked and there were original paintings of natural hair hung around the room for us to feast our eyes on.
The panel itself was lighthearted yet thought-provoking. Monique (or Mo for short) did an awesome job of gently guiding the conversation from general subjects like what constitutes a protective style to more serious issues about hair envy, hair type discrimination, and self-love. It was enlightening to hear the panelists describe their personal experiences. Some views I could identify with, others I hadn't considered before. At one point the discussion turned to whether or not women who wear weaves 24/7 are purposefully hiding their natural hair out of shame or embarrassment. This was particularly interesting to me, because lately I've been trying to avoid using extension hair and instead celebrate what my Mama gave me. To this, Toni Daley made a solid point. She paralleled the use of weaves to wearing makeup.
[Paraphrased] Some people wear makeup only to fancy occasions. Others wear it whenever they leave the house. And then there are those who wear makeup even when they're in their house all day. It's a personal choice. You can't say I don't love my skin just because I wear makeup, just as you can't say I don't love my hair if I wear weaves all the time.
Celebrity hairstylist Janet Jackson admitted she's all about the weave life because of the ease and effortlessness it affords her. She cited the difficulty of managing her own natural hair (which extends past her shoulders) when she has to be up as early as 3:00 AM for work, and that weaves are the best way for her to save time in her busy schedule and still look professional. Even though I've never had anything against weaves (I've been known to rock one on occasion), hearing what she had to say gave me a new appreciation for what other naturalistas go through.
One of the coolest things about the panel was — as far as I could tell — no two ladies had the exact same curl pattern. There was everything from famous vlogger Natural Neiicey's luscious, loose curls to the wonderfully kinkier coils of curly hair specialists Keina Morgan and Nicky Splinta. That variety gave a definite credibility and approachability to the event. It felt inclusive and honest, which I think is crucial for the natural hair community.
Then came the best part: FREE PRIZES! I was impressed by how many goodie bags Toronto Naturals had sourced for the prize draws. There were so many sponsors the giveaways just kept rolling. For once in my life I had a winning ticket in hand and landed a highly coveted gift basket from Rainbow Kisses Cosmetics! It contained two striking lipsticks (one in plum, the other a deep metallic turquoise) and a gift card. Hilariously enough, after collecting my prize two different people come up to me asking if I really wanted to keep the lipstick and if we could work out some sort of trade! Rainbow Kisses is just that good!
Despite lasting about three hours, the meetup seemed to fly by. Before I knew it the panel had concluded and everyone was encouraged to network around the room. I was glad to have the opportunity to catch up with my hairstylist Glenna Sandy who has had my back since I moved to Toronto and was helpless managing my own hair. I also got to fangirl Toni Daley and chat with her about the amazing movement she started, the #SupportASista campaign that encourages people to shop locally and support women-led, Black-owned companies. Janet Murphy of Roots to Curls was there too. She explained to me how exciting the last few months have been as she and her long-time friend and business partner have worked hard to get Roots to Curls off the ground.
Overall, it was really inspiring to be surrounded by so many independent, successful, and forward-thinking Black women! Big thanks to Toronto Naturals for continuing to host events like this. Can't wait for the next one!
Have you attended any natural hair events lately? Share your experience with me in a comment below!
By now you've probably seen the brilliant YouTube video posted by Cut.com showcasing the history of black hair over the past one hundred years. If you haven't watched it yet, the video features two talented stylists working in fast-forward speed to recreate the most iconic hairstyles of the past ten decades on a wonderfully kinky-haired model named Marshay Mitchell. It's a fascinating look at how creative and versatile hair can be, and it excites me to think about what the next hundred years will bring.
Even though the clip is entertaining in and of itself I think it becomes even more interesting when its cultural context is considered. Whether intended or not, it can be tricky to talk about natural hair without also commenting on race or politics. The video was produced through an American lens, which means the century of beauty it explores implies race relations, economic conditions, and a political climate specific to an American's standpoint over that period of time. To be exact, this is a depiction of one hundred years of beauty trends as they would have been experienced by a young Black woman with enough money in her pocket to keep up with the latest fads. Change up any of these variables (her age, ethnicity, financial situation, etc) and the video suddenly looks very different.
What if the woman was older? What if she didn't have money to press her hair regularly? What if she had been living on a different continent? What would her hundred years of beauty look like under those circumstances? I commend Cut.com for putting together such an inspired and honest video about natural hair because it has left me wanting more. I'm now curious to know how natural hair trends evolved in other countries. Were pin curls a thing for Black women in the Caribbean? Did cornrows ever make it big in Europe? Someone needs to get on these videos!
Even though we're all one big family supporting and inspiring each other, no two women have experienced the natural hair movement exactly the same way. As a Canadian-born person, my understanding of natural hair is different from my Mom's (she grew up in Tanzania and moved here from Uganda as an adult), and I can tell you first-hand that while I can relate to a lot of the predominantly American information I come across online, being natural in Canada is its own distinct adventure. For instance I've never been worried that my hair will be deemed unprofessional in the office, an issue that unfortunately isn't uncommon in the United States. However, despite living in two major Canadian cities I have always struggled to find professional, knowledgable, and reliable hairstylists. Whether you're newly natural or a seasoned pro, we all have so much to gain by sharing our stories and learning from one another. Broaden your horizon by watching tutorials by YouTubers who live on the other side of the world. Read blogs by writers whose names you can't pronounce. It's all at your fingertips ﹣ soak it up!
UPDATE (Aug 4, 2018) : Great news! Over the past few years, Cut has been adding more videos to their 100 Years of Beauty series. Now you can see how ladies' looks have evolved in Ethiopia, Kenya, Haiti, and many other nations!
Does learning about the history of natural hair matter to you, or are you all about the here and now? Share your thoughts in a comment below!
With hundreds of thousands of women around the world boldly transitioning to wearing their hair in its glorious, natural state, there is an ever-increasing amount of information available to help ease the transition. With Hollywood A-listers like Solange Knowles, Lupita Nyong'o, and Viola Davis rocking their natural hair (and thus redefining conventional standards of beauty), it truly is an exciting time to go natural. Whether your hair has never been chemically treated or you're slowly cutting out a relaxer, navigating our kinky, coily, and curly tresses is both thrilling and daunting. That's probably why the term hair journey was coined. Like any adventure, a hair journey is full of ups and downs - and it's far more fun with friends!
Even if you don't personally know anyone who flaunts her or his natural hair, you already have plenty of natural hair pals. You've got me, Naptural85, Klassy Kinks, 4C Hair Chick, and dozens of other naturalistas who have gone out of their way to post educational content on the wonders of natural hair. There are blogs, vlogs, and forums jam packed with tutorials, product reviews, and interviews. If you're not sure where to start looking, this list of podcasts should help get you started.
It's also important to have a supportive network of people in your life while you're discovering your natural hair. Not only will they be able to help you emotionally, but their honest feedback will be invaluable. For instance, when I first started protective styling my own hair I had absolutely no idea what I was doing －and it showed. The people who usually complimented me on my hair went silent, and it wasn't until my Mom used the word "unkempt" (despite being an advocate of natural hair) that I realized I needed help. I wandered blindly without a supportive network to help me, but once I sought assistance from my parents, hair stylist, and the Internet, my knowledge and skill began to grow. And if you can find someone who is also on a hair journey, you can learn from each other's mistakes and successes!
Of course the opinions you hear should always be taken with a grain of salt. Not everyone appreciates a head of cornrows or a TWA (teeny weeny afro), but always remember you're not out to please those people. Your natural hair is for YOU to enjoy, so don't get bogged down by haters! Just focus on the positive and they'll change their minds when they see how happy you are.
Who has provided you the most support during your hair journey? Tell us in a comment below!