How to cornrow your hair

Cornrows or canerows (or track braids) is a traditional African braiding technique. Cornrows are made by braiding the hair onto the scalp’s surface, after parting the hair into a design.

  1. Part a section of the hair starting from the hairline to the nape, keeping in mind that the thicker the section the thicker your cornrow will be.

2. Clip the rest of the head of hair to the side or put it in a ponytail holder to keep it out of the way while you cornrow the parted section.

3.  Starting at the hairline, take a small piece of the parted section and split that piece into three equal strands.

TIP: Anchor the right strand of hair in-between the middle finger and ring finger of your right hand; and anchor the left strand of hair in-between the middle finger and ring finger of your left hand, and brace your hands against the head, leaving your thumbs and pointer fingers free to pull the outside strands under the middle strand as you braid.

Try to brace your pinky fingers against the head, and hold the strands as upright as possible, to help you get the right tension!

4.  Start braiding the strands like a regular plait using the underhand method (opposite of a French braid) for about two stitches/notches: using the pointer/index finger and thumb of your left hand to pull the right strand under the middle strand; using the pointer/index finger and thumb of your right hand to pull the left strand under the middle strand; the right strand under the middle strand, and the left strand under the middle strand.

5. Now you will start the cornrow.   As you make the motion of pulling the right strand under the middle strand using the pointer/index finger and thumb of your left hand, pick up extra hair from the right side of the parted section and pull it into the right strand. Pull the right strand with added hair under the middle strand.

6.  Then, do the same thing as you make the motion of pulling the left strand under the middle strand using the pointer/index finger and thumb of your right hand,  pick up extra hair from the left side of the parted section into the left strand.  Pull the left strand with added hair under the middle strand.

TIP: As you pull the right and left strands under the middle strand, run your fingers through to the ends to prevent the free ends from tangling.

TIP: As you cornrow, try to keep your hands at an angle of as close to 90 degrees as possible/upright against the head (as opposed to following the direction in which you are cornrowing). Holding your hands at close to 90 degrees/upright will help you get the right tension to keep the cornrow neat and tight (without yanking the hair).

7.  Continue to cornrow, by repeating Steps 5 and 6: picking up extra hair on each side as you pull the right strand under the middle strand, the left strand under the middle strand, the right strand…until there is no more hair to add from the parted section.

TIP: Try to pick up the same amount of hair on each side to make the stitches/notches of your cornrow neat and even.

8.  Once all of the hair in the parted section is cornrowed against the scalp, continue to braid the free ends like a regular plait using the underhand method.

Keeping the cornrow from unwinding:

9.  Once you get to the end of the plait, if the hair is very curly, the cornrow may hold itself together. If not, you can either spiral the ends around your finger, using a little twisting gel/cream, or you can secure the cornrow with a snag-free/covered elastic band, clip, or barrette.

Finishing the style

10. Unclip or loosen the unbraided hair and repeat Steps 1-9 until the entire head is cornrowed.

TIP: How you part the hair will determine the size and shape/design of your cornrows; so, to keep them even, in Step 1, part the new section the same size and in the same shape as the cornrow beside it.  

Also, keep in mind, if you are cornrowing straight back, as you part the hair, you will have to taper the section toward the nape—the hairline and the crown of the head covers more area than the nape, so if you don’t taper the sections, you will run out of hair to cornrow at the back of the head.

Finally, to keep your cornrows neat, wear a satin/silk scarf or headtie, or use a satin/silk pillowcase when you go to sleep. Depending on how curly your hair is, how small the cornrows are, and whether you tie your hair at nighttime, your cornrowed style could last for a few days or up to a week or so.

Happy cornrowing!

Available Now: What Are You Gonna Do with that Hair?

Everyone knows Zuri as “the girl with the puffy hair.” Her afro is big and fluffy, and not even gravity can keep it down. People often ask her, “What are you gonna do with that hair?” Zuri finds the answer in her cultural hair-itage and shows she can sculpt and shape her curls and coils into beautiful works of African art—braids, ‘locks, bantu knots—in other words, whatever she wants!

This illustrated non-fiction book encourages Black girls to celebrate the beauty and versatility of their natural hair and learn the rich history of natural hairstyles.

 

Get your copy today!

Available in Canada on Amazon.ca: Click here to purchase.

Also available in-store at Knowledge Bookstore: 177 Queen Street West, Brampton, Ontario L6Y 1M5.

Available in the United States on Amazon.com: Click here to purchase.

Every day is a good hair day!

 

What Are You Gonna Do with that Hair? Book Launch

book-launch-collage

Let’s celebrate Black History Month together at the book launch for “What Are You Gonna Do with that Hair?” at Knowledge Bookstore (117 Queen St W, Brampton, Ontario L6Y 1M3) on Saturday, February 25, 2017, at 2pm!

This is a FREE event! Please register on Eventbrite: zurisbeautifulhair.eventbrite.com

For more information, please visit www.knowledgebookstore.com or www.thenaturalhairadvocate.com

Follow us on:
Facebook: The Natural Hair Advocate
Twitter: @TheNHAdvocate
Instagram: @zurisbeautifulhair
#ZurisBeautifulHair

Coming soon…

Meet Zuri
Zuri loves her natural hair and all of the amazing things she can do with it!

Zuri -Coming Soon

Follow her throughout history and around the world as she learns about the beauty and versatility of natural hairstyles in What Are You Gonna Do with that Hair? 

Coming soon…

Why braiding matters

Braiding school in Senegal

Honing my braiding skills in Senegal

Ten years ago, I embarked on a journey to learn about the practice of hair braiding around the world. Why? Because, at the time, I noticed that even though hair braiding, in its various forms, was (and has always been) a universal styling technique in various cultures, people seemed to have a negative view of African stylized braiding; and I wanted to know why.

I’ve always loved braids, both wearing them and doing them.  To me, hair braiding is an artform, and I couldn’t understand why people have had a problem with it (and I still don’t know why).  So, I wanted to help people acknowledge the beauty and significance of hair braiding, not only to persons of African descent but to humans all around the globe; I really wanted people to recognize the value of hair braiding as a human practice.

Also, at the time I wrote my Watson project proposal, most of my girlfriends from college and many other Black women I knew had never been taught how to braid– and in many cases, they had no real desire or a need to learn- since, for the most part, they wore their hair straight. So, what this meant was that the practice of stylized braiding, a long-standing tradition in Black culture, was no longer being passed down from mothers to daughters.

Braiding O.N.'s hairThankfully, things were slowly starting to change: more and more women were beginning to return to their natural state.  As a result, braids (which, for a long time, had been reserved simply for the maintenance of little girls’ hair) began to be considered as an appropriate styling choice again.  Even so, many women were still not learning how to braid themselves, or teaching their daughters, for that matter.

Ten years later, that trend toward “going natural” has turned into a movement; and with the Natural Hair Movement now in full effect, I believe the art of braiding has become all the more important.

Spelman Naturalistas

10 years later, and we’re all natural!

Though I don’t expect for anyone to be as crazy about braids as I am, here are a few reasons why I think braiding matters (and why you should learn and also teach your children):

Braiding facilitates day-to-day maintenance and manageability

  • shrinkageBraiding can help stretch your hair if you’re experiencing shrinkage.
  • Braiding your hair into sections can make the washing, conditioning, and moisturizing processes easier, especially if your hair is thick.
  • When your hair is braided, it is easier to oil your scalp.
  • Once your hair is braided, you spend less time on a day-to-day basis doing your hair.
  • Being able to even just plait your hair before you go to bed at night can make a world of difference between having a manageable head of hair or having to spend time detangling your matted tresses the next day.
  • Braiding can be used to create heat-free crimps (also known as a braid-out).

Braids can help with the transitioning process

  • If you’re going natural, and are not ready to go the full nine yards yet by doing a big chop, wearing properly-installed extension braids can help during the process of growing out your hair (which can be a particularly frustrating time, in terms of styling, since your hair is two different textures at the same time).

Extension Braids (front)Extension braids (back)

Braids serve as great protective styles (provided they are done properly and are well taken care of)

  • Braids (which also serve as the basis of many protective styles, such as crochet braids and weaves) are great for protecting your mane from the wear-and-tear of constant manipulation; friction from your clothing, pillowcases, etc; and the elements.
  • Make sure you don’t braid your hair too tight, or leave your braids in for too long, otherwise you could do more damage than good to your hair and/or scalp. (Click the following link for Protective Styling Do’s and Don’ts tips from London Ivy ProductsProtective Styling ebooklet)

Ancient Egyptian braidsBraids connect us to and are a celebration of our African roots

  • Since the time of the Ancient Egyptians, braiding has been an important cultural and hair maintenance practice throughout the entire African continent.
  • Stylized braiding serves as a cultural souvenir of our African heritage, and is one of the main practices that survived the Middle Passage.
  • By learning how to braid and teaching your children how to braid, you would be carrying on a treasured ancient African tradition.

Braiding and bondingBraiding is bonding

  • Braiding creates bonds between the braider and the person whose hair is being braided- whether it be stylist/client, parent/child, between sisters or friends, etc- given the amount of time such styles may take and the conversations which take place.
  • The act of braiding is very intimate: when someone allows you to braid her hair, she is inviting you into her personal space and trusting that you will handle her hair with some TLC.
  • Braiding your own hair allows for deeper interaction and a better understanding of your tresses.

Braids are beautiful!

  • Braided styles are art: they are essentially hair sculptures!
  • Braiding highlights and displays the unique properties and beauty of textured hair; it’s a styling technique where your kinks and curls work to your advantage!
  • There’s nothing like a well-designed, neat braid-up to make you stand out from the crowd!

Natural Updo

Do you know how to braid? If not, would you like to learn?

Those Times When Your Hair is Yours Because You Bought It

Curly Weave

Me with my curly weave

It’s that time of year again when those of us who live in wintry climates hide our hair away in protective styles. Why? To protect our textured hair, which already has a tendency to be dry, from the aridity and harshness of the cold winter air.  (For more on winter hair care, check out London Ivy Products’ Do’s and Don’ts of Protective Styling e-book and Dr. Susan Walker’s Cold Weather Curl Care webinar). Protective styles can be accomplished using one’s own hair (i.e. buns, cornrows, etc), but they are more often than not achieved with the assistance of artificial hair, such as extensions, weaves, and wigs.

Artificial hair (whether synthetic or human) is not only used for protective styling, but also to achieve styles that may require extra length and body; to provide a temporary colour change; or for pure maintenance reasons, because doing so cuts down on the amount of time needed for daily styling.

The funny thing is that people tend to make a big deal about Black women wearing fake hair (if and when it is even detected); yet, wearing false hair is nothing new! People have been wearing false hair since the time of the Ancient Egyptians, dating back to 3000 BC. Almost everyone in Ancient Egypt wore wigs or extensions made of black wool, cotton, human hair, palm-leaf fibres, or horse hair.

Nowadays, many women, of all walks of life and ethnicities, wear wigs or weaves; but I think the main thing that bothers people is when Black women wear fake hair that doesn’t look like their own.

As a matter of fact, last year, I had the following chat with a cousin of mine from Jamaica:

Convo with Cous #1

Convo with Cous #2Convo with Cous #3

The statement that really gave me pause was:

“I am not aware of any other race that wears another race’s hair”.

Sarah and Me - Artificial Hair

Me with extensions; my sister Sarah wearing a wig

I began to think about it; and I had to admit that my cousin was right. Most hair pieces that I had seen (or even used myself) throughout my life were not made to imitate my kinky, coily hair: they were either too straight or too shiny.  They were made to look “White”.  And that was synthetic hair.   When it came to human hair, there was nothing more desired than some long, sleek bundles of Asian hair.

Ever since weaves became popular in the ‘90s, the human hair industry has been booming: hair is purchased from Asian women who cut and sell (or are robbed of) their long hair, or is collected from temples in countries like India, China, Korea, and Indonesia; the hair is then processed in factories, and then sold to salons and beauty supply retailers in Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom. (For more on where human hair pieces come from, click here to see a scene from “Good Hair” (2009), where Chris Rock heads to India (or “Weave Paradise” as he calls it) to investigate the source of the human hair industry, namely tonsure ceremonies at Hindu temples).

As my cousin rightly noted, before the Natural Hair Movement, there wasn’t really a demand for hair that looked like mine—it just wasn’t “stylish” enough, as seen in this other scene from “Good Hair” (2009).

Today, however, almost 7 years since the release of the film, things have certainly changed.  Now, there is an increasing demand for hair pieces that look like natural hair, as Black women are embracing their own hair textures; and so retailers are beginning to provide for that need.

Keep ’em guessing

If you’re looking for some protective styling hair that emulates textured hair, check out these options:

1. Kinky Curly Yaki: http://www.kinkycurlyyaki.com

Kinky Curly Yaki is a Toronto-based company, which sells natural hair extensions and clip-ins.  Their shipping time within Canada: 1-7 business days; to the U.S.: 1-8 business days; and to Europe and Australia: 2-10 business days; shipping rates vary.

2. Toni Daley: http://www.tonidaley.com/collections/wigs

Toni Daley sells natural hair half-wigs (along with other natural hair accessories), and is based in Toronto, Canada.  She will ship to the Canada and the U.S. for $10 USD; to the U.K. for $18;   France for $50; and Australia for $55. Shipping time within Canada: 5-7 business days; to the US: 10 – 12 business days; and to everywhere else: 10 – 14 business days.

3. Curl Genetics: http://www.curlgenetics.com

Curl Genetics is based in the U.S. and sells natural hair weaves, clip-ins, and wigs.  They will ship to international addresses for a flat rate of $35 USD.  Shipping time is about 3-7 business days.

4. Kurly Klips: http://kurlyklips.com

Kurly Klips is a natural hair clip-in company based in Washington, D.C. They will ship to Canada for about $25 USD. Shipping time can take up to 6 weeks for international shipments, and international shipping rates vary.

 

Sources:

Sagay, Esi. African Hairstyles: Styles of Yesterday and Today. London: Heinemann Educational Books, 1983.

Sherrow, Victoria. Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2006.

 

What do you think about artificial hair? Is there something wrong with wearing fake hair that doesn’t look like your own?

The Summer of the Natural Updo

headbackLabour Day has come and gone, which means that my favourite season of the year is now pretty much over…sigh!  It’s been quite the summer though: my hubby and I have attended six weddings so far (and we still have one more on deck for October!)

My old go-to wedding updo

Out of those six weddings, I was a bridesmaid in three of them; so, you know, my hair had to be on point! And nothing says “wedding hair” to me more than an elegant updo.  There was a time when that “elegance” meant having to blow my hair out, flat-ironing it as straight as possible, and slicking my fancy bun, wrap, or roll back using a hard-bristled brush and (what would feel like) half a jar of EcoStyler® gel to make sure that it would stay sleek; and then hoping and praying that on the wedding day that (a) it wouldn’t be humid, (b) it wouldn’t rain, or (c) I wouldn’t sweat my style out during the outdoor photos…or while turning up on the dance floor at the reception.

Thanks to the Natural Hair Movement, however, textured updos are now more acceptable than ever (to the point where I was even in a wedding this year where the bride only wanted to see textured styles on her bridesmaids! Never thought I’d live to see the day!)

Natural bridesmaids - Gen's Wedding

All naturalista bridesmaids!

Although we’ve come a long way, I still found myself asking the brides if they were okay with me wearing cornrowed styles in their weddings—even though I think that braids are just as beautiful as the next style, I know that not everyone feels that way.  Needless to say, the brides this year approved of my textured style choices; so it turned out to be “the summer of the natural updo” for me, courtesy of none other than my hairdresser sister, Sarah Anderson of Sarah Naomi’s Hair Care & Beauty.

20150911_183450

Check out Sarah’s masterpieces on social media: @iamsarahnaomi

Here’s a snapshot of what my summer wedding hair looked like:

imagejpeg_4 imagejpeg_5

 

 

 

 

Sarah & Me - Gen's Wedding Sarah & Me - Gen's Wedding #2

20150801_172401 imagejpeg_3 efua's wedding

IMG_1933 imagejpeg_2

 What about you? Would you wear a natural updo to a wedding or some other formal event?

Are cornrowed or textured styles “elegant enough”, or is straightened hair the way to go?

Kylie Jenner cornrows and Bo Derek braids: when White women wear “Black” hairstyles

White Woman - Cornrows

 

In case you missed it, earlier this month, Kylie Jenner (Keeping Up with the Kardashians) and Amandla Stenberg (Rue from Hunger Games) got into it on Instagram after Ms. Jenner posted a photo of herself wearing cornrows, captioned “I woke up like disss”.  Ms. Stenberg called Ms. Jenner out for cultural appropriation, and further condemned her for using her celebrity platform to emulate Black culture rather than use her voice to support the Black cause:

“When u appropriate black features and culture but fail to use ur position of power to help black Americans by directing attention towards ur wigs instead of police brutality or racism #whitegirlsdoitbetter,” posted Ms. Stenberg.

When I first heard about the incident, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it because I didn’t know all of the details (and still don’t).  In my opinion, cultural appropriation is not a light accusation to make, specifically because it suggests racist motives behind a person’s behaviour.  Furthermore, I believe that cultural appropriation depends on the context of the situation.

In the case of Ms. Jenner, at first glance, it seemed like she just wanted to try out something new with her hair, and, like the author of this recent article in The Guardian, I don’t see anything wrong with that.  However, by using the caption, “I woke up like disss”, not to mention posting a video tutorial the day before on how to wrap your hair at night, I can see how Ms. Stenberg may have felt like this youngest member of the Kardashian clan was making a mockery of Black hair practices, rather than genuinely celebrating them. But it all depends on Ms. Jenner’s motives; and it’s up to her to shed light on them.

On a wider scale, however, this incident has raised an important question, in light of the Natural Hair Movement and the resulting increase in awareness and acceptance of Black hairstyles:

Is it cultural appropriation when a White woman wears cornrows?   

For me, when it comes to assessing whether wearing a braided hairstyle constitutes cultural appropriation, I would have to ask myself the following questions:

1) Are the braids being worn simply as a styling choice; or is the wearer playing “dress-up”, and, in essence, mocking the Black experience?

2) Does the wearer recognize the political and/or historical connotations of her hairstyle choice? And does she even care?

 

Are the braids simply a styling choice; or is the wearer  playing “dress-up”, and, in essence, mocking the Black experience?

I personally don’t believe that there is anything wrong with people from non-Black cultures wearing braided hairstyles (i.e. braids, cornrows, locks, bantu knots, etc.) Why? Because hair braiding is a human practice—not a “Black” one—braids have been worn by people of all ethnicities for thousands of years, and is therefore not specific to African people or those of African descent.

Through my Watson Fellowship research project, “Braiding: Traditional Art, Esthetic Service or Cultural Expression?” as well as subsequent research, I discovered that people in all societies around the world have braided their hair for various reasons: whether cultural, spiritual, political, historical, or practical reasons, as well as purely aesthetic reasons.

This is precisely why I believe that braided hairstyles should not be frowned upon in society, but rather be recognized as a human art form.

As we know, due to historical, practical and political reasons, what I call “stylized braiding” (i.e. braids, cornrows, locks, bantu knots, etc.) has become synonymous with Black culture. That being said, I think it would be unfair to say that anytime a White person decides to wear a braided style that s/he is trying to appropriate Black culture.  If that were the case, many of us, Black or otherwise, would also be guilty of appropriating Native American/Aboriginal culture when we choose to wear our hair in mohawks, fro-hawks, and faux-hawks, for instance.

I believe that the difference between cultural appropriation and cultural exchange really boils down to the context of and the impetus for the style choice.  As Ms. Stenberg, herself, eloquently pointed out in her video commentary, “Don’t Cash Crop My Cornrows”, the line between cultural appropriation and cultural exchange is often blurred.   And I think when it comes to hair, in particular, it’s not so black-and-white (pun intended), since no one can really claim ownership per se of styling techniques.

So, if a White woman gets cornrows because she wants to change her hairstyle, or because she thinks they look good, or because she wants to keep her hair off of her face—why not? Now, if she’s decides to wear cornrows because she’s trying to be “down” with Black culture, or trying to “look Black”, and is, in essence making fun of the Black experience, that’s a different story–I think that’s where it becomes appropriation.

 

Does the wearer recognize the political and/or historical connotations of her hairstyle choice? Does she even care?

I know some of you are probably wondering why this question is even relevant, thinking to yourself, “What’s the big deal? Aren’t cornrows just a hairstyle?” In a more perfect world, yes, cornrows would just be a hairdo.  Sadly, in the world we live in, it’s not just a hairdo for Black people.

Appropriation occurs when a style leads to racist generalizations or stereotypes where it originated but is deemed as high-fashion, cool or funny when the privileged take it for themselves. ~Amandla Stenberg

Since stylized braiding is so prevalent in African/Black culture, society views them as a “Black” practice; and since Black hair (as an extension of Black bodies) is politicized, so are “Black” hairstyles.  As a result, hairdos like cornrows are not simply a styling option for Black people: rather they have become politicized symbols of “Blackness”, whether we like it or not. For this reason, when a White person wears a “Black” hairstyle, like cornrows, and does so flippantly, it is viewed as appropriation, and is thus offensive, because when a Black person wears the same hairstyle, it comes with an imposed societal burden.

That being said, is it cultural appropriation when a White woman wears cornrows?  Not always.

Does wearing a Black hairstyle mean that one must support Black causes. I would have to disagree with Ms. Stenberg, here. Just because someone chooses to wear a Black style doesn’t necessarily mean that they should also be an advocate for Black people–even if the wearer understands the connotations of the style itself doesn’t mean that they have an understanding of what it means to Black.  However, I do think that when one engages in cultural exchange, such as wearing an “ethnic” hairstyle or “ethnic” clothing, one should at least demonstrate an appreciation and respect of the culture from which you are borrowing.

 

So, what’s the problem?

The problem is the age-old double standard: when White women wear braided styles, they can make light of it; yet, more often than not, Black women do not enjoy that same luxury.

And things haven’t changed much.  The negative reaction to the ease with which Kylie Jenner can wear her cornrows is reminiscent of the sentiments that Black people felt in the 70s when cornrows became acceptable only after Bo Derek (a White actress) wore them in the movie “10”…when Black people had been wearing them for centuries!

When a White woman decides to wear cornrows, it is seen as fashionable; yet when Black women wear the same hairstyle, it is deemed as questionable.  Why is it that society praises White women when they wear braided styles, yet when Black women wear them, we have to think twice?

 

What are your thoughts? Is it wrong for White women to wear cornrows or other “Black” hairstyles?

The Natural Hair Movement is here to stay: Afrofest 2015

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For the past 27 years, Afrofest has been bringing the rhythms, flavours, creativity, and vibrancy of the African continent to the heart of Toronto, in a free festival that attracts thousands of people annually.

This Saturday, I headed down to the festival at Woodbine Park, with my hubby and my brother, to not only celebrate Mama Africa but to also ask some of her daughters the following question:

Is the Natural Hair Movement just a trend, or is it here to stay?

First, I met Marilyn.  “It’s about time!” was her response, when asked for her thoughts on the traction of the Natural Hair Movement.  Marilyn started out her natural hair journey “spit-shine bald” two years ago, and now sports an oh-so-perfect asymmetrical ‘fro!

 

20150704_152532 20150704_152737 20150704_165730

 

20150704_154305Then I had the privilege of running into YouTube sensation, Samantha Gomez of I’m Samantha Gomez (click here to check out her channel), and fitness, lifestyle and hair blogger, Alaina Gomez-Henry of Shorty with a Curl (click here to visit her blog), who were working the festival as representatives for CURLS™ Hair Products.

They both agreed that the Natural Hair Movement is here to stay.  “People are embracing it more and more,” stated Samantha.

These beautiful curlistas were also kind enough to bless me with some samples of one of my favourite styling products, CURLS™ Crème Brule Whipped Curl Cream (love how it defines my curls!), which made my day!

Perfect travel size too!

Who doesn’t like crème brûlée?

20150704_163536Later, I met the lovely Shaniqua, wearing extension braids with grey highlights, at the Black Experience Project tent.  She was recruiting participants for the BEP Project, an important study about the “‘lived experience’ of individuals across the Greater Toronto Area who self-identify as Black or of African heritage” (if you’re interested in participating in the study, click here).

Shaniqua thinks that the Natural Hair Movement is here to stay, as “people are reconnecting with themselves and are embracing themselves.”  She shared that she decided to go natural about 4 years ago, when her hair had broken off from perming it.  The breaking point for her was when her stylist wanted $125 to perm just a couple of inches of hair…needless to say, she has been natural ever since!

 

20150704_170327

Then I chatted with Sipo, whose glorious twist-out I spotted at the City of Toronto tent.  Sipo believes that the Movement is here to stay:  “Once you go natural, and get used to it, you never go back!”

She shared that earlier on in her hair journey, she would go to Afrofest just to check out the hair—the festival offered a great opportunity to see what kinds of hairstyles other people were trying out!

And I agree with her—what better place to get a snapshot of what’s happening in Toronto’s Black hair scene than a gathering of brothers and sisters from across the African continent and the Diaspora?

Honey Fig, the natural beauty supply store (www.honeyfig.com), also had a tent!

Honey Fig, the natural beauty supply store (www.honeyfig.com) had a tent too!

If my conversations with these naturalistas—along with my personal observations—were any indication, it looks like natural hair is not just a fleeting fashion trend, but rather is developing into a true movement of self-awareness and self-acceptance that is really taking root (pun intended) in the Greater Toronto Area.

 
 

Do you agree? Is the Natural Hair Movement here to stay, or is it just a trend?

 

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?