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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! 

TWISTED SISTA: My Latest Twist-Out Success

I’m not sure what it is.

It might be the wonky summer weather. It might be the fact that I haven’t been eating as well as I should be. It might be due to the colour job I did on my birthday back in May. It might be stress. I’m not 100% sure where the blame lies just yet – but my hair hasn’t been acting right, and it’s boring me to tears. This past weekend, I looked myself in the mirror and sighed. I can’t do much about the weather. I’ve started seeing a naturopath to get my body back on track. I’m halfway over this red/blond colour I’ve got going on.

All that aside, this hair was still on my head, and it was sick of being neglected in a bun or lazy updo. On a night when I could have been out dancing on a table top hanging out with friends, I decided to actually take the time to do a really thorough wash and twist-out – and the results were great!

First, I dry-detangled my hair using my fingers and a wide-tooth comb. This is usually a step that I skip solely for time’s sake, but properly detangled hair is the foundation of a great twist-out. I didn’t utilize conditioner during this step or do any kind of pre-pooing (treating the hair with various oils prior to washing), but will remember that for next time.

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Once my cotton candy ‘fro was thoroughly detangled, I jumped in the shower.

Sidenote: I recently had a chat with someone who said their solo drives were their prayer/talk to God/pseudo-meditation time. For me, it’s the shower. While I love being pampered by having someone else put their hands in my hair, there’s nothing like the clarity I get during a shower where it’s just me, the water, and my thoughts. Bliss!

I used a new shampoo and conditioner this go-round. I was lucky enough to receive a bottle of Alaffia Authentic African Soap from Canadian online boutique Love Thy HNS and have been using it as a face wash for the past 2 weeks. The bottle stated that it could also be used as a shampoo, so I tried it out! It has a great tingle and citrus-y scent thanks to the tangerine, orange, and lemongrass essential oils in the mix, and it felt great on my scalp. After my shampoo, I utilized TREsemme’s Moisture-Rich Conditioner – a rich product with vitamin E, sunflower, hazelnut, and almond extracts, and great slip. While loaded with conditioner, I brushed through my hair section by section with my Denman brush, pinned it up, and went about my shower.

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Products used: Alaffia Authentic African Soap, TREsemme Moisture Rich Conditioner, B.U. Coconut & Vanilla Elixir, Beautiful Textures Curl Definer Styling Custard

To rinse, I turned my dial to the coldest temperature I could tolerate, and rinsed my hair. The verdict is still out on whether cold rinses actually seal your cuticle, reduce frizz, and increase shine as often touted – but my hair loves it. I took the cold rinse a step further and borrowed a move from Tracee Ellis Ross by cold rinsing my entire body:

It’s like the cold water rinse you get when you go to the spa. Yes it’s painful, but here’s the thing that changed my relationship to the pain. That cold water rinse, it’s actually really good for cellulite! [laughter].  Have you ever been to the Korean spas and seen the open fist pounding they do?  Well, I will sometimes do that in the shower, under the cold water, across my rear and my legs.

There are apparently some great benefits to cold rinses, and hey – if it’s good enough for Tracee, it’s good enough for me!

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T-shirt dried curls, and my multiple textures! The front bit of my hair is very loose, as is my nape. The middle is a mix of kinkiness and curls of various sizes.

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Roots. My colour was on May 10th, and I’m going to have to figure out a new gameplan soon…

Finally, it was time to twist. I moisturized my hair with my B.U. Coconut & Vanilla Elixir, then set about 20 twists using Beautiful Textures Curl Definer Styling Custard. The custard was light, but my twists seemed to dry with a nice hold. I was excited to see the results, so I slept on it overnight then took them down the next day.

Voila!

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Three things I learned in this twist-out journey:

1. My new place has horrible lighting for photos. I’m still trying to find my sweet spot.

2. I have to be patient. I like my hair BIG. I tried to ruffle it up a bit, but ended up disturbing the looser curls instead. I have to leave it alone and let it grow into the Day 2 and 3 hair that I love.

3. Every once in a while, my hair needs to get out of its comfort zone with new products, or products I haven’t used in a long time. Must. Not. Get. Lazy.

So there you have it! I’ve been enjoying this twist-out over the past couple of days, so I’m hoping I can stave off the boredom for a while. Fingers crossed…

Do you have a bonafide bomb-ass twist-out or braid-out routine? Let me know what works for you!

HAIR & THE HUSTLE: How I Embraced Natural Hair In The Workplace

Photo via Elizabeth Dungan

Photo via Elizabeth Dungan

Natural hair in the workplace is a discussion I haven’t had in quite some time. In all honesty, I’ve almost completely forgotten about (ignored? remained indifferent to?) outsiders’ perceptions and the intersections of me, my professionalism, and my physical presentation – but I was reminded of it all last night.

Thanks to Toronto’s humidity and recent torrential rains, I haven’t really been fighting whatever it is that my hair wants to do. A dry twist out from Sunday has grown into a majestic explosion of strawberry blondish kinks and curls that stretch for the sky instead of swinging down low, and I’m rollin’ with it. Some days, my hair will accept slight taming with a bit of water and a few bobby pins. Other days, my hair literally spits the bobby pins out onto the bathroom floor before I finish getting dressed. Today was the latter, so I went about my day and night with the big-ass ‘fro I’ve come to know and love.

My dope, smart, and hilarious cousin and her wife are moving away at the end of the month, and last night I met up with them and their friends to send them off well. It was a compliment from a new homie named Zee that got the conversation flowing.

She loved my hair. She asked how long I had been natural. She asked how my hair was received at work. And it was at that moment that I realized…I had pretty much stopped caring about what most people had to say.

During the time that I’ve worn my hair natural, I’ve held fairly senior executive/management positions. In my transitioning days, friends, family, and that little voice in my head all wondered if this new choice would have a negative impact on the way I was viewed at work. I moved from relaxed hair to kinky twists to a TWA with trepidation, always waiting for the moment where a comment or look would confirm that, yes – this choice DID have a negative impact on how I was perceived. It never came from the people I thought it would come from (see: older White men in leadership positions), but when I decided to apply for an internal promotion, I definitely got an earful from an unexpected demographic (see: other Black women). The position I applied for was a senior client-facing role that required the utmost in professionalism. If I had a dollar for every time a Black woman told me I’d never get the position “with your hair lookin’ like…THAT” – I’d have a lot of dollars. Despite their thoughts, I did win the position and went on to enjoy my new role. However, the idea of natural hair and professional perception stayed on my mind.

via naturallyrandom.com

via naturallyrandom.com

For my first few client meetings, I’d conveniently be in the mood for a flat iron. I didn’t want to admit that I was afraid to present myself to my clients with a head full of carefully coiffed kinks and curls, but that’s exactly what it was. Deep down, I knew I was concerned about “scaring” people or drawing extra attention to myself, and wanted to control the one thing I could to avoid all of that. Due to my name and telephone work voice, most people assumed that I was a White woman. When they’d later meet a 6ft tall Black executive who was often around the same age as their children, the reactions are jarring enough. I didn’t want my hair to be an additional She’s Different! red flag, so I consistently controlled that aspect.

Since those days, I’ve grown. I’ve learned to become much more comfortable with myself – the girl who’s almost always the tallest, youngest, brownest person in the room. Once I was able to accept and embrace the things I can’t change about myself, I learned to accept and embrace the thing I willingly chose to change – my hair. My hair has become part of the package of Bee – a thing I’m recognized by and known for, a thing that just is. I’ve changed my mindset around natural hair and professionalism, and no longer go to the default “straight hair” setting for formal or professional moments. I now know that my natural texture can be polished just as much as it can be wild and free, and find that my increased self-confidence hasn’t allowed much room to think otherwise.

Do I get questions? Sure. Do I get stares? Hell yes. Do I get people who are distracted by my hair and talk to my tuft of curls instead of making eye contact? Yup. Do those things make me say “Damn – next time I’m just flat ironing this sh*t and calling it a day!” or make me second-guess the way I chose to present myself? Not anymore. I’ve been known to stop business discussions and address the curly elephant in the room. I’ve been known to politely inform someone that the timing or phrasing of their question/comment is inappropriate and keep it movin’. I’ve been known to walk into business meetings with a sun-blocking Afro and not have anyone question my abilities or professionalism. I’ve grown lucky enough to reach a point where I am not oblivious to the implications of being a Black woman with natural hair in the workplace, but I’m not controlled by them either.  If anyone has ever assessed the intersections of me, my professionalism, and my hair – and had a negative reaction – I’ve been none the wiser, and they clearly haven’t been powerful enough to stop me from anything I’ve ever wanted to achieve. That pretty much sums it up, doesn’t it?

How do you view natural hair in the workplace? Have you ever felt the need to conform or change your look to a more “acceptable” one? 

CATCH 22: Self-Sufficiency & The Effect On Natural Hair Salons

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HomieLoverFriend made a comment the other day that made me look at this “natural hair movement” in a new light. As he watched me twist my hair one night, he said “It’s good that you can do your hair on your own for the most part, but your hairdresser must hate that.”

A lightbulb went off.

Compared to when I was relaxed, my schedule for patronizing salons has gotten less and less frequent. When I was relaxed, I wisely left complex chemical treatments to the pros, but also relied much more on the skill of my favourite stylist to keep me looking good. After I transitioned and started wearing my hair naturally, a lack of competent stylists plus a desire to learn for myself led me to do more at home. Many naturals have echoed the same motivation to become reacquainted with their own hair, and to save money that was spent more regularly at salons – but what does this mean for salons catering to natural Black hair?

HLF’s comment inspired me to speak with the owners and stylists at a few salons that cater to natural – or more commonly termed “curly” – hair salons. There were some common themes. Because stylists and owners saw more and more Black women returning to their natural textures, and because they heard the complaints that traditional salons were not skilled in natural hair, they were driven to fill that niche. In doing so, they worked to create salons that were open and knowledgeable, giving an alternative to salons that saw you walk in with kinks and expected you wanted to walk out with a perm.

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The reality for many of these salons is that Black women who’ve become self-sufficient rarely frequent their salons, and usually choose to only do so for complex or special occasion styles. To avoid being too narrow in niche, many salons have branded themselves towards “curly hair” versus the specific “natural hair” label – and this has widened the net of clientele. One stylist told me “We opened this salon for Black women, but they don’t come because they can do their hair on their own now.” Another explained that women of other races make more regular hair appointments, therefore they ensure that their marketing is inclusive of all kinds of curly hair. Could I necessarily blame them? When asked what I love about wearing my hair naturally, one of my top answers is the fact that now I can do my hair on my own (for the most part). Multiply that emotion by the number of women who have also transitioned and feel similarly, and it’s clear that natural/curly hair salons might be feeling the pinch.

Now, I’d clearly be lying if I attempted to act like I didn’t need the pros. There are simply certain things that I can’t (and likely never will) do on my own. A good stylist also knows the science of hair, and can help my hair health in a way that even the best blog post or YouTube video may not be able to. Hell, my scalp massages NEVER feel as good as when my stylist does it! Besides – I miss the community of the Black salon. I remember when I got to go to the salon with my mother, and it felt like a rite of passage. I was allowed to hear women talk about things in a way I had never heard before, saw how different women defined beauty, and learned a ton about relationships, friendship, entrepreneurship, and hair. Those regular appointments were something I looked forward to, and most times I didn’t even mind the long wait for my turn in the chair.

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What a funny conundrum. An influx of women returning to their natural texture struggle to find professionals who know how to care for their hair. They become as self-sufficient as possible with the help of other mediums. Professionals recognize this neglected consumer base and create environments to service them and their specific needs. Those professionals then realize that the self-sufficient women don’t maintain the same frequency of visits that may have been expected or assumed in the past.

Do I have any answers? Not particularly. While I will always love the ability to care for my hair on my own, I still recognize and respect the knowledge and talent that professional stylists have. Frankly, I love the influx of “curly” hair salons cropping up around me. It’s comforting to know that when I need a professional, I’ll be able to find one who is adept at managing my hair with as much care as I do for myself. While many have had to become more inclusive than their original plans may have held, I thank them for reaching out and providing a space for those of us who want more options for our natural hair. To show my gratitude, let me go ahead and book an appointment – ain’t nothin’ like a good scalp massage.

For natural hair wearers who transitioned – do you find that you frequent the salon less now than you did before you were natural? What services do you go to the salon for? For stylists/salon owners – do you work in a salon that caters to natural/curly hair? Has the number of women returning to natural textures affected the frequency/type of clientele you have?  

 

MEETING SADE: What An 8-Year-Old Taught Me About Natural Hair Love

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This past Saturday, I attended the 1st Annual Trust 15 Fundraising Gala event here in Toronto. Trust 15 is a community initiative in the Rexdale neighbourhood comprised of two gender-specific programs for youth called Ladies On The Rise and Men of Distinction. The initiative uses guest mentors and group activities to instill values, teach social and life skills, and encourage education – and it gives youth an outlet and support that may otherwise be unavailable to them.

I mentored with the Ladies On The Rise late last year and was SO happy to support them at their fundraiser, which showcased the amazing skills and confidence the students had gained throughout the program. There were so many magical moments throughout the night, but one of my top picks came just as I was about to leave, when I ran into this cutie named Sade:

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She caught my eye earlier in the night, and I thought she was extremely adorable with her little doll and her kinks and curls. As I gathered my clutch and coat at the end of the event, I noticed her standing with her mom right beside me. I don’t like to make a habit of praising little girls solely on their looks, but I felt compelled to give her a hair compliment – so I sidled my way over, said hello to her mother, then told her I just HAD to tell her how much I loved her hair. Her response? In the cutest voice ever, she looked up and said “I love YOUR hair!” We shook hands, introduced ourselves, and pretty much became BFFs.

We spent the next few minutes talking about our favourite hairstyles (she’s partial to pinned-up mohawks), pet peeves (broken hair elastics and lost bobby pins), and some of our favourite hobbies (like me, she had fun doing fashion shows and modeling). Her mom was super cool and allowed me to get a pic with my mini-me, and we laughed about how similar her and I were. Don’t you see it in the photo? The hair? The coats? The scarves? It was baffling.

Commercial break! Have you entered to win a ticket to The Mystic EffectCheck this post and tell me about your favourite piece of art! 

In recent discussions with other natural hair wearers, transitioners, and those contemplating making the change, there’s often a focus on the negatives of natural hair. Whether it’s complaints about texture, comparisons to others, or negative connotations about women who wear their hair naturally, I’ve been feeling unnecessarily burdened with having to defend my natural hair. Having said that, it was SO refreshing to speak with someone (in this case, an 8 year old with an effervescent personality) who exhibited a crazy amount of love of and pride in her own natural hair.

Do we do enough to instill that same love and pride with the kids in our lives? As y’all know, I don’t have my own yet, but the nieces and nephews and god-children and close friends’ kids in my life get a full dose of love from me. They need to feel proud of the skin and hair they’re in, so that when the pressures to change start to build upon them, they’re able to firmly push back. I don’t think I would have been as proud of my hair when I was Sade’s age. By 8, I was starting to ask my mom if I could have my hair “straight and swingy”, and she finally gave in when I was 12. When I see a young girl rocking her natural hair, I remember how affirmed I would have felt if another fly natural gave me a thumbs up or a sincere compliment – therefore I do the same. You don’t have to look too far into society to find an example of Black beauty being disregarded, mocked, or fetishized. A tap on the shoulder and an “I just wanted to say I love your hair!” is my small way to fight back and either plant the seed or water the plant of self-love and acceptance.

I’m not sure if little Sade realized she was such an inspiration, but she was. That bubbly personality and strong sense of self were nothing short of invigorating. She reminded me of Nikki Giovanni’s quote: “…And he said: you pretty full of yourself ain’t chu. So she replied: show me someone not full of Herself and I’ll show you a hungry person.” The Dos Equis dude may tell you to “Stay thirsty, my friends” – but let’s be like Sade and never be hungry.

How do the young people in your lives showcase their self-love? Are your young natural hair-wearers proud of their kinks and curls? How do you help to instill self-love and pride in young people?

Don’t forget to enter my contest to win a ticket to The Mystic Effect

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