Phenomenal Professional Naturalista: Ms. Fana Gibson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is your name?

Fana Gibson

Where do you live? 

London, UK

What is your occupation?

Strategy Consultant, Financial Services

What is your educational background?

Howard University, BS Physics, BA French; University of Pennsylvania, The Wharton School, MBA, MA International Studies

How long have you been natural?

For most of my life. My hair was permed for three or four years as a teenager but I got tired of the maintenance and grew it out. Two other times I’ve gone back for a ‘change’ but those periods have always been short-lived (a year or less) before I revert to being natural.

Why did you decide to “go” natural?

I don’t know if it was ever a decision to “go” natural as much as coming to the realization that putting a chemical in my hair for it to look a certain way doesn’t sit well with me. I’ve spent a lot of time in extensions, either braids or crochet styles. Now I’m challenging myself to leave even those behind and to learn to style my hair as is. This, of course, is a process, and I feel like I’m still on that journey of loving my hair for what it is.

What is your go-to natural hairstyle?

Twist-out or a braided two-strand flat-twist.

Have you ever experienced any challenges in the workplace due to your natural hair?

No. I’ve worked in a corporate role for my entire career and have never been made to feel singled out because of my natural hair.

What do you love most about your natural hair?

The versatility. We can do so many great things to how we look by simply changing our hairstyle, whether it’s a two-strand twist, braids, a blow-out, or picking it out into a beautiful Afro!

What have you found to be most challenging about being natural?

Figuring out how to take care of my hair in the right way has definitely been a challenge. Black hair is so diverse that the same hair care routine or product range won’t work for everyone. In the beginning, I’d get frustrated because I just wanted someone to give me a handbook of all the right things to do, but unfortunately, it just doesn’t work that way. So it’s been a journey of discovery learning about my hair – from porosity, to the LOC method, to how weather and seasons affect it. You just have to keep trying and tweaking your routine- which sometimes can feel like a hassle but the end result is beautiful, healthy hair, which is worth it.

How do you maintain your “work-hair-life” balance?

On weekends I usually spend several hours washing, conditioning and moisturizing my hair. During the week I have a very busy schedule so I try to minimize time spent on my hair to 5 minutes on mornings. I have two or three go-to styles that fit into that timeframe: either a braided flat-twist or a twist-out which I can quickly unravel if done from the night before (usually takes 20 minutes while watching TV).

What words of encouragement would you offer to someone who is considering going natural, but may have reservations due to their profession?

You should be able to bring your full self to your job and part of that is deciding what hairstyle is right for you. The key is to own that decision and to have confidence while doing it – then it won’t matter what anyone says. In terms of maintenance, it’s definitely a journey – one that can sometimes be frustrating, but, more often than not, rewarding. Throw yourself into it, learn as much as you can, and create a routine that works for you and your lifestyle.
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Phenomenal Professional Naturalista: Dr. Shelby Wilson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is your name?

Shelby Wilson

Where do you live?

Atlanta, Georgia, USA

What is your occupation?

Assistant Professor of Mathematics at Morehouse College

What is your educational background?

B.S. Mathematics and Computer Science, Spelman College 2006; Ph. D. Applied Mathematics, University of Maryland, 2012

How long have you been natural?

I’ve been natural since I graduated from Spelman in May 2006.

Why did you decide to “go” natural?

My original motivation was simple: Perms burn my scalp. I tried every technique possible, and couldn’t keep my scalp from burning. At some point, I just asked myself “Why?”, and decided to stop getting touch-ups. I still straightened my hair on/off for the next 6 years. In 2012, I moved to France and committed to not putting heat on my hair. It was in my time overseas that I took the time to learn how to work with my hair.

What is your go-to natural hairstyle?

When my hair is long, I typically wear it in a twist-out. When it’s short, I sport a wash-n-go.

Have you ever experienced any challenges in the workplace due to your natural hair?

I’m fortunate in that I work in a mostly black city (Atlanta) in a mostly black environment (an HBCU). So there’s very little pressure in my daily life to conform to certain hairstyles. But on multiple occasions, at professional conferences, I’ve been told that my appearance or hair was “unprofessional” or made people uncomfortable. Early in my career, these types of reactions really discouraged me. But I let these negative experiences spur my outreach activities aimed at changing the perception of what a mathematician “looks” like.

What do you love most about your natural hair?

I love how BIG it is!

What have you found to be most challenging about being natural?

Learning to accept what my hair “wants” to do. This can be related to the weather, the health of my hair, the time I have, or a slew of other things. My hair doesn’t always do what I want/plan for it to do. I had to learn to accept that and work with what I’ve got!

How do you maintain your “work-hair-life” balance?

This is something I really struggle with. Before I had kids, I had all the time in the world, and my natural hair was long, healthy and beautiful. Since having kids, I have trouble finding the time to put together professional styles for long natural hair. Now, I mostly opt to keep my hair short. This gives me a professional look without too much time spent on my hair each morning.

What words of encouragement would you offer to someone who is considering going natural, but may have reservations due to their profession?

Go for it!! Don’t let your colleagues send you the message “We can accept you as long as you’re striving for unattainable standards of beauty.” Also, find a good natural hairstylist. A good stylist will definitely have you looking super-polished and professional with your natural hair.

***

Follow Dr. Shelby Wilson on Facebook: Shelby Wilson Chembo, Handle: ScrabbitNicole

or visit: www.shelby-wilson.com and www.mathematicallygiftedandblack.com

Phenomenal Professional Naturalista: Mrs. Racquel Brown

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is your name?

Racquel Brown

Where do you live?

Brampton, Ontario, Canada

What is your occupation? 

Instructional Coach, Peel District School Board; Founder of Empower & Equip, an organization that provides resources to support parents in their journey to raise passionate, empowered children

What is your educational background? 

Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Education, Redeemer University College.

How long have you been natural?

14 years

Why did you decide to “go” natural?

When my husband and I decided that we wanted to have a family, I started to think about the impact that chemical relaxers could have on a baby. I had no scientific research to back anything up – it was just a decision that I felt was right for me and more safe for my baby.

What is your go-to natural hairstyle?

TWIST OUT, 110%!!

Have you ever experienced any challenges in the workplace due to your natural hair?

Well, when I went natural, I just jumped right in with a big chop! No transitioning, I just ripped the band-aid off and went for it. I Kept it short for a long time – my barber was my bestie! As is began to grow, I felt that I needed to flat iron regularly to feel comfortable around my colleagues. Now, to be clear, no one ever said “straight is great, and fro is no”; it was something that I just felt and never questioned. Over time I began to realize that I was the one who needed to be comfortable with my Blackness and stand in the truth that my hair is a huge part of who I am, and I need to own my right to wear it 100% natural—with confidence. Sooooo, enter big chop #2! I started fresh, and as it grew, I embraced it, and I have not straightened it in 7 years.

What do you love most about your natural hair?

EVERYTHANG!! The shape, the versatility, the sheen, the curls… LISTEN!! There is nothing like a fresh twist-out that is 100% behaving itself!

What have you found to be most challenging about being natural?

Sometimes Wash Day can be tiresome (maybe that’s why it is Wash DAY). I also have two daughters so Wash Day x3 can be a bit much. But I have a system, and I am slowly teaching my girls how to wash their own hair.

How do you maintain your “work-hair-life” balance?

Well, contrary to what some think, I do not spend hours twisting my hair every night. My routine is manageable and I don’t feel like my hair is “in the way”. I do have to strategically plan when I wash, twist, rock a puff…but all of these things are probably the story of every natural out there.

What words of encouragement would you offer to someone who is considering going natural, but may have reservations due to their profession?

IF you are wearing your hair straight because of external pressures or perceptions, whether real or imagined), that is a form of colonization that you deserve to be free from. Black women are crushing the European standard of beauty, and we will continue to do so. If we want the world to accept us for who we are, we first need to accept our beauty and wear our skin and hair with confidence. IF, however, you choose to rock your relaxer, weave, wig, locs, braids, twist-out, fro because it is what YOU choose, I say to you, “Go, on girl! Do your thing!” Once YOU have made that choice, walk with the beauty and grace of a beautiful Black queen.

***

Follow Mrs. Racquel Brown on

Instagram: @mrsracquelbrown / @empowerandequip

Facebook: @Racquel Brown / @Empower & Equip

Baby, It’s Cold Outside, Pt. II: Hair Armour (or All Things Protective Styling!)

Winter is now in full swing, which means it’s time to suit your hair up with some protective styling armour for the chilly season, if you haven’t already! Protective styling is used as a means to shield the hair and scalp from exposure to harsh external factors, such as extreme cold, and to halt unnecessary manipulation that could lead to potential breakage.

When preparing to “put your hair away” for the winter, it’s important to ensure that your hair and scalp have been properly washed, conditioned, and treated, to keep the hair in a strong healthy state before styling, as such styles are meant to be kept for a prolonged period of time- anywhere from 3 to 9 weeks, depending on your individual preference and level of maintenance. To learn more about proper winter hair maintenance, click here.

Hair Armour: Protective Hairstyles

There are a number of different protective styling options that can be used to help preserve your hair during the winter season, including, but not limited to: box braids, goddess locs, faux locs, twists, crochet braids, wigs, and simply wearing a head wrap.

Box braids

Box braids: Extension braids made by incorporating either synthetic or human hair into sections of your own hair, and usually braided down your back. (Be mindful not to get these installed too tight or too small, as they can cause serious breakage along the hair line- preserve your edges!)

Extension twists: Extension hair twisted into sections of your hair, to create Senegalese, Marley, and Havana twists, depending on the texture of hair that is used. This is a relatively safe and beautiful style- even for those with fine hair– as long as the base of the twists are not done too small or too tight, and the extension hair is not too heavy.

Goddess Locs & Faux Locs: Hair is box-braided or twisted, and then wrapped with Kanekalon, Marley twist, or any other type of kinky extension hair. (Note: Goddess locs have a loose curl at the bottom of each loc; faux locs do not.) For these options, try to pick a brand of extension hair that is relatively light in weight, as the loss can become heavy depending on their size and length. Also, make sure that your sections are parted large enough to support the weight of the extensions.

Faux Locs

Goddess Locs

Crochet braids

Crochet Braids: One of the most versatile and time-efficient protective styles. Hair is cornrowed to act as a base for the extension hair that is then crocheted through the cornrows using a latch hook. This styling method is also one of the safest- just be sure to let your stylist know if you feel any pulling from your scalp, even if it’s slight. You can choose any type of extension hair to be crocheted into the cornrows.

Wigs: Wigs are a great way to quickly put away your hair- throw one on, and you’re done! Choose a wig that fits properly though: make sure that the wig doesn’t rest directly on top of your edges, because there is a chance that the constant friction of the wig against your hairline and potential movement could cause thinning (again, preserve your edges!)

Head wrap: Self explanatory: find a nice piece of fabric that doesn’t snag easily on your hair (for example, silk); wrap your hair up in a way that makes you feel fabulous, and go about your day! Avoid tying the wrap too tight– no need for a headache or damaging your hairline- and make sure that all your hair is tucked underneath the wrap; otherwise, it’s no longer protective! For more on head wraps, click here.

Now you can put your hair away and let it take a rest! And what’s great is that all of the styles mentioned above are pretty low maintenance: once installed, all you need to do is to tie them down at night, and you’ll be looking fly for the weeks to come!

Protective Style Tips

Once you’ve started wearing a protective style, it can be easy to completely forget about your scalp while your hair is on vacation! But here’s the secret, and it’s really simple: every now and then, spritz your protective style with some water or a protective style refresher (London Ivy Products and Up North Naturals both have great ones!); and no more than 3 times a week, just rub a little oil in-between the parts of your style (and by “oil”, we’re talking about the good stuff- the ones that can be consumed- 100% oils with no additives). The use of a good oil, in conjunction with some water, will help keep your scalp healthy throughout the lifespan of your protective style.

Finally, to clean your scalp, mix some shampoo with some water in a spray or applicator bottle. Apply the mixture directly to the scalp; massage with your finger tips; and rinse.

When it’s time for you to take down your protective style, do so with care, so you don’t cause unnecessary damage during the take down process. Return to your normal hair care routine, and then give your hair- and your scalp, especially- some time to rest before jumping back into another protective style.

Have you tried any of the protective styles above? Let us know which one is your go-to in the comments!

I Can’t Stop the Itchiness: When your scalp just won’t cooperate

Thanks for stopping by for another post, we welcome you warmly and hope you enjoy today’s read!

Today’s post is dedicated to the naturals who have to do double duty– caring for and maintaining their hair while also treating a skin or scalp condition. While there are many scalp conditions that can make growing and caring for your natural hair a bit more difficult, the focus of this post will be on a condition called Seborrhoeic Dermatitis (or SD).

What is Seborrhoeic Dermatitis (SD)?

Seborrhoeic Dermatitis is known to affect the areas of the body where sebum (your skin’s natural oil) is released, such as the folds of the nose, eyebrows, behind the ears, chin, scalp, genital area, etc. SD commonly manifests itself in the form of patches of dry, flaky, scaly skin that can range from super-dry to incredibly oily. The affected area can be very itchy, tender, swollen, bruised, and sensitive to external stimuli. There are many triggers that may cause SD to flare up, including stress, extremely dry or humid weather, excessive sweating, ingestion of certain foods, contact with common allergens (pollen, dust, pet fur, etc).

Treatment:

Currently, there is no permanent solution to SD.  The best thing to do if you suspect or know that you have this condition is to get referred to a good dermatologist to find out the severity of your individual case (severity varies between each individual); from there, s/he can prescribe you with medicated ointments, creams, shampoos to help you get the condition under control and to better manage it.

However, if you’d prefer to get an over-the-counter remedy, there are many options available to you.

Here’s a list of shampoos that can be used to help with your SD:

  1. Head and Shoulders Anti-dandrufff Anti-SD Shampoo: Active ingredient- 1% Selenium sulfide
  2. T-Gel: Active ingredient- 0.5% Coal tar
  3. Nizoral: Active ingredient: 2%  Ketoconazale

In general, all of these shampoos are used to help relieve itchiness, lift and remove flakes, soothe the scalp, and reduce inflammation of the affected area.

Now I’m sure you’re all asking the same question: What’s gonna happen to my hair? The truth is,  yes, all of these shampoos will dry out your hair to a certain degree; moreover, it is recommended that you use these shampoos frequently to keep the condition under control (a naturalistas nightmare!) However, don’t fret, as there is a work-around  that will keep your scalp happy, while also allowing your natural hair to thrive!

Here’s what you need to do on wash day:

  1. Wet your hair and apply your conditioner before your shampoo– this will help minimize the drying effect of the medicated shampoo on your hair.

2. Take your medicated shampoo, rub it between your hands, and then massage into your scalp- just focus on getting the scalp.

3. Let the shampoo sit for several minutes to ensure that it penetrates your scalp.

4. Wash out the shampoo and conditioner.

5. Follow-up with a deep conditioning masque or treatment.

6. Apply your leave-in conditioner and then seal your hair with whichever oil you prefer.

7. Cover your head with a plastic shower cap or bag for 15 to 30 minutes.

8. Uncover your head and style your hair, as desired.

On a final note, it’s important to be diligent and consistent when treating your scalp. Keep in mind that not every solution works for everyone across the board; so, yes, there will be a little trial-and-error involved in the process of finding the right SD regimen for you.

Finally, don’t despair about the shampoo completely drying out your hair- it’s okay- as long as you focus on the scalp while washing and ensure that you replace the moisture in your hair, as instructed above.

Getting your scalp condition under control is essential to your hair’s overall health and longevity- your hair’s home is your scalp– it can only be as healthy as your scalp is! So here’s to healthier scalps and optimal natural hair growth!

Do you struggle to maintain your hair health due to SD or a similar skin/scalp condition? Let us know your story, techniques, and remedies in the comments!

 

 

Tress Stress – Pt. III (or “When you want what you don’t have”)

en·vy
/ˈenvē/
 noun
1. the feeling of wanting to have what someone else has.
2. someone or something that causes envy.

 

verb
1. to feel a desire to have what someone else has : to feel envy because of (someone or something).

hair envy
noun
1. the feeling of wanting to have hair like someone else.

 

We always want what we don’t have

Lavinia Lahrese

My fellow lawyer (and YouTube vlogger) Lavinia Lahrese and her beautiful fine natural hair! Check out her channel: www.youtube.com/lavinialahrese

Last week, I was having a conversation with a colleague of mine about Black hair, and she started sharing her experiences with tress stress with me, as a fellow naturalista:

My hair’s so thin! I wish it were thicker, like yours!

I wish my hair was longer! 

When I do my wash-and-go, it doesn’t look like yours!

I think my workmate has beautiful hair- a mane to be envied, even (pictured to the right)! In fact, her hair reminds me of my sister’s: it’s very fine; more curly than it is coily; and it has quite a bit of length too!  Ironically, while both of these ladies have expressed their frustrations to me about their fine natural hair, when I was younger, I remember having my own issues with hair envy- wishing that my hair was more like theirs because nobody ever really wanted to comb mine!

 

Why? Because I had (and still do have) a lot of hair.  They used to call me “Bush-Head”, actually, because it was so big.  And not only did (do) I have a lot of hair, in terms of density, but it’s also thick! My sister’s hair, on the other hand, was easier to manage- even when it got wet- and therefore was not a hassle.

 

Wash Day

Wash Day when I, “Bush-Head”, was a toddler (not much has changed since then!)

My sister, Sarah, in SK

My sister, Sarah, in SK

 

Sadly, hair envy is not uncommon. Whether due to external and/or internal influences, we always seem to want what we don’t have: people with curly hair wish they had straight hair; those with straight hair wish it was curly; people with thin hair wish it was thick; and those with thick hair wish it was thinner!

Over the years,  however, I’ve learned that it really doesn’t pay to envy what other people have– whether that’s hair or anything else, for that matter- because:

(a) It doesn’t change what you have, and

(b) It distracts you from recognizing and valuing what you do have!

All envying really does is cause you unnecessary grief!

The answer to hair envy is hair contentment: you have to get to the place where you are content with what you’ve been given!

 

So, when my workmate asked me, “how are you so comfortable now with your natural hair?”, I told her exactly that: “you just have to accept what you have, and then make the most of it!”

Big hair don't care

Accepting what’s mine, and making the most of it!

Overcoming hair envy with hair contentment

Having grown up natural, and dealing with my own experience with hair envy as a child, I get it: it’s hard sometimes to be content with what you have, when everything and everyone seems to be saying to you that your hair isn’t good enough!  

But if you want to reduce the type of stress caused by hair envy, and thus be happy with your own tresses, two things need to happen.  You need to recognize and accept that:
(a) Our hair, African hair, is uniquely ours; and
(b) Your hair, as an individual, is uniquely yours.

 

Uniquely Ours

African/textured hair is uniquely ours: no one has hair like we do!  So instead of focusing on what it supposedly can’t do, focus on what it CAN do– it’s all about perspective!

 

  • Our hair, in its purely natural state, supposedly CAN’T “move” or blow in the wind, BUT our hair CAN stay in place when you style it. (PS- in case you didn’t know, our hair CAN “move”, both when it’s curly or straightened, depending on how you manipulate it.)
  • Our hair supposedly CAN’T lie flat and it’s too frizzy, BUT our hair CAN be shaped and defined, often without the help of any implements. (PS- our hair CAN lie flat and smooth when it’s stretched or straightened, both with/without the help of gel or styling cream.)
  • Our hair supposedly CAN’T get to waist length at the drop of a dime, BUT our hair CAN go from short to long instantaneously- hello, shrinkage! (PS- our hair CAN get to waist length too, with the right amount of care.)
  • Our hair supposedly CAN’T be “managed” because it’s too tangly, BUT our hair CAN keep braids, rolls, and buns, etc without much assistance, for that very same reason! (PS- our hair CAN be “managed” using the right combs and detangling brushes, some water in a spray bottle, and/or a good moisturizer/conditioner to add some slip!)
Uniquely Yours
It’s also important to remember that your hair, as an individual, is uniquely yours! No one has hair exactly like YOU do! As I mentioned earlier, even my sister and I don’t have the same type of hair; and though your mane may be similar to someone else’s (like Sarah’s is to Lavinia’s), nobody’s is exactly like yours! That should make you excited because what it means is that there is at least one specific thing that your tresses can do that no one else’s can; and once you discover what that thing is, you should embrace it and celebrate it!
Sarah & Me

Sarah and me, celebrating our uniqueness (PS- nobody can wear a ‘fro like me!)

Do you struggle with hair envy? If not, how have you learned to be content with your tresses?

Tress Stress – Pt. II (or “Can I Wear this Hair to Work?”)

pro·fes·sion·al

prəˈfeSH(ə)n(ə)l/

adjective

1. 
of, relating to, or connected with a profession.

2. (of a person) engaged in a specified activity as one’s main paid occupation rather than as a pastime.

noun

1. 
a person engaged or qualified in a profession.

 

cor·po·rate

ˈkôrp(ə)rət/

adjective

1. 
of or relating to a corporation, especially a large company or group.

noun

1. 
a corporate company or group.

 

As if being a professional isn’t already stressful enough!

Have you ever questioned whether your boss is going to like your new hair(do)? Or whether you should wear your hair like “this” to an interview? Or even pondered how you’re going to explain to your colleagues how your hair magically went from being so short to growing back so fast, all within a matter of days?

For the textured-haired professional, these sorts of considerations are often the norm. As such, hairstyle choices can be a source of great stress when working in a “professional” environment (as if being a professional isn’t already stressful enough!)

 

The corporate interview

While career sites encourage people to wear their hair in the way they feel most comfortable (as long as it’s clean and neat) for an interview, those with textured hair do not enjoy that same luxury.  I learned this lesson for the first time when I was in undergrad, while I was a part of an internship program called Inroads.  At Inroads, we, students of colour, were being groomed for successful careers in the corporate world.  During our Impression Management session, the facilitator spoke to us about our suits, our shoes, the colours that we should wear…and, of course, our hair.

Our facilitator specifically pointed out that the Black interns should avoid wearing braids or cornrows to their interviews. I stood up and asked her what were those of us with natural hair expected to do, since braided styles were often all we wore. She explained to me that we could wear our hair braided, as long as the braids were neat and pulled back. It was her recommendation, however, for us to avoid such hairstyles altogether, lest we forfeit a job opportunity simply because of our hairdo.

I was flabbergasted.

My McGill Law graduation photo. My go-to back then were single extension braids.

My McGill Law graduation photo. My go-to back then were single extension braids.

While I understood the rationale for pulling back your hair back from your face (to allow the interviewer to see you without distractions and to deter you from perhaps playing with your hair out of nervousness), what I did not understand was why, if my hair was clean, braided neatly, and pulled back, it would not be “professional” enough.  Boy, was I naïve to think that my résumé, transcripts, poise, and tidy appearance would be sufficient to land a job!  I thought that what was inside my head was much more important than what was on top of it.  Sadly, this is not the case: your hair matters!

 

 

 

My slicked-back interview bun

My slicked-back interview bun

These days, my day-to-day hairstyles are usually two-strand twists, a twist-out, or an Afro; and, on occasion, I’ll have my own hair cornrowed or braided with extensions.  However, when I go for interviews, my go-to style is usually a slicked-back bun.  I don’t risk the braids, twists, or wearing it out because I don’t want to ruin my chances of landing the job.  There have been times when I have said to myself, “Well, if they [prospective employer] don’t like my hair the way it is, then maybe I shouldn’t work there”.  But then I catch myself.  I figure, “maaaaybe it’s better for me to get the job first, and then ‘feel them out’ to see if they’re gonna be okay with my hair”, rather than have myself counted out of the running from the beginning—just because of my hairstyle choice.

 

At my Call to the Bar (Swearing-In) ceremony

At my Call to the Bar (Swearing-In) ceremony

Side view - Call to the Bar 'do

Side view – Call to the Bar ‘do

Back view - Call to the Bar 'do

Back view – Call to the Bar ‘do

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the job

So, once you get the job, what happens next? You’re obviously expected to look “professional” on a day-to-day basis.  The problem is, by default, most “Black” hairstyles are considered to be unprofessional.

Although textured-haired professionals went to the same schools and work just as hard as their straight-haired counterparts, many times our capabilities and our corporate “fit” are questioned on the basis of our hairdos.  Why? Because braids, ‘locks, and other “ethnic” hairdos carry certain negative connotations: they are perceived to be political, threatening, or examples of “unkempt” hair.

And then there’s the double-standard…Unlike straightened hair, natural hair cannot be worn down- it’s worn out! While it is acceptable for a straight-haired woman to wear her hair down in the office, which is  equivalent to me wearing mine in an Afro, there are only certain corporate settings which would accept an Afro as a “professional” hairstyle.

Then, there’s the mystique of the “ever-changing hairdo”.  Black women are by no means the only ones to wear extensions or hairpieces, but somehow, we manage to baffle people every time we decide to change our ‘dos (I’m guessing it’s because of the frequency?)  I have tried to be patient with my responses to queries about the “dynamic” nature of my hair growth, using them as teaching moments; but I would be lying if I said that sometimes I don’t find it annoying, having to explain why my hair was short on Friday and then super-long on Monday!

 

How do you wear your hair to job interviews or to work? Have you ever experienced tress stress in the workplace? 

Tress Stress – Pt. I (or “Have You Ever Tried to Straighten a Slinky?”)

stress

/stres/

noun

  1. 
pressure or tension exerted on a material object.
  2. 
a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.

 

tress stress

/tres stres/

noun

  1. Stress caused by one’s hair.

Tress stress is a condition that can be suffered by anyone whose hair does not meet the societal ideal, whether in texture, thickness, abundance, length or colour. The cause of this condition is two-fold: it is brought on by external factors putting pressure on you to wear your hair a certain way; and it also comes from within, from the internal pressure you put on yourself to try to meet those external demands.

For people with textured hair, tress stress can be chronic. This chronic stress is caused by constantly seeking to achieve a straight-haired or even wavy-haired norm for the sake of “beauty”, in conjunction with trying to loosen your curl patterns for the sake of “manageability”. In this series of posts, I’m going to discuss different forms of tress stress and how they can be alleviated.

 

 Have You Ever Tried to Straighten a Slinky?

This past Sunday was Easter, which is the one day of the year when churchgoers wear their “Sunday’s Best”, if at no other time. When my sister and I were younger, Easter Sunday’s Best meant that we would be getting our hair pressed (essentially, ironed with a hot comb) the night before.  This was an occasion that was always met with great anticipation because for the rest of the year, it was only braids and Afro puffs for us (how boring! we thought). Having our hair pressed meant that it would blow in the wind, it would look longer, and we would pretty much feel prettier; BUT it also meant that we couldn’t do anything– we’d have to make sure that our blankets weren’t too hot, that our shower wasn’t too steamy, and that we didn’t run around too hard at church—otherwise, that “pretty” press-and-curl would sweat right out—and our hair would turn back (curl up)!

The wonderful thing about straightened kinky (tightly curled) or curly hair is that when it’s exposed to moisture, it coils right back!  This phenomenon of turning back is the reason why many Black girls avoid jumping into the pool, even when it’s boiling hot outside—it’s not because they don’t like to swim—it’s because they know that once that water hits their hair, it will ruin their hairdos which probably took them a long time to get done (and will probably take even longer to re-do). Another reason for the hesitancy is usually because detangling extremely curly hair can be very time-consuming, especially if you don’t have the proper tools on hand or know the right techniques.

The uniqueness of “African” hair

Due to the unique texture and properties of “African” hair, Black hair care methods are generally different from that of most other ethnic groups.  Though there is no such thing as “African” hair (since the continent of Africa is populated by many diverse ethnic groups from different climates, each having its own hair texture), what we tend to call “African” hair is the type that is found in Sub-Saharan Africa, which is kinky and frizzy. Ethnic groups have various traits, like skin colour and hair texture, partly because of the climates of the environments where their ancestors lived. People with Sub-Saharan African ancestry tend to have coily hair, which provides insulation from the sun to keep one’s head cool,  but it is also prone to getting tangled, and tends to be drier and duller than other types of hair.

A source of frustration

Though my sister and I only experienced our specially pressed hair but once a year, for many other Black girls, straightened hair was the norm (and for many, it still is). Our friends’ mothers would relax (chemically-straighten), press or flat-iron their hair on a regular basis, in order to make it straight, sleeker, and more manageable.  These processes were supposed to make life easier.

But as my brother observed, “Black women straightening their hair is like trying to straighten a slinky.” Have you ever tried to straighten a slinky? No matter how hard you tried, you wouldn’t be able to get all the kinks out, and it would either revert to its original state or just end up completely destroyed. The same idea applies to trying to smooth down frizzy hair. It’s like playing a game of Whac-a-Mole– those curls will just keep popping up! So what does all of this mean for the kinky- and curly-haired people of the world? It means frustration!

 

frus·tra·tion

frəˈstrāSH(ə)n/

noun

the feeling of being upset or annoyed, especially because of inability to change or achieve something.

  • an event or circumstance that causes one to have a feeling of frustration.
  • the prevention of the progress, success, or fulfillment of something.

I think a lot of the frustration we experience comes from us trying to make our hair do what it’s not supposed to do. In the name of “beauty”, we spend so much of our time trying to make our hair do things that are contrary to its very nature: we try to make our hair look sleek, straight, or wavy, when it all it wants to be is curly, puffy, and fuzzy. In the name of “manageability”, we alter our curls, whether through heat or by chemical means to make it “easier” to comb and style. But all of these efforts only serve to frustrate us.  In the same vein, it’s no coincidence that the origin of the word “frustration” is the Latin word frustrare which means “to disappoint”. As long as we continue to try to achieve straight styles and to manipulate our hair using the same methods intended for straight hair, we will only be disappointed.

So what’s the cure for this kind of tress stress?

cure

kyo͝or/

noun

1. 
a substance or treatment that cures a disease or condition.

  • restoration to health.
  • a solution to a problem.

To relieve this condition, rather than frustrating ourselves with trying to make our hair do what it doesn’t want to do, I think we should try to “lean in” to our curls, by:

  • Accepting and making the most of our texture or length, no matter how kinky or short our hair may be.
  • Changing our definition of what looking “good” means for our tresses.  We need to stop trying to compare apples to oranges—it will never work.
  • Gaining an understanding of the properties of our hair and adopting new methods and techniques for maintaining it. For instance, on a basic level, curly hair cannot (and in some cases should not) be combed in the same way as straight hair—the curlier your hair, the wider your comb teeth should be. And sometimes it’s even better to use your fingers instead!
  • Figuring out what your hair does well, and doing that!  Find out what styles work for your hair, and then wear them like nobody else! For some people, that might mean keeping their hair short. For others, it might mean having their hair braided. Whatever you choose, do you!
  • Keeping in mind that Black hair itself is unique by nature, so it cannot do the same things that straight hair can do; but what that also means is that it can do things that straight hair cannot do! For example, it can stand on end! It can also be formed into designs that keep their shape. We need to start harnessing and celebrating these qualities of textured hair!
  • Remembering that your hair is unique to you, and it will never look like exactly like anyone else’s.  So, instead of trying to get what someone else has, learn to appreciate your own.

The more we begin to embrace our hair for what it is, and start letting go of our unrealistic expectations, I believe the less stress we’ll feel.

 

Do you suffer from tress stress? How do you try to alleviate it?