Hair As Identity Menu

Grooming & Styling

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Sullivan’s Island: My Sankofa Moment Part 2

It should be mentioned that when in Africa, Africans took pride in maintaining beautiful hairstyles. Slaves might use a wooden comb and palm oil to create elaborate styles. Those with matted, disheveled, unkempt hair were shunned and often viewed as insane. Thus, imagine the shame slaves must have felt when they were stripped of their grooming aids and their hair grew matted and unkempt?


Carding combs, a device that slaves may have used to comb their hair

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post (http://tropie7189.blogspot.com/2012/01/sullivans-island-my-sankofa-moment.html), today’s post explores how slaves groomed themselves once they arrived on U.S. soil.

It should be mentioned that when in Africa, Africans took pride in maintaining beautiful hairstyles. Slaves might use a wooden comb and palm oil to create elaborate styles. Those with matted, disheveled, unkempt hair were shunned and often viewed as insane. Thus, imagine the shame slaves must have felt when they were stripped of their grooming aids and their hair grew matted and unkempt?

Again, hair is nothing in comparison to the atrocities of slavery; however, slaves cared and were resilient. Slaves may have used a sheep carding comb (Byrd & Tharps, 2001). A carding comb is a device used to comb through matted or tangled fibers (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carding).

It’s easy to think that slaves wouldn’t have cared about their personal appearance given the atrocities of slavery. However, even under such circumstances, these men and women found ways to groom their hair. You see, hair is much more than a head covering. It symbolizes what we think of ourselves. This small glimpse into slaves’ grooming processes tells us that slaves indeed valued themselves even though their masters considered them less than human.

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Jean-Michel Basquiat: Lye

I wanted to share some artwork with you. It’s “Lye” by Jean-Michel Basquiat. I’m watching a documentary about him on NetFlix (Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child) and this artwork popped up on the screen. All I saw was the word “lye” but that was enough to pique my interest. Sure enough, he is talking about processed hair. What does the image stir up in you?

Hi everyone,
I am working on a blog post that describes a deep, emotional experience I had on my family RV trip. It’s about our visit to Sullivan’s Island in South Carolina. However, in order to do the experience justice, I need to do some historical research and it’s taking me awhile to get the facts straight. Stay tuned for what I hope will be an interesting and informative post.

In the meantime, I wanted to share some artwork with you. It’s “Lye” by Jean-Michel Basquiat. I’m watching a documentary about him on NetFlix (Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child) and this artwork popped up on the screen. All I saw was the word “lye” but that was enough to pique my interest. Sure enough, he is talking about processed hair. What does the image stir up in you?

For more information about Mr. Basquait, please see: http://basquiat.com/

IMAGE: http://www.josephklevenefineartltd.com/Basquiat-Lye.jpg

  • nick

    Love the blog

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Hair Tips!

Since the twist-out is now my go-to style, I thought I’d share a few tips on how I keep my style fresh: 1) Properly detangle your hair. I start with a wide toothed comb. I then detangle. Once I’m ready to begin twisting, I section with the end of a rat tail comb and then comb out each of the smaller sections. I find that this smooths my hair (especially the ends) and leads to a smoother style. Continue reading for more tips!

Since the twist-out is now my go-to style, I thought I’d share a few tips on how I keep my style fresh:

1) Properly detangle your hair. I start with a wide toothed comb. I then detangle. Once I’m ready to begin twisting, I section with the end of a rat tail comb and then comb out each of the smaller sections. I find that this smooths my hair (especially the ends) and leads to a smoother style.

2) If your hair texture is like mine, an oil-based rather than a water or gel-based product may work best to twist your hair. I’ve tried gels and custards…nothing works as well as a creamy oil (as I’ve said before I use Doris New York products almost exclusively on my hair). For me, I have found that gels may do a better job of “freezing” the curl in place. Big ups for curl definition. HOWEVER, my hair feels like hay and I can’t stand that. When I use the oil-based product my hair feels like satin and moisture is sealed in plus my scalp is conditioned. Of course, everyone has to go through trial and error but this is my experience.

3) Tie your hair up at night. I use a satin sleep bonnet.

4) Oil your scalp…I know some people disagree with this. For me, I find a light oil on my scalp keeps my hair and scalp happy.

5) You DON’T have to redo your entire head when your hair starts to lose curl definition. Instead, retwist the frizzy parts. This has saved me MUCH time.

6) Tie up your hair when you work out (I refuse to wear the satin bonnet in public but I have a scarf that I wear).

That’s all I can think of for now. Please share your tips as well!

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First Chunky Twist-Out and Headband!

I wanted to share a recent hair experience. I just washed my hair and, because I want to start a new exercise regimen, I decided to see what my hair would look like if I just did a wash and go. Well, sort of a wash and go. I washed, deep conditioned (sat under a hooded dryer), and then applied Kinky Curly. I really want to like KC but it just doesn’t yield the greatest results for my short, kinky hair. I don’t know, maybe I’m using too much of the product or maybe it will work better once my hair grows out a bit more.


Hi there! Tomorrow I’ll get back to my RV hair adventures. But today, I wanted to share a recent hair experience. I just washed my hair and, because I want to start a new exercise regimen (Black Girls Run! (http://www.blackgirlsrun.com/), I decided to see what my hair would look like if I just did a wash and go. Well, sort of a wash and go. I washed, deep conditioned (sat under a hooded dryer), and then applied Kinky Curly (KC) (Knot Today and Curling Custard). I really want to like KC but it just doesn’t yield the greatest results for my short, kinky hair. I don’t know, maybe I’m using too much of the product or maybe it will work better once my hair grows out a bit more.

Anyway, I wanted to “freeze” my hair in place because it was cute when dripping wet. Thus, I used a diffuser (I need to research this gadget!). So, several hours after washing my hair, I’m left with what looks like a 5 minute wash-and go. I was not happy. I know that I may get some flack for this but I am not enamored with my wash and go TWA. I like curl definition, more styling, something. Otherwise, I feel a bit like a female George Jefferson.

So, I decided to do a chunky twist-out (again, I used Doris New York Olive Oil hair cream…this has become my go-to product). Here are the results. I love it! It is soft, moist and beautiful. However, I need to figure out how to get the same results in the back of my head which resembles a wefted, kinky carpet. Plus, I need to rewash my hair because of the KC product residue. Ugh. Any suggestions?

P.S.: Oh my goodness, the chunky twist-out lasted for ONE DAY. I tied it up with a satin bonnet and this morning I was sporting a George Jefferson. This made my morning a bit hectic because I had no idea how I’d wear my hair to my 9:30 coffee. Should I wear a scarf (oh my goodness, NO! I looked a mess)? Quickly wash it? Please, I’ve learned that a wash tends not to be “quick” for me. So, I misted it to tighten up the fro. When I got back home I washed it, blew it out and twisted it with my usual products. Here’s to learning about my hair! :)

  • Samara

    I've seen a few reviews of the KC that says if you don't use the right amount residue will appear. It's so true nothing about washing natural hair is "quick".

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Sullivan’s Island: My Sankofa Moment

Hair seems like such a trivial topic when contrasted with the overwhelming pain that slave men, women and children endured. However, it’s important to remember that these strong men, women and children came from a culture where hair rituals were deep, rich and involved. It would have just been one more injustice to have your hair shorn or to be unable to groom yourself. The wonderful book Hair Story by Ms. Ayana Byrd and Ms. Lori Tharps, discusses how slaves were not inclined to think about their hair given the inhumane and unclean conditions in which they lived. Plus, the grooming aids slaves had used in Africa were nowhere to be found in their new environment. Thus, slaves’ hair often became tangled, matted.

During my family’s recent RV trip from Boston to Florida, we made many stops. We designed our trip so that we would have time to visit Sullivan’s Island. Sullivan’s Island is known as the African-American Ellis Island because it was where slaves were quarantined before they were transported to Charleston, SC (North America’s main entry port for African slaves).

When I arrived on Sullivan’s Island (specifically, Fort Moultrie, a National Parks Service museum that traces the African Passage), I began to place myself in the shoes of those slaves who would have walked on its soil just over two centuries ago. Those who know me well already know that I’m a highly sensitive person when it comes to other people’s pain. When people share their travails with me, I’ll be in tears in a matter of minutes because their pain hurts my heart. So it’s no surprise that I got weepy as soon as I began to walk through the halls of Fort Moultrie at Sullivan’s Island. If I’m honest, I wasn’t just weepy, I was crying and I was hit with a deep sadness that my ancestors experienced this AND that this history is largely overlooked, ignored or downplayed. After all, this was centuries ago right? Oh, that reflection caused me such sadness because as I look around today, it is evident that slavery still impacts our society.

As my children walked ahead of me in the arched, cavernous hallway, I imagined what it must have been like to reach American soil and then realize that you were about to be subjected to further pain, anguish, torture. That I might be looking at my children for the last time. I also realized that had I been born then, I may have been one of the shackled.

Hair seems like such a trivial topic when contrasted with the overwhelming pain that slave men, women and children endured. However, it’s important to remember that these strong men, women and children came from a culture where hair rituals were deep, rich and involved. It would have just been one more injustice to have your hair shorn or to be unable to groom yourself. The wonderful book Hair Story by Ms. Ayana Byrd and Ms. Lori Tharps, discusses how slaves were not inclined to think about their hair given the inhumane and unclean conditions in which they lived. Plus, the grooming aids slaves had used in Africa were nowhere to be found in their new environment. Thus, slaves’ hair often became tangled, matted.

Tomorrow, I’ll talk about how slaves, as resilient as they were, found ways to groom themselves.

Find out more about the movie Sankofa.

IMAGE:  http://images.moviepostershop.com/sankofa-movie-poster-1993-1020235232.jpg

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First Family Encounter with Longer Afro

As our RV rumbled to a stop in front of my parent’s beautifully landscaped yard, I wondered how my Mom would react to my several inch long twist-out (Dad cares but he’s not likely to verbalize his thoughts). I double-checked my hair and makeup and then bounded out of the vehicle. Some of you may not know that my Mom and I are very close. I call her at least once a day and we have grown to be friends. You know, girlfriends who can tell each other the truth in love. So, I knew that if she thought my hair looked jacked up she was going to let me know it.

As our RV rumbled to a stop in front of my parent’s beautifully landscaped yard, I wondered how my Mom would react to my several inch long twist-out (Dad cares but he’s not likely to verbalize his thoughts). I double-checked my hair and makeup and then bounded out of the vehicle. Some of you may not know that my Mom and I are very close. I call her at least once a day and we have grown to be friends. You know, girlfriends who can tell each other the truth in love. So, I knew that if she thought my hair looked jacked up she was going to let me know it.

My beautiful Mother stepped outside and, with open arms, gave me a long overdue hug. “T, you look beauuuuutttiiiiifullllll!”. What?! Is that it? It’s that easy? My Mom looked at my neat twist out and fawned over me. It was blissful. (I just realized that I didn’t take a single pic of my hair at my Mom’s house…I am the family photographer. However, today’s pic was from the RV trip and shows the twist-out). Even better? My Mom told me that my hair motivated her to think about going natural again. She’s not there yet, but I’m so grateful that my natural journey is having a positive influence on the woman I love the most in the whole world. Yeahhhh Team Natural! :)


Mommy was a fan of the twist out

P.S.: In contrast, my Mom was NOT a fan of my chunky twist-out. I emailed her the below pic. Her response, “T, I prefer the other style. That style better framed your face.” Spoken like a true friend. The thing is, I loved the style so I’m sure that I’ll wear it again BUT I will always value the input of my loved ones. It’s funny, I didn’t realize that one benefit of my natural journey would be enhanced courage to firmly stand on my own two independent feet and not buckle when others don’t like something I’m trying.


Mommy was not a fan of the CHUNKY twist out BUT I love it! :)

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RV Trip: Unprepared for Humidity!

I was nervous about seeing my Southern family with my growing afro. My anxiety escalated when the Southern humidity hit my hair. One morning I looked in the RV bathroom mirror and gave myself an over the glasses grit (yes, I’ve gotten to the age where I now peer over my glasses to see things close up….ahhh, the pleasures of aging). Anyway, my once beautiful two strand twist out had become a bed of cotton (thanks to my hair care regimen it was SOFT cotton but cotton nonetheless).


Our Winter 2011/12 Family RV Trip was amazing. Our route: Boston; New York; Northern VA; Williamsburg, VA; South Carolina (Sullivan’s Island– known as the African-American Ellis Island); Florida and back to Boston. On the trip, our family had a wonderful time reconnecting, exploring and catching up with loved ones.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I was nervous about seeing my Southern family with my growing afro. My anxiety escalated when the Southern humidity hit my hair. One morning I looked in the RV bathroom mirror and gave myself an over the glasses grit (yes, I’ve gotten to the age where I now peer over my glasses to see things close up….ahhh, the pleasures of aging). Anyway, my once beautiful two strand twist out had become a bed of cotton (thanks to my hair care regimen it was SOFT cotton but cotton nonetheless).

Egad!!! This was only a few days before I would see my Mom, Dad, aunties and cousins and a mere few hours before our tour of Colonial Williamsburg. Well, I went to it and quickly retwisted my hair with the only hair care products I brought with me (note to self, what works in cold weather may not work in hotter weather, pack accordingly). The good thing is that I’m learning how to keep things moving even when my hair doesn’t look like I’d like it. After all, I’m much more than my hair. Yet, I still went through quite a bit to ensure that my hair would look great for my family encounter…

IMAGE: http://katdish.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/Cruise-America-RV-Rental.jpg

  • Samara

    How was your hair received by your family?

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Happy New Year!

I can say that I am LOVING my hair. It has grown tremendously and I’m now having to attend to my hair in new ways. What do I mean? Well, check out today’s picture (I cannot explain why the top of the pic is blurry and the bottom of the pic is sharp!) and you’ll notice an errant section of hair on my right side right above my ear. I admit that I am VERY much an “every hair in place” kind of person. However, is my hair really errant? Something that needs to be in a certain arrangement? Or, do I have to adjust to the fact that some days my hair is going to do whatever it wants to do? What do you think?


Hi everyone,

For the first time in a long time, I took a true family vacation. One where neither my husband nor(or?) I did any work. We took a family RV trip from Boston to Florida making multiple stops along the way. QUITE an adventure. While I didn’t blog during the trip, I did gather material to share with you now that we’re back home.

On a personal note, I can say that I am LOVING my hair. It has grown tremendously and I’m now having to attend to my hair in new ways. What do I mean? Well, check out today’s picture (I cannot explain why the top of the pic is blurry and the bottom of the pic is sharp!) and you’ll notice an errant section of hair on my right side right above my ear. I admit that I am VERY much an “every hair in place” kind of person. However, is my hair really errant? Something that needs to be in a certain arrangement? Or, do I have to adjust to the fact that some days my hair is going to do whatever it wants to do? What do you think?

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Professional Hair

I wonder if each of you can describe what “professional hair” is in your particular industry? Please comment and let me know: 1) the industry in which you work and 2) how you would describe professional hair and unprofessional hair in your industry. It would be great if you even have a picture to illustrate your point!

The other day, I blogged about model Chrystèle Saint-Louis Augustin. I talked about how proud I am of her for sporting her naturally coily hair on the runway and in fashion spreads. Of course, I do recognize that not all of us are in the fashion or entertainment industry.

Having said that, I wonder if each of you can describe what “professional hair” is in your particular industry? Please comment and let me know: 1) the industry in which you work and 2) how you would describe professional hair and unprofessional hair in your industry. It would be great if you even have a picture to illustrate your point!

For example, in academia, I’ve noticed that women in particular seem to be more comfortable wearing their natural hair. Natural might mean gray, curly, kinky, straight, wavy, blonde, black; however it NATURALLY grows out of the head. Also, what is it about academia that might affect how professors wear their hair?

  • topie

    Hi Sherry! Thanks so much for your comment. Have you ever seen unprofessional: hair coloring? dreadlocks? braids? long hair? I guess I'd add that it's anything that looks unkempt…the thing is, who determines what is and isn't unkempt?

  • topie

    Happy New Year by the way!

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Insecure, Teenaged 40 year old?

I don’t know what it is, but seeing my family makes me revert to my insecure teenage self when I was just as likely to think that I was going to be the next President of the United States as I was to feel like a nerdy, unattractive social outcast. I, like most us want to please my parents. But, they haven’t seen me for awhile and my waist is three inches bigger than what they’re used to. Plus, I am four+ months after the Big Chop and while I LOVE my twist-out, this style is definitely an acquired taste.


My heart is racing, I have a bit of agita and I’m getting a nervous headache. About to make an important presentation? Being chased by an assailant? No, nothing like that. I’m about to see my Southern family for the first time in a few months. I don’t know what it is, but seeing my family makes me revert to my insecure teenage self when I was just as likely to think that I was going to be the next President of the United States as I was to feel like a nerdy, unattractive social outcast. What is this all about? Why do these feelings emerge? I guess it’s natural…I, like most us want to please my parents. But, they haven’t seen me for awhile and my waist is three inches bigger than what they’re used to. Plus, I am four+ months after the Big Chop and while I LOVE my twist-out, this style is definitely an acquired taste. I’m wondering if its positive reception is affected by the fact that we live in the North. As I’ve blogged before, I’ve heard that the South may not be as hospitable to natural hair (http://tropie7189.blogspot.com/2011/11/north-more-hospitable-to-natural-hair.html).

Despite this angst, I’m going to rock my same self and see what happens. I’ll be sure to share the details. :)