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BEAUTY & THE EASE: My Return To Braids As A Protective Style

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In the last month of my pregnancy, I made the careful decision to get some braids installed so that I would be cute, comfortable, and low maintenance going into the hospital.

I consulted with my girl Glenna, plotted out all the details, and set up my appointment – precisely 2 weeks before my Little Magician was due. However, LM had her own plans and decided to show up earlier than expected, precisely one day BEFORE my scheduled hair appointment. Glenna and I rescheduled, spent a lovely day chatting and doing hair, and I was left with one of the best braid experiences of my life.

You see, prior to this set I’m rocking now, I hadn’t braided my hair in probably close to 10 years. Braiding – especially with extensions – was never a pleasurable experience. I had just come to expect the pain of installation – edges literally snatched, hairline pulled into a pseudo-facelift, contorting myself in order to attempt to fall asleep at night, and stiff braids that took seemingly forever to loosen up. After the same experience over and over, I figured that was just the price to pay for beauty and ease – eventually I’d be able to coax my braids into a bun, and life would be good.

However, the last braid experience I had was TERRIBLE. 14 hours of braiding when I was told no more than 6. Needing more bags of extensions when I bought what was originally quoted to me. Tears in eyes as the finest hairs were pulled and twisted around thick fingers – “It needs to be tight to keep for a long time!” I was told. As my head got more tender and my butt got more numb, I just kept reminding myself of how good it would look when it was done. That dream was short-lived.

Once we were through, I had SO. MUCH. HAIR. My head felt so heavy, and I was told that I just had to get used to the weight. What I couldn’t get used to was the way braids would slip right out of my head from the root and land in my lap at the most inopportune times – well, scratch that. When IS it an opportune time to have your hair fall out? Never.

My hairline started weakening under the weight of all the kanekalon, and each fallen braided soldier sent me a clear message: either these braids go, or WE go. Your choice.

I painstakingly took down the braids and vowed never to do them again.

Twists became my go-to protective style, and while I adore them (and even learned how to do them myself), they never have the lifespan that a good set of braids do. When the time arrived to decide on my preggo/new mom low-maintenance ‘do, I knew I’d get more bang for my buck if I went for the braids. I was hesitant, but through her particular magic, Glenna hooked me up with beautiful, light, pain-free braids as promised.

Here are the simple steps I follow with my braids:

1. Use an ACV (apple cider vinegar) rinse to cleanse your scalp. 

I mix about 1/4 cup of ACV with 1 cup of water in a spray bottle, spritz liberally over my scalp, massage it in, then rinse in the shower. This clarifying ACV rinse really helps to remove buildup from my scalp without disturbing the braids. I ACV rinse once a week and shampoo every 3rd, and my scalp seems happy so far!

2. Moisturize with castor oil.

I moisturize my scalp with castor oil all the time, but when my hair is sectioned into braids, I’m really able to get in there and ensure every spot is covered. Castor oil has always helped me with hair growth and thickness – I’m not sure if I’ll succumb to postpartum hair loss, but I’m getting that castor oil in to see if it helps.

3. Mix it up!

When I braided my hair in the past, I didn’t do many styles other than all down, or all up. This time, I tried to have a bit more fun with my braids:

Faux-hawk/pompadour look

Faux-hawk/pompadour look

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Side-swept and pulled back at the crown

Sleek bun

Sleek bun

Not the best shot - but this was a cool freestyled fishtail braid

Not the best shot – but this was a cool freestyled fishtail braid

Thank goodness for the extra headband I found in my dresser – that thing has faithfully kept my braids up in a trusty bun on a nearly daily basis. Added bun bonus: Little Magician finds my bun hilarious for some reason….so it’s a good distraction when she’s about to start wailing.

What my hair looks like most days at home

What my hair looks like most days at home

4. And most importantly – find a braider who knows what they’re doing!

For me, word of mouth is key – if you see someone with a beautiful style, ask who did it and what the experience was like! I ask all kinds of questions: How long did it take? How much did you pay? How was sleeping on it? When could you manipulate them without too much pain? I gets it in. Granted, we’re all different and have varying pain/comfort thresholds – but asking questions is key. Do your best due diligence to find someone who will care for your hair as they’re styling it – and don’t be afraid to speak up during your styling session if things aren’t feeling right to you.

Though I miss my hair, the ease of waking up and not having to do much at all with my hair is a blessing. I’ve got my eye on another protective style, so stay tuned!

EVENT RECAP: Curls, Coils & Cocktails 2014 (+ Where Do We Go Next?)

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I’ve said it a bunch of times before, but planning an event in the tail end of my pregnancy and into the first month of mommyhood was MADNESS. However, all the hard work paid off on July 26th when my homegirl AMC and I put on the 2nd annual Curls, Coils & Cocktails event!

Last year’s event fell into our laps somewhat by fluke, but the response was so overwhelming that we wanted to bring it back this year. Held at the beautiful Uptown Loft in Toronto, we had a lovely turn out of ladies and gentlemen who came to celebrate the diversity of natural hair!

We mixed and mingled. We admired the wares of some awesome vendors. We got mini-consultations from the ladies of Curl Bar Beauty Salon. We took in a panel discussion on natural hair diversity, featuring women with varied perceptions and expressions of natural hair. We had an AMAZING performance from funk/rock/soul powerhouse Saidah Baba Talibah, and got down to the nitty-gritty of her hair journey. We ate yummy treats and had some delicious mini-cupcakes courtesy of Mellycakes. We had laughter & hugs – I got to meet some wonderful women, and the positivity was infectious – a special moment was when prize winner Carcia (from the blog It’s MusicFashionLife) shared her personal story of beauty and self-acceptance after a diagnosis of alopecia. With chunes from DJ Sean Sax, gift bags from Clore Beauty, and tons of incredible giveaways, I think we coordinated a pretty good event – and the feedback has largely shared that sentiment!

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Special thanks to our major sponsors: Curl Bar Beauty Salon, NaturalButterfly, and Clore Beauty!

Major thank yous to our gift sponsors: Shakara Natural, Luv N Locs, Ola Finesse, Toni Daley, Caheez, and the Toronto Natural Hair & Beauty Show!

Shout out to our spectacular vendors: Diana Tracy Collection and Eli’s Body Shop!

Big up our two awesome photographers who took some DOPE pics: Ngadi Smart and Sarita Louis!

Big thanks to our social media team: Anya, Nikki, and Kayla (p.s. – keep up with CC&C on Twitter and Facebook)!

And we could NOT have done this event without the assistance of Juliana, Vee, Lincoln, Alison, and Debbie!

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 See more Curls, Coils & Cocktails photos here!

Now that the event has passed, I’ve gotten past the part where I critique myself harshly about what I could have done better, and I’m settled in the phase where I set my neuroses aside and assess things with a clear(er) head. The question I pose to myself now is: “What next? Where does the natural hair conversation in Toronto go now?” It feels like Toronto has just started to get into the natural hair event game, but there’s always room to be innovative and to give the people what they want. I, like other natural hair advocates and event planners, just want to figure out the perfect equation to acquire both.

Being cognizant of those who are at polar ends of the spectrum – longtime naturals and natural newbies – is one thing. Taking into consideration financial trends of event attendees and ensuring they get their money’s worth is another. Finding supportive partners and sponsors who get it is entirely another. Once those factors are settled, the matter of figuring out how to add flair, creativity, fun, education, and all the other unique components that make an event great begins. It’s not easy, but when you get great feedback from event attendees, it gives you the best kind of challenge to do an even better job next time.

But back to my question – where does the conversation go now? Are we over talking about natural hair in the workplace/media/relationships, or is there still room for those discussions? Who are the new voices and faces on the scene, and how do we get them engaged? What do attendees want to do, see, and hear these days? Finding the answers to these questions and more will make life much more hectic, but much more interesting in the days to come.

If you have any feedback on what you’d like to see at natural hair-centric events, hit me up and let me know! And again – big, BIG thank yous to everyone who came out to Curls, Coils & Cocktails 2014!

31 FLAVOURS: Discussing The Diversity Of Natural Hair [+ Event Info]

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Dolls by Karen Byrd of Natural Girls United

Next month marks 6 years since I big chopped and started wearing my hair naturally. From my days of scouring Fotki for natural hair inspiration to being an admitted product junkie to salon (mis)adventures and more, the past 6 years have brought me eye-opening lessons in hair care, self esteem, and redefining my personal beauty paradigm. Just when I think I know all I need to know and have seen all I need to see, something comes along and shakes everything up.

This year, the running theme has circled around representation in the natural hair sphere. I hosted a panel discussion of women who choose to rock TWAs, which presented the perspective of women who eschewed the more common length aspirations within the natural hair community. Salon chats highlighted a continued problem with poor representation and acceptance of shorter lengths and tighter textures – noticed most in clients who won’t rest until they find the product that eliminates shrinkage and transforms kinks into loose curls. Twitter conversations with writer and mental health advocate Bassey Ikpi brought up the thought of loc wearers being left out of natural hair dialogue – this became an even greater conversation when Essence Magazine featured Ledisi on one of their May 2014 covers for the Beauty Issue.

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These kinds of discussions motivated me to look at my own thoughts on natural hair beauty and diversity. Admittedly, it was easy for me to see the parallels between previously chasing one beauty “ideal” (long, straight, relaxed hair), then embracing my chemical-free texture but still chasing another “ideal” (big, soft curly hair). Early on, the natural hair blogs, YouTube videos, and Facebook forums I frequented all shared the same goal of embracing your natural hair, but there was always an undercurrent of knowing that there was a hierarchy of expressions within it. Short hair, kinky and coily hair, and locs were on the fringe and seen as somewhat of an afterthought – almost giving off a vibe of  “Oh – I guess we should include one of those, shouldn’t we…” Back 6 years ago, my short hair was just a stepping stone to luxurious growth. My kinky and coily sections were interesting, but were obstacles to hurdle in efforts to blend in with my looser sections. I considered locs briefly, but decided I loved the versatility of my loose natural hair too much to part with it. However, I quickly understood the negative way locs were viewed when family members would ask “Are you going to loc your hair?” with a look that clearly meant “You better not!”

Especially over the past year, a number of women have approached me and shared that they’ve felt excluded from the natural hair world, due to not having the “right” texture, length, or style. Where were the spaces for women who had diverse hair goals, journeys, and needs? Many of them expressed being unable to find them, and some identified feeling as lost in the game as I did 6 years ago when I went natural. In my own way with the opportunities I have available to me, I featured (current and previously) loc’d women on ’83 To Infinity, interviewed a Jamaican beauty queen with an interesting natural hair journey, and hosted a Black History Month event focusing on the big chop and rocking TWAs. When plans started flowing this year’s Curls, Coils & Cocktails event, the same theme of diversity and representation came to mind, and I knew that was the angle we would have to take this year.

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Because the natural hair community is bigger than we give credit for, it was a conscious decision to use the 2nd annual Curls, Coils & Cocktails event to broaden our horizons. Our panel features 4 women – one loc’d, one rocking a TWA, one newly big chopped natural, and one stylist who has worked with all manner of natural hair. Our vendors/partners (Diana Tracy Collection, Eli’s Body Shop, & Curl Bar Beauty Salon) are a diverse bunch – female-owned businesses designed to ensure that you look and feel good from head to toe. We’ll have a new musical portion this year, with a performance and Q & A session with Canada’s funk/rock/soul queen – and dope loc wearer – Saidah Baba Talibah. DJ Sean Sax will be on the 1s and 2s, mix and mingling will abound, sweet treats and eats from Mellycakes will be available, and gift bags (thanks to Clore Beauty Supply) and door prizes will be on hand for attendees! We’ve kept up the practice of highlighting Canadian talent and businesses, and the theme of ‘Dos & Diversity will hopefully achieve the goal of inclusivity that we’re aiming for.

Do we still hang on to colonial ideals of beauty, even within the empowered natural hair world? What are the roots of some of the biases we have against certain style choices? How do we combat the irrational need to chase after styles or textures that our hair is not capable of maintaining? How do we truly begin to embrace and own our natural hair without apology? The answers to these questions and more will surely be discussed on July 26th at Curls, Coils & Cocktails – and hopefully we’ll be able to carve out the kind of space that celebrates us all, whether curly, coily, or otherwise.

Get your tickets to Curls, Coils & Cocktails here! 

BACK AT IT: 2 Upcoming Events You NEED To Be At! [R&B + CC&C]

Hey hey, y’all! This post will be a quickie but goodie – I’m taking advantage of having both hands free and a quiet baby to bang this one out, so pay attention:

As crazy as it may seem, I’m jumping back into the event saddle later this month, and wanted to let you all know about what’s going down!

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On July 19th, I’m back as co-host for the R&B: Relationships & Bullsh*t Show with my homie Lincoln Anthony Blades! The question du jour will be “Can Your Career Satisfy Your Soul Like True Love?” so you know this will be a hot discussion no matter your gender or relationship status. I saw Think Like A Man Too (sidenote: I hate sequels that try to get cute with the “too” instead of “2” or “two” especially when it feels grammatically clunky. Anyways.) recently, and one particular storyline made me think about how relevant this discussion is in this day and age – so I can’t wait to have some fun with this one! Get more info and tickets at www.rnbsummer.eventbrite.com!

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I put on my very first event called Curls, Coils & Cocktails last year with my girl AMC, and have been getting TONS of inquiries wondering if it was coming back. Well, YES! On July 26th, we’ve crafted another awesome Curls, Coils & Cocktails event, focusing on the theme of ‘Dos & Diversity! The original idea for the event was born out of a Meetup.com group I was a part of, and when the group leader was unable to continue with event plans, AMC and I stepped up to put it on. Last year was amazing, and we plan on making this year even better!

It was important for us to focus this year on the diversity of natural hair – often, my friends with locs, short cuts, varying textures, and those who are transitioning with various protective styling methods feel left out of the general natural hair discussion. We wanted Curls, Coils & Cocktails 2014 to be a more inclusive space for us to connect with and learn from each other, so we’ve been working hard on the plans!

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We’ve got:

  • gift bags for the first 50 entrants
  • mix and mingling
  • music by one of Toronto’s beloved DJs
  • carefully curated vendors
  • a mini-consultation booth
  • a panel discussion on the diversity of natural hair
  • a performance and Q&A with Canada’s top funk/soul/rock artist Saidah Baba Talibah
  • door prizes and much more!

Grab your early bird tickets until July 11th before the price goes up! www.curlscoilsandcocktails.brownpapertickets.com

Phew! There you have it – hopefully one or both of these events will tickle your fancy! Grab a ticket or two, and I hope to see you out and about later this month! Any questions? Hit me up!

NATURAL HAIR DIVERSITY PT. 2: Interview With Rita

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If you missed it yesterday, I featured a guest post from the brilliant Rita Nketiah.

Today is part 2, where we do a bit of a Q&A to get deeper into some of the themes and issues Rita mentioned in her piece surrounding perceptions of natural hair, feminism, the differences in hair choices in Canada vs. Ghana, and more. Read on!

1. Through your various natural hair representations (loose/afro, locs, short cut), have you noted any variances in your perception of self? Have you noticed a difference in how others treated you when you’ve rocked these different styles?

My brain is a little fuzzy now, but, I definitely think that I got the most attention with my locs. But I also think it depended on the space I was in. I went natural during undergrad at Western University, and wore my hair Afro out often. While Western is a predominantly white institution, I was surrounded by a community of Black folk (by virtue of my social circle/my work with the Black Students Association), so I never felt like I wasn’t being embraced because of my hair. If anything, I had a lot of Black women tell me that they thought it was beautiful, and wished they could adorn their own natural coil, but thought “it wouldn’t look good” on them –which I thought was sad, but I understood where it came from. Most of us are socialized to not even know how our hair grows out of our own heads. We can’t even imagine being natural, because we start perming by 6, 7, 8 years old.

2. You’ve spent a lot of time both in Ghana and in Canada while wearing your hair in its natural state. How would you compare the state of natural hair acceptance in both countries?

Well, what’s interesting about Ghana is that there is a small, but budding natural hair movement happening with salons such as Twist and Locs and the various natural hair events and online communities (activism, in a sense) that are cropping up. My time in Ghana was split between village life (shout out to Ajumako district) and the capital city (Accra). I’d say that generally speaking, my locs made me stand out. Ghanaian womyn, generally, do not wear locs–which doesn’t mean that they don’t desire to. I received a lot of compliments. I often heard womyn say that they wanted to lock their hair, but they wanted to wait until after they left their parents’ house or until they got married (which is kinda the same thing –the power and decision to lock usually comes from some other authority figure). Of course, the capital city tends to attract a lot more foreigners and returnees, so I think people were a bit more familiar with locs. Generally, though, there is a stigma associated with locs. Unless you are a Rasta living by the beach, or an upper middle-class woman, it is rare to see locs on a Ghanaian woman (or man). It is definitely changing though. And I applaud those village chicks and the working class/urban class womyn who are brave enough to adorn their locs in such a conservative environment. It also helps that there are salons cropping up that help womyn with their locking journey. A lot of womyn would ask me how I started mine. I feel like if there were more (affordable) options for women to try “rasta style”, more womyn would. The older generation mostly did not like my locs. I was also REALLY low maintenance with my locs when I was in Ghana. I would probably re-twist, maybe once every 2 months. I think it kinda scared them LOL!

In Canada, I think I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by sisterfriends who “got it”. In terms of family, it also helped that Brago and I did it together. For the most part, people thought my locs were fly, but obviously (black) women had questions about how I managed it, which I was always happy to answer.

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3. What was your method of de-locing? Did you comb them out? Cut them off?

Girl, I cut it all off. Combing them out? Ain’t nobody got time for that!

4. Do you have any go-to products for hair health and/or maintenance?

Hmm, I do like my Shea Butter. I often use different coconut oils. But for the most part, I use whatever is available and affordable.

5. The idea of not feeling beautiful in the beginning stages of locing is a common theme. Was there anything specific that worked to help build your self-confidence?

Umm, I used a lot of self-affirmation. A lot of telling myself that this was just a stage that would pass. I had to trust the process. I also allowed myself to have “ugly days” –headwraps became my best friend during those times. And again, I had my sister who was also going through the ugly stages to assure me. I had to work through the messiness of not loving myself on my “ugly days”. That was all deeply political and spiritual work for me.

6. a) Your thoughts on feminism and beauty were really poignant. How did you personally reconcile your views on pride in one’s physical appearance with your feminist values and your thoughts on rebelling against standard beauty ideals?

I mean, beautification is layered for Black women, isn’t it? We live in a world that does not appreciate our natural beauty. We are fed tons of messages about not being desirable because of our Africanness (the broadness of our noses, our melanin, our hair, our bodies). And so, I absolutely believe that our relationship to the Beauty Myth is just not the same as it is for white girls. And traditionally, we have always adorned ourselves. We have always engaged in beautification, so in many ways, that is not outside of who we are as a people. Our indigenous cultures value(d) the vibrant prints, the creative hairstyles, fly jewelry, etc. My feminism begins with my Africanness, not the other way around. I also think it’s important for my nieces and nephews to see Black women in all of their natural beauty and flyness. Ain’t no one gonna convince them that our Black isn’t beautiful.

b) I’ve heard this thought echoed by a number of women who rock their natural hair in various states – why do you think locs were so significant for you in creating this kind of juxtaposition?

Well, because it was the first time that I had really long hair that was my own. (My relaxed hair probably got to the tip of my collarbone, but my hair was the healthiest and grew the fastest when I had my locs, which I thought was interesting.) And I think as much as many of us are reclaiming our natural beauty through our locs, we’d be lying if we said length didn’t matter –because it does. In a way, it is our entrance into whiteness. And you see it in how other people perceive your locs at different stages. I felt like when my hair was long enough to style, I felt more confident, and people took notice of them in a different way. I really had to check that shit in myself.

7. What’s the biggest obstacle you’ve faced with making the decision to rock your short cut? What is your favourite thing about your current style?

Listen, any #shorthairdontcare chick will tell you that best thing about short hair is the convenience. The get-up-and-go of it. The biggest challenge for me, is in between cuts, and of course, I still have loc envy from time to time. I actually tried to start growing my hair late last year, because I wanted box braids. I thought 3-4 months of growth would be enough to braid it, but it wasn’t and I grew irritated. Lol I ended up cutting it again last week. I was also inspired by Chrisette Michelle then Lupita N’yongo to have fun with my short cut. I currently have a mini-high-top fade. I’m pretty happy with that decision, and I look forward to experimenting with colour again.

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Head to the comments section and let me know your thoughts! Have you dabbled in a range of natural hair styles? How were perceptions (self and external) with the various style choices? Major thanks to Rita for sharing her thoughts and experiences!

NATURAL HAIR DIVERSITY: Rita’s Story of BlackWomanAwesomeness [Guest Post]

Allowing guest posts on ’83 To Infinity was always something that made me very hesitant. Shaping this site to be a place that authentically represents my voice has been a continuous journey over the past 2.5 years, and introducing new voices to the mix gave me pause. However, I’ve been thinking of some awesome ideas that require the help of others. I’m ready to challenge myself by entrusting this precious space to likeminded individuals who fit my vision while bringing something fresh and new.

Highlighting the diversity of natural hair has been a focus of mine this year. Aside from my own hair documentations, I recently shared Rowena’s story of cutting her locks, and today will share Rita’s story – in her words – about her own hair journey. Rita is a brilliant university friend of mine who embodies diversity in natural hair. Sit back and take in part one – her guest post – and stay tuned for part two, a Q&A, to come tomorrow.

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Take it away, Rita!

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In February 2008, I decided to do something that I had always dreamed of as a kid – and I did it with the womon I considered my first love: my big sister, Brago. This was the womon that taught me everything she knew about blackwomanawesomeness. She was strong and independent, and my surrogate mother at times growing up. Brago is five years older than me, but we have always been close. I wanted to be everything like her when I was younger. I would steal her clothes when she left for school, and rush home before her, to put it back in its rightful place (gross!). She taught me how to dance (which, growing up in Rexdale, Toronto in the 1990s was a huge deal –or rather, a huge deal for black girls who had no rhythm). We did everything together. We shared a room for most of the nineties. I saw her go through various hair stages. I remember how much of a big deal it was when she decided to go natural.

None of the womyn in my immediate family had been natural as far as I had been alive, so for Brago to step out on her own to cut the perm off was so eye-opening for me. I did not entirely understand what she was doing, but I trusted her enough to know that she knew what she was doing. It had to be something cool if my big sis was doing it. She inspired most of my musical choices growing up, too: from Brandy and Monica to Jill Scott to Erykah Badu to Nas; I soaked in all of my sister’s musical tastes with the quickness. The one artist that we both admired, (and listened to her LP back to back everyday for like a year straight) was Lauryn Hill’s Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. I wanted so desperately to have locs after Lauryn Hill came out. I remember telling a boy in my 7th  grade class that I was gonna start locs soon, and I kept saying I would get them, but never did. To me, Lauryn Hill’s locs became representative of natural black womyn’s beauty. I was in awe of her ability to carry her rasta with such rebellion. I wanted that. I wanted to love who I was rebelliously. I wanted black people to believe that we could be beautiful in our natural state. My hair was deeply political.

Not until winter of 2008, after I returned from a visit to St. Kitts and Nevis, however, did I finally make the decision to start the locking journey. Both Brago and I were ready to start the process. At the time I had had an afro, which I loved. I just knew that locking was always the “end goal”; the ultimate way to solidify my contribution to the black love/blackisbeautiful movement.

It was also quite symbolic that I would be starting my loc journey with my big sister, the womon who was responsible for igniting my radicalblackwomonpolitics. Together, we journeyed to Nanni’s Hair Salon in the west-end of Toronto, where we were embraced by an awesome group of womyn, all at different stages of their loc journey. As we entered the space, it was like I could feel all the strength/power that existed in these womyn pouring from their locs: their stories, their triumphs, their resilience, their love. It was all there for me. There wasn’t much conversation happening; (any conversation that might have happened would have been drowned out by) womyn under dryers, womyn under wash, womyn with hands in their hair, carefully re-twisting each loc. Not much conversation at all –which was atypical for black womyn’s hair salons. But it was clear to me then that this wasn’t just about a basic hair routine, this was blackwomonritual. Not much needed to be said because the conversation was in the ritual. I relished the opportunity to be a part of this new community.

But I have to admit the first time I left Nanni’s with my freshly palm-rolled baby locs, I was disappointed. My locs looked nothing like Lauryn’s. I know I said I was ready to be all black-womon-roaring, but it wasn’t supposed to be like this! For at least the next two years, it was a constant struggle to see myself as beautiful while adorning my baby locs. (This was pre-the first wave of natural hair bloggers, by the way.) Don’t get me wrong, most days, I loved the challenge (and sometimes, threat) that my natural coils posed to my African community; a community as brainwashed by colonialism as any other; a community that starts perming at age 6; a community that would sometimes stare at my sister and I in everything from wonderment and admiration to concern or disdain when we walked into a room. I loved that womyn and girls in our community would ask us questions about the maintenance of our naps. I appreciated the respect and adoration I received from men in my community, as well (albeit, mixed with a bit of the exoticism of Black dreadloc’d female bodies).

But, there were days (usually between washes) that I wanted to give up. On those days, I sometimes felt guilty for being so vain. While my bad hair days helped me discover the wonderful world of head wraps (shouts out to my girl, pieces2peaces), I wondered if I was just faking the funk on this radical black hair politics shit. I mean, after all, weren’t my locs supposed to be a big “Fuck you” to the Black and White Beauty Myth? Why was I still so obsessed with looking pretty? And yet, why did being pretty make me (feel like) a bad feminist?

Through all of that, I kept my locs for almost five (5) years.

Until the Summer of 2012.

I was simply just tired of maintaining it and decided that I needed a change. In the end, it wasn’t about what my family or society thought, or about feeling “too black”, or about what employers would think: I simply could not bear the thought of washing and re-twisting my locs one more time. I couldn’t bear the thought of combing any hair at that. I don’t regret the journey at all –I might even do it again in the future, but for now, I am enjoying my short do –which has brought a whole new set of body image issues that I will continue to work through. And in the end, black hair is still deeply political for me.

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we got egos like hairdos

they’re different every day

depending on how we slept the night before

depending on the demons that are at our door

-Ani DiFranco, Egos Like Hairdos*

*This was written in Summer 2012 –before all of that weird racist shit went down.

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Stay tuned for my Q&A (with more photos!) with Rita tomorrow!

REFLECT: External Expressions of Internal Insecurities

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This past Saturday, I attended a wonderful event here in Toronto called A Celebration of Curls II hosted by Shakara Natural Tips. Approximately 200 beautiful women mixed and mingled in between talks from popular natural hair YouTuber Jeré Reid and celebrity natural hair stylist Felicia Leatherwood. It was a great afternoon – I got to (re)connect with fellow bloggers, laugh with friends, meet some ’83 To Infinity readers (more on that later), and take in some awesome information from the two guest speakers. While both women gave great tips on maintenance, styling, and hair health, I was particularly drawn to the below-the-surface discussions around the psychology of our hair. Whether on a personal or client level, both women spoke to the underlying issues around self-acceptance and recognizing/unlearning negative tropes of destructive behaviours in relation to our hair and hair choices.

An audience member asked Felicia to briefly speak on her “hair journey.” Currently sporting a hot short blonde cut, Felicia told us how her decision to cut her hair manifested through an internal review of what was happening in her life. The need to let go of a number of things became apparent, and letting go of her hair became part of that symbolism. She also recounted stories of clients who were “hair obsessed” – booking appointments on a weekly basis to try one style, then a completely different style, then yet another style. “Usually when that happens, there’s something else going on,” said Felicia. That made me think about my own hair psychology, and on a greater basis – how my own internal challenges manifest themselves in the external.

I live somewhat by the reminder to “look good, feel good, live good.” The women in my family have always reveled in their feminine charms, so I grew up with a mother, grandmother, and aunts (including one whose nickname is “Beauty”) who took pride in their appearances. Hell – even my father was (and still is) meticulous in his appearance, so the principle of being properly put together (how’s that for alliteration?) was ever-present. I played in my mom’s closet and dresser drawers often – trying on gowns and shoes, spritzing myself with perfumes, painting fingers and toes with red and pink and gold polishes. I don’t feel I had an unhealthy attachment to physical presentation, but I was always taught that it was important – then was shooed away to do homework or read a book.

As an adult I still maintain pride in my appearance, but I can admittedly see where the “look good” portion of my equation may at times be a crutch for failing on the “feeling” and “living” parts. When I first cut my hair and started rocking my natural kinks and curls, I felt self-conscious. My identity as the long, thick haired Black girl who didn’t rock weaves because “oh – your dad is mixed, right?” was gone. I couldn’t swing a swoop bang over that errant pimple on my forehead. I didn’t have much up top for my boo to stroke as I laid my head on his lap. I tried to wear an air of confidence in my decision, even as I debated if I made the right move. I soon realized that I was dedicated to this new self-expression, but while I knew I couldn’t do much with the close-cropped curls on my head, I became hyper-critical of everything else. My skin. My makeup. My body. My clothes. My insecurities didn’t lead me to become hair-obsessed, but I obsessed over the rest. I’m not sure when that dissipated and evened out – eventually it just did, and that storm of self-critique calmed.

Recently, HomieLuva half-jokingly called me a “snob.” I can’t remember if it was because I spent entirely too long getting ready for a night out, or if it was because I looked in my closet, sighed from the pits of my belly and proclaimed “None of this will do!” or if it was because his lowkey self just didn’t understand the necessity of my particular brand of self-maintenance. When he called me a snob, I glared at him and asked “Why? Because I want to look good? Is there something wrong with looking good? Listen – my mama taught me to never leave the house -“ His laughter cut me off. “Calm down,” he said. “I’m joking, but you’re really just taking too damn long, and your first outfit looked good. Who are you trying to impress?” Who was I trying to impress? I didn’t have a clear answer – I just knew I wanted to make an impression.

Again – a trip back to my childhood. Growing up as the tallest and darkest being in any given room should not leave one feeling like they’re forgettable. However, while my physical presentation wasn’t the norm, it wasn’t the preference either – thus, I felt oddly invisible at times. Never had a high school boyfriend. Never got asked to dance at parties. Never more than a convenient token of multiculturalism and the resident “You look like (insert any Black girl or woman here)!” placeholder. These days, I feel my fears of being forgettable sometimes translate themselves into an overarching need to make a mark – and the first way anyone makes a mark when walking into a room is through outward appearances. I now find that when I’m feeling insignificant or incompetent or like I don’t amount to very much at all, I focus a lot more on my physical presentation. I don’t necessarily dress or primp any differently than I usually would, but when it’s me, myself, and I staring into the mirror, the difference in how I regard myself is palpable.

While I aim to reduce the frequency and duration of negative self-perception, I’m prepared to walk through life with some level of insecurity. A valuable tool is the ability to recognize those moments – including the surrounding triggers and reactions – and act accordingly. When Felicia said “Usually when that (obsession over the physical) happens, something else is going on,” it hit me like salt-tipped dart. It was refreshing to hear her and other women at the event be frank and honest about their confidence issues and coping strategies (healthy or otherwise) – yet another reminder that I was not alone.

I was lucky enough to meet some ’83 To Infinity readers, especially the lovely Cheryl! Sometimes it feels like I’m writing into an empty vortex, but she was quick to remind me that people are paying attention and enjoy my work. Thank you, Cheryl! If you enjoy my work – why not vote for me to win the Best Blogger award at this weekend’s Black Canadian Awards? Thanks in advance :-)

LOC LOVE: Interview with Rowena of NubianSoulsLocks

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Recently, I realized I was missing something on the blog. Though I’ve been having hearty natural hair convos and documenting my current hair journey on social media mediums like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, it’s been a while since I’ve written a good post on life as a kinky/curly chick. Today, I bring you a little something special.

Rowena of the blog Nubiansoulslocks is a lovely loc’d lady who balances her work in provincial government with her passion for health and wellness. She’s also one of my good sista-friends, so I admit to being a bit biased in wanting to show her off! You’ll quickly see that she’s more than deserving of the feature – get all the way into her gorgeous locs and the hair knowledge she’s acquired on her journey!

Without further ado – here’s my chat with Rowena!

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Bee: What’s your hair story? 

Rowena: For as long as I can remember, I was always on the search for the perfect hairstyle that would be my “signature” style. Every month I would run into the local drug store and purchase the latest Sophisticate’s Black Hair magazine in the hopes that I would find that hairstyle that screamed “Rowena.” I wanted to find something that was synonymous with my personality as well as my face shape, etc. Over the years I went back and forth with relaxers – I relaxed my hair for the first time in the 8th grade, I stopped in the 12th grade and decided to try and grow my hair out. I went back to the creamy crack the summer before I went off to university. I wanted to try something “drastic” and did a short bob. My biggest regret was relaxing my hair; I didn’t have an idea how to take care of it at the time, so my hair would fall out. Texturizing my hair gave me similar results, so I continued to have a hard time trying to find a style that would make me feel and look good. I toyed with weaves and wigs for a short period but I felt extremely uncomfortable wearing something that did not fit my face, or my personality.   

Bee: How did you come to the decision to rock locs? 

Rowena: After my relaxer fiasco, I decided to wear twist extensions as a means to grow my natural hair out. I knew how to put extensions in my own hair so I decided to try this out without realizing how well the style suited me. I remember putting in the twists and immediately receiving compliments from my friends and family on how it suited me so well. I continued wearing the style, playing around with different textures of the kinky extensions, until someone suggested that I try locking my hair. I thought about it and considered trying it out, but it took me a couple of years to actually take the dive and start my loc journey because I was afraid of the “commitment and process” of having locs. It has been a little over 7 years and I definitely don’t regret my decision….this style definitely suits me, my lifestyle and my personality. 

Bee: You work in a corporate government environment – has your hair had any impact on your career or your relationships with coworkers? 

Rowena: In the beginning of my loc journey I was very conscious of the way my colleagues would react to my new hairstyle. Fortunately for me they were very supportive of my decision which I am very grateful for. Overall I have had a positive experience – a lot of colleagues (from all races) would ask about my regimen, how long it takes me to style my hair, how long would I want to grow it, and how I make the style look so versatile, especially after I cut my locs into a shorter style. I haven’t received any negative comments towards my hairstyle as the majority of the people of colour in my office wear their hair natural, and two others have locs as well. We all make a conscious effort to look presentable in the office and I feel that’s what matters here. There are days that I feel that my overall appearance has an impact on my career, especially when I read articles about individuals facing hardship with their natural hairstyles – but I make a conscious effort to focus on my work ethic rather than other’s thoughts about my locs. 

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Bee: You recently cut your locs into a cute shoulder-length bob – what made you cut them, and do you regret the decision at all?

Rowena: I’m going to be honest and say that I had that 7-year itch where I briefly thought of the decision to completely cut my locs off. They were getting very long, and because of my active lifestyle, it because increasingly difficult to maintain. Some of my locs started breaking off as well so I had to make a decision on what to do. I was getting very frustrated with my locs. I loved the progress that I had made over the years but that length was just getting in the way.  A few years ago I saw a hairstyle in Essence magazine (and I wrote a blog post about it) that I instantly fell in love with, and I told myself that if I decided to cut my locs,  I would cut it into a bob similar to the picture that I had seen. I felt that I needed a change; as a way to start over, and to fall in love with my locs all over again. It also made my loc maintenance/exercise regimen a little easier so I went to a stylist in September and cut them off. I was in complete shock when she gave me that first batch of locs, but seeing the results afterwards, I was extremely happy with my decision and I have NO regrets. 

Bee: What’s your current hair care regimen? 

Rowena: Because I am always in the gym, I wash my locs twice a week. I don’t use as many hair products as I used to, so right now I either put coconut oil on my scalp, or I use the Mizani Coconut Souffle Light Moisturizing Hairdress. In between washings, I like to use the Carol’s Daughter Black Vanilla Moisturizing Leave-in Conditioner to prevent my scalp from getting too dry. I prefer to keep it really simple these days. 

Bee: People often aren’t aware of how versatile locs can be. What are some of your favourite loc styles?  

Rowena: I love side bun hairstyles. When I had longer locs, I would always wear a side sweep because I found them fun and feminine. I also love to wear my locs in curls, and pin them up in various ways. I never realized how versatile locs can be until I checked out YouTube. There’s a vast amount of video blogs available that provide tutorials on loc hairstyles, for all lengths. My favourite go-to for hairstyles would be Chescalocs. If I wanted to try something fun, I would go to her YouTube page.   

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Bee: You’re very physically active and health-conscious – how do you maintain your locs during frequent workouts, and how does your hair choice fit with your healthy lifestyle choice? 

Rowena: As you know, I am a Socacize instructor, and since it is a high impact aerobic exercise class, my locs are drenched after every workout. What I have learned is that when it comes to product use, less is more. Your hair (and skin) will thank you when you put less product in your hair, especially when you work a sweat more often. Aside from the length that I had earlier, I found that having locs while maintaining an active lifestyle is a lot easier for I don’t worry about sweating my locs out at all. Because I value my active lifestyle, I had to get over that “I’ll ruin my fresh twist/I just washed my hair” mentality and just exercise. Having a healthier lifestyle is more important than sweating out my freshly-done locs.  I have become more aware of the foods that eat as well; I have committed myself to cleaner eating and I have definitely noticed a change in the strength as well as the growth process. I eat a lot of leafy greens throughout the day and I feel as if this has positively contributed to the health of my locs. 

Bee: What are some pieces of advice you’d offer to someone who is contemplating or has just started their loc journey?

Rowena: Patience is key! Locs will not form overnight so be patient with its growth and development. Document your monthly progress and you’ll be fascinated with the progress you have made as the months go by. 

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Bee: Where can people find you? (FB, Twitter, blog, etc.) 

Rowena: I can be found at the following:

Facebook: Nubiansoulslocks

Twitter: @Nubiansoulslocs

Blog: http://nubiansoulslocks.blogspot.com

Instagram: @Nubiansoulslocs

If you have locs or are contemplating them, I’m sure you got some piece of info or inspiration from Rowena! If you have any questions for her, feel free to comment here or contact her directly!

ARTSY FARTSY: Interview With Camille Lauren + Toronto Natural Hair & Beauty Show Giveaway

Arta Gallery, Distillery District

At Arta Gallery, Distillery District

Sometimes, you’ve just got to say no.

I found myself in a rut with this blog not too long ago – I was getting a lot of requests to either post things on my blog or do blogging favours for other people, but when it came down to it, the other party always fell through. I shunned the idea of partnering with anyone else for a while, then I got an email inviting me to an art gallery event in the Distillery District. I had met one of the featured artists before, and her publicist invited me to the event with the hopes that I would feature her on the blog. I was so ready to send my “thanks, but no thanks” email – but first, I satisfied my curiosity by going to her site.

That “no” turned into a “yes” with the quickness.

Camille ‘Ciel’ Lauren is a Toronto-based, Curacao-born visual artist currently studying at OCAD (Ontario College of Art & Design) – her company Art of Ciel is inspired by sea and sand, a nod to her Caribbean upbringing.  As the Branding Director for the multi-arts production company Spoke N Heard, she was a driving force behind the creation of the Emanate Gallery Exhibit held at Arta Gallery last month. I fell in love with the art on her site – from her commissioned pieces to her inspired artwork to her live event paintings (yes, she will capture your event live and on canvas), I could see the talent and beauty that radiates from her pieces, and couldn’t wait to see them up-close.

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Brown Sugar Steaming by Camille Lauren

NaturalistaGlam by Camille Lauren

NaturalistaGlam by Camille Lauren

I was lucky enough to do a quick interview with Camille where she told me more about her work and inspiration:

On how her love of art was born…

“Art was just my most natural response. It’s been a way to express myself ever since I was 4. When I came to Canada, it was a thing I used even more to…maybe like a shield in my younger years. I was very shy, so if I was moving to a new school, I’d always have my sketchbook – and even if I didn’t make any friends, art was my way to interpret the world. It just continued – in high school I started painting on canvas, and I loved it. ”

On her biggest inspiration…

“My inspiration comes from conversations, stories that I hear from people – they make me want to reach in and depict that. I like to create an eternal moment to share. You can have a feeling about something, and maybe you tell it to someone and they forget. When you paint it, it’s there for everyone to see.”

How she got involved with Spoke N Heard…

“Three years ago, Spoke N Heard’s creator told me about his vision to unite the arts. Over time I found myself doing graphic design and promotion, and then I became the Branding Director. With this show, Celia Wilson (Creative Director & Curator) and I worked really closely to refine the theme, and the team brought it together. We sent out a lot of different artist submission calls on the web, as far as we could go.”

What her 5-10 year plan is with regards to her art…

“I’m starting my own business, Art of Ciel, to reach further with my art. It’s growing into much more than just art, but I’m taking it one step at a time. I’m looking to art merchandising, and clothing embellishments and design – just trying to broaden it out a bit.”

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Camille and I

Camille and I

To say I’m happy I didn’t decline Camille’s invitation is an understatement. Her art really spoke to me with her use of colour, texture, and movement, and it was amazing to see them up-close and personal. It was also wonderful to hear her tell her own story about her inspirations and aspirations – and sidenote: her hair is DOPE. Now…all I have to do is start saving my pennies to get a piece or two!

Check out Camille’s website, and follow her on Twitter – and stay in touch with Spoke N Heard to support amazing art and artists!

P.S – Don’t forget that I’ll be speaking at the Toronto Natural Hair & Beauty Show this weekend! I’m giving away 2 sets of tickets to the show – one full weekend pass and one Sunday pass. Saturday is all about informative workshops (including mine called ‘Navigating Natural Hair in the Online World’), and Sunday is workshops + vendors + hair and fashion showcase and more! Comment here and let me know why you want to go the TNHBS – bonus points if you follow me on Twitter and tweet me to say that you entered! The winners will be drawn and announced on Friday! 

NEW TINGS: Bee’s Yarn Braid Style

Continuing with my 2013 theme of doing new sh*t, I have a brand new hairstyle, AND – I’ve done my first vlog to show it to y’all! Big ups to Hair By Glenna for giving me this new yarn braid ‘do, and big ups to YouTube for not giving me too many hassles with this video. I like mixing it up a bit, so I might give myself some more practice and post some more videos every once in a while!

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Have you ever worn yarn braids? Are you due for a style switch-up? Let me know! 

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