Where do you live?
N: I currently live in Oberlin, Ohio where I work at Oberlin College as Assistant Director of the Multicultural Resource Center and the Africana Community Coordinator. At the end of June, I’ll be leaving after two great years of working in the middle of nowhere and moving back home to NYC for the summer and then off to India for eight months!
Why did you go natural?
N: I had pressed out, relaxed and drowned my hair in hair gel and products all my life. I decided to go natural and fully embrace my curls the summer after my sophomore year of college. It was a realllly hot summer. But it was a really transformative summer: I was working in New Orleans at a summer camp for kids whose families were moving back into the city after Hurricane Katrina and I was thinking a lot about who I was as a young woman of color and the type of personal and political commitments and convictions I had… or wanted to have.
I had spent most of my life trying to be someone else, usually someone other people wanted me to be- and my hair was often the tool I used and hid behind. Though, by some standards my long curly “mixed” hair was something to be coveted, it held a lifetime of damage from products, heat wrought on by Dominican hair salons (which I have always loved because they connected me to community and remind me of getting my hair done with my mom. But they are very skilled at taking the “African” out your hair by any means necessary) and just a whole lot of bad energy and internalized negativity towards myself and my beauty.
I chopped all my hair off in July of 2006 and have never looked back. It wasn’t too hard of a transition. I hadn’t had my hair relaxed for over two years by the time I cut it and got to see my real hair texture(s) for the first time.
In what ways (if any) has going natural affected you?
N: I came out of the salon that day a completely new person almost. There was this automatic confidence and just raw, unfiltered beauty that came with it. This is going to sound funny, but I felt true and real in a way I never did before. Going natural became not just this outer thing and for me it never really was, it was always something that was connected with me and who I am on the inside. It was about actively resisting all those whiter, lighter, straighter standards of beauty we get force-fed everyday and to truly embrace my beauty and womanhood as a mixed woman of color. Over the years I’ve learned about the great versatility of my hair– it’s like SuperHair! and how to truly care for it and keep it healthy. I love playing with it, trying and creating new hairstyles. I’ve become kind of a curl guru/curl whisperer for friends and even young mother’s with mixed kids.
How would you describe your hair?
N: My hair is thick, curly, bouncy with coils on the looser side. It loves moisture and has a tendency to get really dry, dull and brittle especially in the winter. Since the curls are a bit looser, it also has a tendency to flatten out and lose its shape after a couple of days. At night I pull it up on top of my head and wrap it up loosely. In the morning, I unwrap it and if need be give it a little boost with a spray bottle of warm water and a little conditioner.
What’s your regimen?
N: I wash my hair once a week, with an occasional mid-week rinse with just regular conditioner, no shampoo. I’ve used and use a lot of different things– which usually depends on how my wallet is doing. I’ve tried products like Mixed Chicks, made for “mixed/ethnic” hair as well as Carol’s Daughter. I like a good deep conditioner and leave in conditioner, everything else doesn’t matter as much. For me those two make all the difference. My favorites are Carol’s Daughter Black Vanilla Hair Smoothie ($20) and Nexxus Headress Leave in Conditioner ($20)– both are on the pricey side, but I love both of them. On a budget, I also use Organic Root Stimulator Olive Oil Deep Conditioner, Cantu Conditioning Cream Shea Butter Leave-in Conditioner. I recently discovered One N’ Only Argan Oil products and have started adding that to the regimen, especially when I press out my hair.
What mistakes have you made with your hair that you’ve learned from?
N: In the summer, I tend to “overwet” my hair either because I’m hot and just want to cool off from head to toe or because the humidity or heat has flattened out my curls and it’s easier to style when completely wet. This causes a lot of drying out and breakage. So I’ve tried to become a master of updos and using headwraps and accessories during those moments between washes or in the hot summer when I have an urge to shave my head permanently!
What’s the best/most effective thing you do for your hair?
N: Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize. Other than that, I let it do its thing and be responsive to that.
Anything else you want to add?
N: Quoting Khalil Gibran: Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair. And as Bob Marley said: Trust the universe and respect your hair.