Phenomenal Professional Naturalista: Mrs. Kimberly Johnson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is your name?

Kimberly Johnson

Where do you live?

Scarborough, Ontario, Canada

What is your occupation?

Service Manager in the Federal Public Service

What is your educational background?

Bachelor of International Business degree, Carleton University, Ottawa

 

How long have you been natural?

I started transitioning in October 2015, but I did the Big Chop in January of 2016, because I couldn’t deal with the two textures.  It was very annoying, and none of the styles looked right—when it was curly, I had straight ends.

I went to the hairdresser in January 2016, because I didn’t know how to manage it and I was looking for support. I wasn’t planning on cutting it that day- I went in for wash and style—and then I saw these straight ends, and I was like, “No. Cut it off.” Initially, my hairdresser refused to: she thought I was being emotional; but I insisted.

I was sitting under the dryer after my hairdresser had cut it all off, and I texted my fiancé (at the time), and told him, “Yeah, I cut off all my hair.” So he asked me to send him a picture. Keep in mind that this was January before my wedding in August.

Did I have regrets? Well, the first time I came to wash it and do it, I didn’t have a clue; so I felt like, “What did I do?” So I started asking other naturals, I tapped into the community, and I used YouTube like crazy; that’s how I learned how to manage it.

 

Why did you decide to “go” natural?

That’s a loaded question.  I had several reasons, one of them being for health reasons—in preparation for having children—I knew that I couldn’t be relaxing my hair.

I could no longer reconcile perming my hair and thinking about what I’m going to tell my kids. They were going to see my straight hair, and then out of the other corner of my mouth, I would be telling them that they are beautiful. Now I could deliver that message without being a hypocrite.

I wouldn’t want them to get caught up in the foolishness that I did, taking years to be confident with my hair in its natural state.

But I had to be converted. I had a “Damascus Road” Experience because I was hard-core on the creamy crack! I was the last person in my nuclear family to go natural—my mother and my sisters have been natural—way before this “Movement”. Since age 13, when I went to the hairdresser to get my first relaxer, I hadn’t seen my natural hair.  When I got my first relaxer, I wanted it. It was like a rite of passage for me; it wasn’t a question. I realize now in my journey that I CANNOT go back!

Also, I was emboldened by one of my colleagues, who is a very good friend of mine: a few months earlier [before I decided to go natural], she came to work and she had chopped all of her relaxer off. Because she was in the government context, and she had done it, that encouraged me.  Since she had done it, I knew I could do it.

It’s about passing that torch: the more of us who do it, the more we will encourage each other to do it!

I realize in my current context that I have Black females who report to me; and in the 6 months I’ve been [in this department], I’ve seen two of them chop their hair off. Perhaps it could be coincidence; but I believe that they could see that I’m their boss and I go to work like this, so they feel like they could do it, too.

 

What is your go-to natural hairstyle?

Wash-and-go, all day, every day! Part of it is because I really haven’t figure out how to do anything else! But I will do the occasional twist-out. It’s all about the wash-and-go though.

 

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

I guess, the comments. Sometimes I’ll put braids in or protective styles, and then everybody on the floor has to come and parade in to see Kim’s new hairstyle. I’ve had people stop meetings with big wigs, even, to come and say: “OMG! Kim changed her hair again, I can’t keep up!

Sometimes people think they are giving me a compliment, and for most people, it’s not coming from a malicious place: “I like it when you do your hair all crazy!” Or when I do stretched styles: “I like it when you do it all big and crazy!” Those kind of underhanded micro-aggressions. I really believe that for some people they are really trying to compliment me, but the question is, “Would you say that to your other colleagues?” No, because you don’t think that their hair is crazy- you think my hair is crazy.

 

What do you love most about your natural hair?

At first, I didn’t know what I was doing, I didn’t love it; but there was one day, that I just realized that I “love this”, I love ME; it was like a switch that went off.  It had to do with me figuring out my own hair.  I love the versatility of it; I love the fact that it’s MINE. It’s my authentic self. That’s what I love about it. It’s Me.

 

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

The TIME—don’t let anyone tell you the fallacy that natural hair is faster or more simple—there’s nothing simple about it! It’s a lie from the pit of Hell- it’s very time-consuming. Especially for the wash-and-go, it’s time consuming on the front-end, but you get a lot of longevity out of it—at least out of my wash-and-go, I do.

Also, the expense with respect to products because the industry realizes that it’s the new “in” thing. They want to charge $30 for 8 oz.  It can be very expensive if you want to get the good quality stuff.

Another thing is dealing with the ignorance, sometimes from people at work with the “I love your hair when it’s crazy” comments, and sometimes it has been from my extended family: “Kim, your hair was so pretty, and so long!” My relatives who haven’t caught it yet are usually from another generation, not my generation; they haven’t been delivered yet.

 

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

I just try to find styles that will stretch—for me, it’s all about the longevity. I don’t straighten it, partly because I haven’t been able to get that longevity out of it. Since going natural, I’ve straightened it about 3-4 times, but I don’t like the idea of putting heat on it—I know it’s not good, so I don’t do it.

 

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

I would say, just do it! Just do it! Take the hit, because you will get a hit.  The first week or so, you will literally be on parade.  One of my girlfriends and I were laughing about it: I knew everyone at work would come to my cubicle to spectate.  So take the hit for the week, and then everyone will move on to something else. The freedom that you will have from taking that one single action is worth it.  It’s worth the parade past your desk and the spectators! So, just do it!

It all depends on the sector you work in, but there will be a reaction, so don’t fool yourself! But just move on with your life in FREEDOM!

Also, you will feel ugly for a period of time—especially if you do the Big Chop. It looked bizarre to me! You’ll feel like there’s nowhere to hide, and that’s the part that was very unnerving for me, the high level of exposure and vulnerability.  But you have to push through that.  You have to learn how to love and become reacquainted with yourself.  So prepare yourself for feeling ugly.

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Phenomenal Professional Naturalista: Mrs. Shaneka Shaw Taylor

What is your name?

Shaneka Shaw Taylor

Where do you live?

Toronto, Canada

What is your occupation?

Lawyer, Partner at Boghosian + Allen LLP

What is your educational background?

Honours Bachelor’s degree in International Relations from the University of Windsor; Juris Doctor from Osgoode Hall Law School, York University

How long have you been natural?

From birth until around 1995; and since 2004 to present.

Why did you decide to “go” natural?

I just really wanted a change and a fresh start. I had just started undergraduate studies when I started my dreadlocks from 2004. I cut my locks in 2011 when they got too difficult to manage and I didn’t have the time to spend on my hair as I previously did. I cut my hair to a low fade, and the rest is history.

What is your go-to natural hairstyle?

Hahaha, a side part with slicked sides and a side tapered afro.

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

Not to my face! I have heard of other negative experiences but I personally have not had any challenges due to my hair.

What do you love most about your natural hair?

The curls! I have tight coil curls that resemble the spring coil inside a pen; however, I have noticed that my curls have changed over time, perhaps due to the chemical colouring of my hair.

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

Maintaining the right balance of moisture in my hair and trying to get it to grow. It perpetually seems to be staying at the same length.

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

Honestly, I don’t do anything different. From season to season, I try to mix it up with crochet or regular braids, and once per year, I get a blowout. Otherwise, my hair does what it wants!

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

Embrace your curls. Do not feel limited by others’ perception of what your hair should look like. Once you accept your hair, the way it grows and the way it makes you feel, others will learn to accept and appreciate it. Do not feel the need to conform to Western society’s beauty constructs, as that narrative often does not view Black hair as beautiful. The more you embrace it, the more others will. Get a great stylist who is adept at working with natural hair and get him/her to teach you how to properly care for your curls. Be kind with yourself!

***

Follow Shaneka on

Linkedin: shanekashawtaylor

Instagram: shaneka_taylor

Twitter: @shanekashaw

or visit: http://www.boglaw.ca/shaneka-m-taylor

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?