Self-love and Building Bonds Through Hair in The Black Community

I have yet to meet a black person – woman or man – who doesn’t have strong feelings about getting their hair done. If you mention a barber, you might see one of us shudder, or you might get a bright smile if you ask who did such and such’s braids. Hair is an event in my community, sacred for it’s ability to elevate or destroy, an elixir for the worst of downs and best of ups,  while bringing strangers together for a few hours.

Personally, most of my favorite memories involve acting “grown” in the salon with my mother and the stylist, while Judge Judy or Oprah played in the background. Despite being knee high to a pig’s eye, I felt like an equal in those hours spent getting pulled, burned, and reshaped. I watched my mother become someone she didn’t get to be at work or at home, and got to exercise being someone I wasn’t comfortable expressing in my all-White-but-me classrooms. Sisterhood, I learned back then, was something to be fostered. Those bonds were a powerful weapon in the world.

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

I also learned a great deal about the power of appearances; a simple tweak of your locks could signal a slew of life changes. Hell, they could even lead to life changes if you looked good enough. Most importantly, I learned how to take care of myself in a way that is unique to my culture and rooted in history. To this day, my favorite way to show affection to others and myself is through hair.

The web of my life is punctuated by different hairstyles: an unfortunate jherri curl in elementary school, then braids that seemed to get shorter and more manicured as I navigated puberty, a relaxer when I was trying desperately to look like a grown up, then locs when I decided to be different in a way that was true to me. When I look at pictures, I can identify the period, the feeling, and the desires lurking below the surface by the way my hair was styled. It’s magic in a form the world can scarce reckon with.

Learning the history of Black hair is a great way to learn about ourselves, and for others to learn why we take it so seriously. For some it’s just hair, but for us it has meant rebellion, freedom, and home. Below are two of my favorite explorations of what Black hair means to us and why it seems to be the way we come together in pursuit of peace. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

 

Self-Care Mood: Olivia Care French Rose Oil

The older I get, the more I want to smell like a retiree lounging on a deck drinking coffee. The kind of ladies who read romance novels, watch Wheel of Fortune and make pork chops for lunch. Basically, I’m slowly transforming myself into my grandmothers and their ilk. That was the most glamorous lifestyle to me as a young girl, one full of good stories and even better smells. They all seemed to float through a hazy mixture of roses, baby powder, and cigarettes, which to my young nose meant culture.

These days I’m avidly against cigarettes and not a huge fan of traipsing around in a cloud of baby powder like I did when I was a kid, but their love of roses has made a permanent mark on my life. I vividly remember sampling perfumes in my grandmother’s room, moving from beautiful bottle to bottle dousing my skin in the fragrant waters. I so loved the rose-scented options that now the only perfumes I like carry similar floral notes. I’ve written before about the power of scent and I believe aromatherapy is one of the best forms of self-care.

valentines day perfume GIF by MSLK Design
Giphy

Enter today’s product: French Rose body oil from Olivia Care.

Olivia Care

I bought this for myself last Christmas when I should have been looking solely for gifts to my family (oops). After sneaking a peak at the little roses and stealing a sniff I knew I had to add it to my self-care arsenal. I do my best to avoid buying things to make myself feel better, instead opting for activities that feel healing, but a product here or there feels right to me, too. This is especially true for this oil. I add it to a bath after a long day to relax, apply it over my shea butter on my body for a perfumed effect, and have recently taken to rubbing just a tiny dollop of it onto my locs for a little perfume. The scent isn’t so heavy that it’s overpowering, yet it sticks to my skin and hair without fading immediately.

The best part about this oil is that it has lasted me almost a year. Just a few drops here or there have made a world of difference in my ability to disconnect from stress and breathe. I highly recommend it or any scented oil if you are looking for new ways to give your mind a rest without breaking your bank account.

What have you been using to relax these days? Let me know in the comments!

Shea Butter For The (Skincare) Win

I had chronically, tragically dry skin as a kid. It never mattered how much lotion I would slather on, by the time mid-day rolled around I looked like a chimney sweep. And, oh did the kids in school let me know it! I’m still on my way to healing from the trauma of looking like no one loved me enough to grease up my elbows, but today my woes when it comes to dry skin have been remedied thanks to shea butter!

Chances are you’ve heard of this stuff whether it be in connection to hair routines or moisture, as everyone seems to be enamored with the butter – and for good reason. Shea butter can be whipped and mixed with other oils to produce delectable concoctions which lock in moisture and rejuvenate the skin. I personally love to mix shea butter with warm coconut oil, and a few drops of one of my favorite essential oils and apply it all over before bed. In the morning, it’s like I have a new layer of ash-free skin. It seems like this miracle cream is too good to be true, but with a little investigation I’ve discovered it’s the real deal. Let’s dive in!

History

Shea butter hails from across the West African coast, along the Saraha and into Eastern Africa. The shea tree that the compound is derived from thrives within the dry climate. According to the Journal of Ethnobiologyshea butter has been created from the harvested nuts of the shea tree starting as far back as 100 B.C.E. During the excavation of a site in Burkina Faso in West Africa, a team of archaeologists discovered shells from the shea nut, and realized the practice of making the butter predates the previous belief that it began in 1100 C.E. That’s a long time to perfect the art of shea butter! The process is still carried out quite similarly to the past, and includes the aid of the entire household.

How is it made?

The process is very time-intensive and requires the involvement of the entire household, or a team. In this lovely video from Hamamat, you can watch the different stages of extracting, cooking, and forming shea butter from the nuts of the shea tree by the people who know it best. It’s quite interesting!

 

What does it do?

If you’re struggling with dry skin like I do, shea butter is a great alternative to traditional lotions or oils. It locks in moisture, softens rough patches, and I have experienced it clear up irritated spots. She butter can be applied to the skin of the body, your hair and face to fight dryness as well as the weakening of hair shafts. I do warn that it does not easily wash out of hair, so if you have dreadlocks like me it’s not a good option for the hair. In loose hair it works wonders. What’s great about the product is how long it can last. A little goes a long way, so you could potentially keep a jar of it for months to years without it spoiling.

 

There you have it! Have you tried shea butter? What oils or butters do you use to take care of your skin? Let me know in the comments!

Back to the Beginning: My Natural Hair Journey

 

Bald head scallywag/ aint got no hair in the back/ gelled up, weaved up/ your hair is messed up!”

These lyrics from “Chickenhead” by Project Pat haunted me as a teenager when I first heard them. I felt personally attacked by the imagery of a black woman with rough hair being ridiculed, because I had often looked at my own limp relaxed hair (that never seemed to grow beyond my ears )with resignation. It was so sparse that you could almost always see my scalp – I felt like I had one strand per square inch! For years I felt like relaxers weren’t working for me. Not only was the process painful, but the results left my crown looking like a mound of wet noodles. I usually ran around in box braids during the summer and for sports, but even those weren’t all they were cracked up to be. After hours sitting between a stylists’ legs, powerless as my edges were demolished, I was ready to run away from home. Nothing we did to my hair made me feel like I was me . I always felt like I was occupying a costume of what a young lady should look like.

My limp relaxed hair in middle school

So, when I heard those hateful – and admittedly hilarious – lyrics I felt like the jig was up. It was pure serendipity that India Arie came onto the scene not long after I began searching for new examples of what black hair could be. She was so vibrant and joyful in her “Video” music video that I became obsessed. I wanted to look and feel just as free as she appeared. Goapele came out with “Closer” around the same time, and her locs absolutely captured my heart as well. Those two women were joined by images of Lauren Hill, Whoopi Goldberg, and my cool aunt Gidget who had her own set of locs. Their beauty made me feel so excited about my hair’s potential that nothing could sway me from dreads.

My first set of locs after two years

My parents didn’t take much convincing when I told them I wanted to have dreadlocks, which I am so thankful for. After speaking with a hairstylist, my mom learned that I would have to grow out my relaxer to start the locs. We started transitioning my hair before we even had the terminology for it! I braved the box braids situation all through my senior year of high school until I had enough growth to cut off the relaxer and start my little locs. I remember being so enamored with the nubs when they were formed in 2005 that I couldn’t pass a mirror without gawking.

I went off to college feeling like the best version of myself and my locs truly flourished. I played with color, curled them and tried different updos in ways I never could have with my relaxed hair. The only time I encountered any push back against my hair was during a meeting with a woman in a corporate setting. This was my junior year, and I had to interview her about company policies for my class. Everything went well until the end when she suggested I needed to change my hair if I wanted to be taken seriously. I was struggling with depression at the time, so her comment – regardless of her intentions – struck me right in the gut. A few months later, while feeling worse and worse about myself, I went to a barber to have my hair shaved off. That moment was so painful that I vowed to never have locs again.

In the years following, I relaxed my hair in an attempt to look “normal”, but I felt just as uncomfortable and sad as ever. Instead, I decided to wear my hair in different ways to see what felt like me, such as a fro, a close crop, then braids, but nothing could compete with feeling ropes of my own hair floating free in the wind. So, it was only natural that I broke my vow and drifted back to the style that had made me so happy in the beginning of my journey.

My second set of locs, after being dyed

I put my second set of locs in on my own, thanks to several Youtube videos and articles on natural hair forums. Instead of worrying what others thought, I was devoted to having more fun with my hair. So, I grew my twists into locs, then dyed them a bright pink that rivaled cotton candy. I was so in love with how I looked and how free I felt. Sadly, those locs were so damaged after the bleach and dye that they had to be cut off once again. Yet, I didn’t feel the same at the time as I did with the loss of my first set. This time, I felt at peace with the decision to move forward. It was finally on my own terms, rather than being steeped in fear.

 

Before starting this current (and definitely permanent) set of locs on Christmas Eve in 2014, I came to terms with three lessons I’d been avoiding. I wanted to really commit to healthy hair, and these three realizations have helped me to push forward:

  1. Locs are all about acceptance. Not everyone is going to like them, and I had to accept that. I had to accept that my hair would do its own thing and I had to be at peace with the loss of control.
  2. I had to abandon the old habits of care. No more harsh chemicals, or waxes, no more going to bed without covering, and at least for now there is no more dye. I want to see how strong they can be with proper care.
  3. Whether I realized it or not, my hair is tied to my mental health. This isn’t true for everyone, nor do I think it’s wrong or right, but it’s the way it is for me. When I’m taking care of my hair I feel better, I feel strong, I feel nice and that’s alright. I know that hair will grow back and its just dead cells on my scalp, but I also feel the most me with my locs.
Me now, happy with what I’ve got

The tendrils on my head twist and bend in ways that are unique to every experience I’ve had with them like going on gator tours, volunteering in Haiti, and getting married. Every moment of joy, as well as bouts of sorrow, are weaved into my crown in a beautifully individualized manner. I don’t think there’s one way to look or be that everyone needs to follow. The beauty of our hair is that it’s strong enough to withstand journeys back home to who we want to be. I’m happy now that I’ve come back to myself in a big way and I hope others will find that kind of happiness, too. I can’t wait to share the process as I go.

Thank you for reading! Stay strong out there!