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Love Out Loud: A Series – A Love Story by verta ayanna

Eric’s hands are folded on the table. Firm yet gentle. Fixed yet flexible. Those same hands he used to place stones under Shauna’s pillow for comfort. “They put her right to sleep. She didn’t even know I had put them there and she’d sleep for hours,” he explained. Their oldest son’s hands are unceasingly occupied. He plays with a wind up toy that gets tangled on a few precious strands of the soft and fluffy afro Shauna had finally decided to grow back. He assured he could get it out. My own familiar hands gently helped him unravel his toy making sure to protect each prized, well-earned strand. Shauna’s hands—dry, cracked and darkened from treatment—also bring comfort. They examined and soothe her youngest son’s head after something had fallen on him while playing in the leaves outside. Shauna’s hands touch the tiniest of places in this life she has chosen with such beauty and grace. “One day I just told my soul it should stay. I choose hope,” she told me as I watched her hands. I love hands. I believe that we love with our hearts, our bodies, our minds; and all that love, all that life always finds itself in our hands.

Shauna is as radiant on this unseasonably warm day in January 2014 as she was in 1990 when I first met her in college. She was cute and quirky and different in college. She still is. Shauna is a collector. She collects words. She shares books that have touched her while we talk in her bedroom. Books that have inspired and moved her. She shares quotes that have kept her faith strong when it was weak. Some might think that the affirmations—words hand written and scattered like fallen leaves around her bedroom and bathroom—give her strength. I think otherwise. Shauna’s strength is the affirmation—emotional support and encouragement that the world so desperately needs. She also shares the collection of newspapers she has amassed over the past month. She reads them during her monthly trip to Philly for treatment. She says that Eric is probably happy they are not all over the bed when they try to sleep at night. I bet the love they share for each other and for words make him miss her newspapers almost as much as he misses her when she goes. I imagine Shauna and Eric as the children trekking home from the library with more books than they could carry. Still thinking about the ones they hated to leave behind. I imagine them as the children who stayed up with heads under covers reading books late into the night. Secretly collecting words. An obsession that only they could understand. What exists between this wife and her husband is so considerable. It is nearly too much to contain in words.

Shauna is a mother. She chases joy in the everyday—like so many mothers. Folding clothes for her family. Leaving the random, unmatched and missing socks for the boys to sort out. Ironing clothes or as was the case on this particular Sunday, being reminded by the ironing board and the pile of clothes near it of yet another bit of household work that would not get done that day. Before she boards the Amtrak to Philly, she dries the boys’ comforters. Making sure they smell fresh and linger with warmth from the dryer and from her touch. One that is a familiar memory to those she leaves behind for the remainder of the week. “Striving to keep everything as normal as possible” each month so that she can continue to live. To remain among the living.

After being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009, Shauna had a double mastectomy. The doctors constructed new breasts for her without nipples. As I understand it, this is common since it is rare to save nipples during this procedure. A woman can hope for the appearance of nipples with cosmetic surgery and even tattoos, though she will not have nipples as she once did. “I took my nipples for granted until I didn’t have them,” she said. Her words whispered to me for hours, days and weeks after I photographed her. I marveled at my breasts and my nipples in a new way. The nipples that efficiently and miraculously delivered milk to my children. The nipples that dutifully stand at attention when nipped by something cold and/or sudden. The nipples that surrender and abandon themselves entirely when caressed and fully consumed by a lover. Glimpsing what is not has a way of making us value what is.

After two years of multiple surgeries, countless treatments for cancer and the double mastectomy, Shauna believed she was winning the fight with breast cancer. Then “breast cancer broke her back.” Literally. The cancer had spread through her spine. The pain she was experiencing in her back was far more serious than her doctors realized. The cancer was eating her bones. She needed surgery. One doctor told her it was amazing that she was still walking. Over the next year, there were several miracles that took place. There were several medical professionals that would witness Shauna’s existence and marvel at the fact that she was still alive. Doctors would take chances on treatment with her. Her walking into their offices another day was not anything their science, their medicine or their logic could explain. In January 2012, she had spinal fusion surgery. It was not supposed to work. Her bones were deteriorating. They did not show signs of fusing with the metal inserted in her back yet, miraculously they did. In 2013, her liver was filled with tumors that led to liver failure. With a combination of alternative and modern medicine, many of the tumors inexplicably disappeared and the others were dramatically reduced in size.

Shauna is now four inches shorter because of cancer. She has been on and off of chemotherapies for five years because of cancer. She has learned to be gentler with herself because of cancer. “I use my body differently now than before, she said. “Instead of saying I can’t do it anymore, I find a different way to do it.” Shauna is far from perfect. That is what makes her so beautiful. Her experience living with cancer is not without anger or sadness or fear. She has had days that were so low she thought she would give up. She has attempted any and every treatment she thinks will offer her the chance to live and love another day.

Shauna is living. Living with cancer. Living with hope. Living with love. “The name Shauna means God is gracious,” Shauna wrote to me, “I believe that God is presently showing so much grace in the midst of the circumstance my family and I are experiencing and the grace makes all of the difference … it allows us to focus on what we have—the grace of each moment together.” She knows her “existence can be an example to everyday people that the miraculous is possible. No matter how long I am here. I realize that just because you are not 100% cancer free does not mean you are not a miracle. The miracles are in the midst of the details. I am not going to wait till I am 100% cancer free to help people.”

Shauna is a living modern day miracle. Miracles are expressions of love. Love is the miracle. Shauna’s story is about love. Shauna’s love is a loud love. Insistent in the most graceful way. Her life allows us to witness miracles and to allow those everyday miracles that walk among, between, in front, behind and within us to roam freely on this earth and be recognized. None of us know when we will die. We simply know that we will. Those living with cancer are made more immediately and intimately aware of the mortality we all share in grueling and beautiful ways. Living with cancer “forced me to identify my own worth, my own divinity,” she told me. Living has helped Shauna recognize that she is hope and love personified. We all are.

Verta is writing her first book, loving out loud, because she believes that love should never be silent! verta shares how she is inspired by stories, by memories and by life at
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Coolishness and Fakery: The Joys of Fake-a-licious by Petra E. Lewis

Remember that old mantra: “If you can’t grow it, then you can sew it”? I was always of the other camp: Why sew it when you can grow it? Trust me: Unless there’s a serious medical condition involved, everyone can grow it—with the right care. Yeah, I guess I’ve already outed myself: I have never been a fan of fake hair.

Fake hair for me was always a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency measure. In the decades it took me to actually understand my über-complex hair, let’s just say there were a number of mishaps: some that ended in tears. (Sound of glass breaking.) That’s when I would reach for extensions, or during some particularly tragic episodes, even a wig.

Mind you, my own hair is so thick, when I used to mildly relax my hair, and (wet with water and product, in the process of drying) it hung down past mid-back, I’d get that old shady side eye from folks on the street and the train that I used to translate as: Yeah (suck teeth) you know that mess is a weave. Nah, sweetie, it was actually my hair. I guess that’s part of the reason why I had such an aversion to fake hair—inside I was chanting: I can grow it, I can grow it—SEE!!!

I’ve never had a weave in my life. But I recently submitted to a delightful life of fake-a-licious-ness, not out of any tragedy or emergency, but willingly. Why? Because right now time is the most precious commodity I have—at moments, even more precious than money. I’m a writer, entrepreneur, and knowledge worker—and the more time I have to simply sit down and think (then strategize and/or execute) the better.

Currently I take care of my own hair—having been stylist-free for a number of years. But when I do need to return to salon-level expertise, I return to my old stylist, owner of Y·O·U Hair Wellness & Lifestyle Spa in Jamaica, Queens, Liana Robinson*—with whom I’m still good friends.

Right now the first novel in my trilogy is about to go live in March; I’m expanding the offerings of my ghostwriting business (BookStar Business Ghostwriting + Development); I’d been doing my due diligence, and am about to launch another (long-term) entrepreneurial venture I attended the Kauffman Foundation’s FastTrac NewVenture training program for—and recently was inducted into their very selective coaching program; I need to finally get my professional website together—and expand my social media footprint, which takes werk; and I’m also actively seeking, and beginning to get, speaking gigs and other opportunities related to my book.

Yeah, I’m laying the foundation for that kind of life. The kind of life where having income from multiple revenue streams—instead of one job—can either make you look unfocused—or it can make you look like Jay-Z.

For 2014, the theme at my church, Christian Cultural Center (CCC) in Brooklyn is: focus. And so I am. Although I tend to wear my hair up most times anyway (which means it’s not that time consuming), I called up Liana and told her that I wanted to put the back portion of my hair into synthetic twists. I’d had that style once before. The hair she gets is so similar to my own hair, it’s kind of scary.

She completed the style on February 11th—and I love it! All I do once a week is use a spray moisturizer called Quench and saturate the twists and my own hair, use cinagrOrganic’s Scalp & Hair Health Vitalizer on my scalp for growth, use a different product on the long “kitchen” hair at the nape of my neck and gather and twirl it into one twist, which I then sweep up with the rest of the twists in a no-snag elastic, then elegantly pin my bun into place. Done! All I focus on is the front of my hair, which I also tend to only do once a week, since I usually sweep it up into a Samurai-style topknot, then only wet and refresh the edges at the front of my hair every three days or so.

My one worry with this style stemmed from my book tour. My curls are as much my signature as my writing, and I wanted new fans to see the whole me—the real me. Instead I compromised on a style that allows me to have no-brainer convenience (synthetic twists in the back) and my own free-range hair in the front that I can either wear in a top-knot, or a punky cascade of curls for book appearances.

I am loving this style—and shamelessly celebrating the Joys of Fake-a-licious! Or at least reveling in it for the next 3 – 4 months.

*If you’d like to learn more about Liana Robinson and her Y·O·U Hair Wellness & Lifestyle Spa, visit:

Petra E. Lewis is a writer, author, entrepreneur, Tastemaker, and Synergist who lives in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. The first novel in her trilogy, The Sons and Daughters of Ham, Book I: A Requiem debuts February 2014, : : @tastemistressp : :

  • Malla Haridat (@MallaHaridat)

    And this is the one of the best parts of being a woman in 2014 – options. It looks fab! Keep rocking it and invest every last additional minute in your business and enjoying life!

  • Petra

    Thanks, Malla! About to do the old weekly moisture down and pin up right now–before heading out. Have a fab weekend! #fakehairdontcare LOL

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Love Out Loud: A Series by verta ayanna

Verta Maloney

Mommy! My friend said my hair is not soft.

Mommy! My friend said my hair is puffy.

Mommy! My friend said my hair is not straight.

My heart unraveled into a thousand fragile strands that day as my daughter told me what her friend had said. She was hurt. Not solely because of what her friend said but more precisely how she said it. A nuance not missed by my intuitive young daughter. I took a deep breath. I chose my words with care. “Your hair is soft,” I told her as we touched it. “Your hair is not straight, but it could be,” I told her as we looked at pictures of all the amazing and stunning ways black girls and women could wear our hair. “Your hair is puffy sometimes and sometimes flat and other times wild and magnificently crazy,” I told her as I tried to make her smile. “We have options little love!” I proclaimed.

After all this conversation, after all this focus on the words I chose, I began to realize that my four-year-old daughter was becoming slightly obsessed with long, silky, straight hair. My four-year-old daughter, whose mother had a fierce and powerful ceasar in college. My four-year-old daughter, whose mother rocked the hell out of some box braids back in the day. Though I told her that I loved her hair so very much and so should she. She was not convinced. I could see it in her eyes. Oh the things I can see in her eyes. Eyes that were fixed on my ever-so-fly, short, straight, relaxed, silky, precision cut done to perfection every six weeks in Brooklyn. Another nuance that could not have gone unnoticed by my ever-watchful little girl. I became fully aware that what I said was less important than what I needed to do.

Hair does not frighten me any more. It used to. I once feared what others would think, what others wouldn’t think. There was a time I feared the way I chose to wear my hair would mean I didn’t love myself enough or loved being black too much. I used to fear that how I chose to wear my hair made me more feminine, more attractive or at times too masculine, too strong and less attractive. It took years of trying on different hairstyles, before I could finally embrace the different versions of myself. Hair can be the outward expression of the fears, hopes, dreams, beauty and love that we, as women, have within us. We get to decide which, depending on the day. As mothers, we get to decide which we pass on to our daughters.

What I did next shocked my girl (and my boy) in a profound way. On a hot Saturday in July, I chose to share my love for her in the loudest way I knew how. I know and understand that there are no silent expressions of love. I cut my hair off. I did it for Simone. As she looked at me, eyes wide, with the hint of that smile I adore on her perfect little mouth, “I want hair just like yours,” I said. “So beautiful and so perfect.” Forgetting how much I love teeny-weeny afros, I also promised to grow it out just like hers. That was a mistake. I have no patience for things like that anymore. For weeks she would proudly and loudly tell people, “My mommy cut all her hair off because she wants it to be like mine. That’s going to take her a looong time!”  She has a good sense of humor that one.

I do know for sure I did something that day, in that moment, to help give her a stronger sense of self. Today she is a seven-year-old girl who gets inspiration from strawberry shortcake and has me twist pink and green strands into her two-strand twists one day. Today she is a seven-year-old girl who will rock her twist out until it is black uhuru locked and tell me when I try to tame it, “Mommy, I don’t care, I love my hair when it’s all wild and crazy!” Today she is a seven-year-old girl who has rocked a long straight do for about 18 hours or so because children can’t help but play and sweat out the best of intentions on yet another day. Today I do know for sure that for right now, in this moment, my girl fearlessly loves the skin and hair she is in and she is doing so in the loudest ways she can.

Verta is writing her first book, loving out loud, because she believes that love should never be silent! verta shares how she is inspired by stories, by memories and by life at
  • Tina

    Hi Verta! I just looked at your piece again and I really love it!

  • verta ayanna

    thanks Petra! thanks Tina. that means so much to me. thanks so much for the opportunity to share my voice 🙂

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Happy New Hair: The Curly Girl and Naturalista’s Guide to Four Life-Changing Books! – Part II by Petra E. Lewis

Teri LaFlesh, blogger and author of Curly Like Me

Teri LaFlesh, blogger and author of Curly Like Me

My hair is absurdly complex. It literally took me decades to finally understand it—and discover best practices for maintenance.  However—truth be told—I would never have figured all these things out without an assist.  Today, blogs and YouTube tutorials for natural hair are ubiquitous, but for me it was largely thanks to four books that I was finally able to understand my hair.  This post wraps up the second in my two-part, countdown-style listing of four books that were life changers in helping me to both “decipher” and holistically transform my hair—and can help you, too! Here are my final two game changers…

2/ HEAL THYSELF I became a vegetarian Thanksgiving of 1990. I remember thinking to myself: This is the meatiest day of the year. If I can get through this day without touching the ham at breakfast, or the turkey at dinner, I’ll be fine. Outside of unintended slipups (darn, those Chinese dumplings got me every time!), I’ve never looked back. I can’t remember if I read Queen Afua’s Heal Thyself before or after I went veggie, but like Curly Girl (mentioned in my first post), I consider it to be a foundational text. Anyone who thinks that what you put in your mouth and what is happening on your head are not connected is kidding him or herself. Back in the day (when this stuff was still fringe, not mainstream and being done with thumbs up from celebrities) I did juice fasts, colonics, took raw-foods preparation classes, and once went on a trip to a Native American sweat lodge, sponsored by Queen Afua’s Heal Thyself Center (established 1982). The book opens with Queen Afua’s amazing story of how she cured herself of asthma and other chronic diseases through natural living. As the book’s cover says, “No Woman, Man or Child Should Be Without This Natural Healing Book.” Co-sign!

TO PURCHASE: Heal Thyself

1/ CURLY LIKE ME Teri LaFlesh has one of the single most beautiful head of curls I have *ever* seen (see photo above). Curly Girl and Curly Like Me are co-joined, because without the paradigm shift started by the former, I would not have been able to accept the life-changing advice and absolute gift that Curly Like Me is. The advice Lorraine Massey gave that I considered insane (using No-Poo to cleanse my scalp, and using conditioner only—instead of shampoo—to “co-wash” the rest of my hair) is no longer heresy to me, but Gospel. When you see old photos of Teri’s fried, damaged, stunted teenaged hair, and that child’s miserable face, it lets you know that she really is curly like you—and if these methods worked for her, then they can work for you. What I love most about Terry is the loving, gentle, empowering language she uses to describe curly hair:

The media’s portrayal of hair affects how we view our own hair.…When we watch television and see that there are no representations of hair that behaves like ours, it’s easy for us to feel as if we aren’t normal. To inoculate ourselves against these stealthy influences, we need to be aware of this media bias toward straight hair. If you are, it will save you the energy you would otherwise waste by feeling bad about your hair. Especially since you have magnificent, unique hair—and that’s a good thing….We are repeatedly shown that the only way to handle all hair is by using the methods that work with straighter hair.

(Stares at Terry’s photo on the cover with love and awe: this. woman. gets it.) Curly Like Me is the equivalent of “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud!” for curly hair. Calling all curly girls and naturalistas: This woman—and this book—will change your life. Wishing you a Happy New Hair!

TO PURCHASE: Curly Like Me

Till next time: Love, Peace, and Hair Grease, my friends y amigas….

Click to read Part I

Petra E. Lewis is a writer, author, entrepreneur, Tastemaker, and Synergist who lives in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. The first novel in her trilogy, The Sons and Daughters of Ham, Book I: A Requiem debuts February 2014, : : @tastemistressp : :

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“Hard” is relative: What turkey can teach us about embracing our hair by Tina Opie

In my earlier post, I asked “Is kinky hair hard and straight hair easy-peasy?”.  Hard is relative.  That means in this social world we inhabit we tend to make comparisons in order to determine something’s value.  Thus, for kinky hair to be “hard” this must mean that it’s been compared to something else and found to be more difficult.  In this –case, kinky hair has been compared to straight hair.  However, if a woman with a full head of kinky hair complained about her hair being “hard” to an involuntarily bald woman, I think the bald woman might slap her.  In other words,  we must examine the comparison that we’re using to determine our hair’s value.  Why did “easy to detangle” became  a key indicator of hair’s value?  Is this about time?  I admit, it can be an absolute pain in the butt to spend an hour or more detangling my hair so that I can get it ready for washing or styling.  Yes, I have rolled my eyes at fellow gym-showerers who wash their hair, towel up, dress and dart out of the locker room all before I’ve even gotten all of my hair products arranged just so on that itty bitty shower bench.  There are definitely times (especially after a 6AM spinning class and before the 8AM class I teach) when I WISHHHHHHHH I could be done in 5 – 10 minutes if I wash my hair.  However, for the most part, that is not my reality.  I have come to accept that.  I may still suck my teeth and ask, “Why God, why?” when I’m gingerly working through my sopping wet head, praying that the product doesn’t goop up leaving me looking like I rolled my head in popcorn.  That is just me.  But, all in all, I LOVE my hair.  I love what it can do, how soft it is, how versatile it is, how Black it is.  I love it.

But, I first needed to realize that things that take time are not necessarily bad and things that are quick and convenient are not always “the best”.  Take food for example.  Let’s say you have turkey deli slices on one hand and a roasted turkey on the other hand.  If we applied the above hair value algorithm (quick = best and superior, longer time = hard and inferior), we’d argue that turkey deli slices are superior to a roasted turkey.

turkey deli slicesroasted turkey

REALLY?!  Don’t get me wrong, I love a turkey BLT, a turkey Reuben.  When I want something quick and tasty, those are amazing choices.  However, when you have the time, deli slices just don’t compare to a well-cooked roasted turkey.  Try as you might, it is much more difficult to take turkey deli slices and make a gourmet meal.  Yet, with a roasted turkey you can make soup, sandwiches, salad, hot food, cold food.  You get the picture.  Yes, deli slices are quick and convenient (and tasty!), but that quick convenience means you lose out on versatility.  If you value versatility, all of a sudden, quickness and convenience may recede in importance.

Whatever YOU have embrace it.  My point is this, if you have versatile hair embrace IT. It may mean that you have to take more time, but that’s life.  If you have quick/convenient hair, embrace IT!  It may mean that you have less versatility, but that’s life.  Let’s live it.

Introspection: Ask yourself what you value about your hair.  Most importantly, ask yourself WHY you value it.  Please share your thoughts on the site!

Happy New Year!


  • Amy D

    So true about embracing what we’ve been given. My friend is in treatment for stage 4 ovarian cancer. All of her hair fell out this past week. Her hair was long, well below her shoulders. Her young adult son shaved his head in solidarity in the fight against cancer. It seems to be a way of identifying with his mom (who adopted him when he was school age).

    • Tina Opie

      Thanks so much for commenting and sharing. Please hug your friend for me and let her know that there are prayer warriors out there! 🙂 There are so many forces working against embracing what we have (whether it be our God-given identity traits or material things) that we are almost like whirling dervishes trying to get more, change, become someone different. Whew, let’s all pause and appreciate. 🙂 Happy happy New Year!

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Happy New Hair: The Curly Girl and Naturalista’s Guide to Four Life-Changing Books – Part I! by Petra E. Lewis

A New Year always means a “New You”—even if you fall miserably short. I made two lousy resolutions last year and didn’t accomplish either of them. They were tiny things. The kind of stuff I call “should have been there, should have done that” items. Ironically, while I never got around to fulfilling those two (relatively) easy-peazy vows, I did breeze through big, non-resolution items like finally finishing the first novel in my trilogy, and launching two businesses. Go figure.

Cover of Curly Nikki's curly-girl guide, Better Than Good Hair

Cover of Curly Nikki’s curly-girl guide, Better Than Good Hair

So let’s resolve not to make resolutions. Instead, let’s simply tap our inner Oprah—and pursue our best self.  Where should you start? Here—or should I say: HAIR. As we wrap up 2013, and optimistically leap into 2014, HAIR is my end-of-holiday-season gift to you—must reads for having some of the baddest hair anywhere. And I mean that in the RUN-D.M.C. sense of the word: Not bad meaning bad—but bad meaning GOOD!  A perfect segue into my first pick in this countdown-style listing of books. Here are the first two life changers on my list…

4/ BETTER THAN GOOD HAIR  Stumbling upon all these new team-natural blogs and instructional videos in recent years has spawned what I call my “old dog, new tricks” hair education. Arguably La Reina del Naturalista Blogosphere is the Queen herself: Curly Nikki (Nearly 300,000 Facebook likes and 46,000 Twitter followers—and counting…).  My first crack at Nikki’s 2013 curly-girl guide, Better Than Good Hair —a title I found absolutely brilliant—made me LOL (one of Nikki’s not-so-secret weapons: being snot-out-your-nose funny)! She also has that “girlfriend-confidential” thing on lock—you feel like you know her (personally), and she knows you. I was among those who preordered Better Than Good Hair, and while I haven’t gotten through all of it yet, the hi-lar-ious forward section from Kim Wayans (yeah, of the In Living Color Wayans ha-ha! clan) is worth the price of the book alone. I remember Curly Nikki once advising on her blog that when you detangle your hair, you should do it as delicately as if it were lace. Every time I detangle my own hair, that little gem of advice pops into my head. It’s that kind of simple, yet solid baseline advice that makes this a must have on every naturalista’s bookshelf.  TO PURCHASE: Better Than Good Hair 

3/ CURLY GIRL Back in the day, when I used to texturize my hair to stretch out my natural curl, I would literally go into a panic when I took the “what if” leap in my mind about living abroad. I felt like I could not live without my stylist at the time. Today: Homegirl—and all those dreaded chemicals—are long gone, and I take care of my own hair. Now, among the things I cannot (and I mean *really* cannot) live without (anywhere in the world) are the DevaCurl brand of products, created by the Patron Saint of all Curly Girls, Lorraine Massey—co-owner of the Devachan salon and spa in SoHo (a beautifully scented sanctuary for curly girls). To me, Curly Girl is the original spiral-haired manifesto. And like most manifestos, initially it seemed radical to me: Ditch your shampoo? What the…. Then only use a product she invented called “No-Poo” to cleanse your scalp, and (again) do not use shampoo on the rest of your hair! (Faint rustling sound as old girl tries to tip toe quietly towards the door, to get away from this crazy woman.) But Lorraine was right.  Just know this book will rock your world—and its complete paradigm shift on caring for curly/kinky hair is mandatory, if you want to start rocking those curls the way that God intended!  TO PURCHASE: Curly Girl

Check in next week for #2 and numero uno….

Till next time: Love, Peace, and Hair Grease, my friends y amigas….


Petra E. Lewis is a writer, author, entrepreneur, Tastemaker, and Synergist who lives in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. The first novel in her trilogy, The Sons and Daughters of Ham, Book I: A Requiem debuts February 2014, : : @tastemistressp : :


Is kinky hair “hard” and straight hair “easy peasy”? by Tina Opie

Question for you:  Is Black hair “hard”?  Not hard as in the opposite of soft, but hard as in difficult.  One day a White female acquaintance and I were talking about our children, the process of getting them dressed up for holiday pictures, styling their hair.  She looked at me, shook her head and said in a commiserating voice, “Your hair is just so…hard”.  Whoa. She went on to say that her hair was easy-peasy, just wash and go, pull it back and she’s done.  Perhaps this was a politically incorrect response but I asked, “But, isn’t that boring?  I can do a wash and go too, but I can also straighten, twist, twistout, pull back, bantu knot, cornrow, etc.  In essence, I can rock seven hairstyles in seven days if I so choose.”  My acquaintance didn’t have a verbal response but her facial expression suggested mixed emotions:  on one hand, she’d never thought of that before; on the other hand, she may have thought I was being overly optimistic about my kinky hair.

A few things have gelled for me as I reflect on this conversation.  First, my acquaintance was merely parroting messages she’d likely heard about knotty, nappy, kinky, unmanageable hair (still upset about the title of the Washington Post article about my hair…folks, I DID NOT pick that title!) that Black women “deal” with and the long, silky gorgeous hair that White women are “blessed” with (please hear the irony in my voice).  Everything from Disney to Mattel to Elle to Lucky to Glamour underscores that message (although, more and more women with sufficiently multicultural textured hair are being lauded as beautiful…I still don’t see many kinky-haired women in all of our natural-haired glory).  What will it take to change that message?  Will there ever come a day where the unique beauty of kinky hair is appreciated as much as that of straight hair?


Second, an internal truth:  I used to think that my hair was hard. Yes, there, I’ve said it.  One of the reasons why I wore a relaxer for decades was because I didn’t want to or know how to “deal” with my thick kinky hair.  Even after I got my last relaxer in 1997/8, I still chose styles like twists or cornrows that “tamed” my hair, only allowing the hairdresser to loose it from its kinky cage and re-tame it every four to six weeks.  That was followed by ten years of beautiful locs…again, a style I chose because it didn’t make sense to pay someone to twist and re-twist my hair every four to six weeks when I could wear locs and have the same beautiful look.  I loved my locs but at some point (roughly two years ago), a nagging sense that I’d been avoiding myself, my kinky-haired self that is, began to plague me.  I know that some people think it’s only hair but if that were true, why would I avoid it.  Wouldn’t I treat it like my ears, or nails or something?  Just let it be?  Hair is identity-rich, revealing so much about how we see ourselves and how we want others to see us.  That, THAT was what pulled and tugged at me.  What did I see in my kinky hair that was so troubling that I felt a need to “tame” it, even while donning natural styles?

If you could change your hair texture to straight would you?  To kinky, would you?

  • csimpson

    I love this article! I confess I wear my hair the same way everyday. Once I had a 2nd grade student look at me & ask “how do you not have webs in your hair?” I love seeing the different styles my students come in with. What impresses me the most is the time dedicated to do your hair. So while it maybe “easy-peasy” yes it gets boring.

  • Tina Opie

    Hi! I miss seeing you in NY! Thanks so much for your comment and for reading the site! Be grateful for that “easy-peasiness”; work what you’re working with! 🙂 Happy, happy NEW YEAR! 🙂

  • Laquita

    Interesting article. My though it that, no matter how one wears her/his hair, it is an adjustment at the beginning to style the hair in any particular way. I wouldn’t say that any particular grade of hair is easy or hard, just different.

  • Tina Opie

    Happy New Year! Thanks so much for commenting! I agree that hair grade / texture shouldn’t matter much, it very much has to do with knowledge. However, it seems that assumptions are made about kinky textured hair (it’s so difficult!) and I think it’s great that we’re exploring this and discussing the tradeoffs of different hair textures. Thanks again. Come back often! 🙂

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The Disunited Nations (a.k.a My Hair)… by Petra E. Lewis

Kevin Ryan Headshot - Color

No one will mistake me for anything other than Black—my skin is a swirl of dark caramel and milk chocolate. My hair? That’s another story. One wonders, like the manna the Israelites picked up from the ground: What is it?

My ancestry is complicated, a thing of borne witness, handed down stories, and myth. The result: A head of hair that is beautiful, maddening, and complex—frequently all three at once. The vast majority of my ancestry is diasporally African (a mixture of Islanders from the Caribbean). My father’s mother, who we all called Mama (accentuating each of the “a”s in our pronunciation), died before my siblings were born. However, I saw her many times as a kid when I visited Trinidad.

Mama was a mixed woman, with curly, mid-shoulder-length hair—which meant it was far longer stretched out. Mama’s mother had emigrated from St. Vincent to Trinidad, and my father said that the father of Mama’s mother was one of two Scottish brothers, the Frasers (far more to that story, but that’s all I’ll say for now). Mama’s surname was French—Serrette—and her father was said to be the owner of a plantation, more than likely a cocoa plantation.  And it appears that, like Mama’s mother, her father was also mixed, from a family of very light-skinned creoles. Hence the handed down stories and myth I spoke about: What is true, and what is not—and where is Henry Louis Gates, Jr. when you need him?

On my mother’s side, her grandfather, Appa, was said to be a dougla—the name we give in Trinidad to people who are a mixture of Black and East Indian. My mom and all her siblings said Appa, a tall, curly-haired dandy, was the spitting image of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie.  I took a genealogy test once that said that I have Asian in my background. However, it’s entirely possible that Appa phenotypically looked like a dougla, but was mixed with something else.

When it comes to describing my hair, I have taken to giving my ancestors their own signifiers: three avatars who I call Sanjay, Kunta, and Chip. There are days when it’s all love between those three: Sitting together on the verandah, laughing, playing dominoes, and lazily sipping on chai. Then there are days when my head becomes the site of a global war, as Sanjay, Kunta, and Chip claw and skirmish for territory, jockeying to become the victor who plants his flag in my scalp.

Even on my best hair days, the mixture of textures throughout my head marks each avatar’s dominance—or submission. The curls at the very front of my hair are my favorite section. I guess you can refer to them as: We are the World, where Sanjay, Kunta, and Chip seem to get along best. That part of my hair can sometimes be the most fragile, but the ringlets are perfect, long lasting, and very low maintenance.  Sanjay and Kunta coexist beautifully in a wide section right near each of my ears: thick, springy, perfect ringlets, with a smaller curl pattern that are prone to breakage when not handled properly.  The sides of my hair, towards the middle, is a love fest: Kunta and Chip as BFFs—more so on the right of my hair than the left; on the left, there are times when one of them seems to have taken offense at something, and thrown a tantrum.

Then you get to the end of the sides of my hair, rounding the corners to the back, where Sanjay and Kunta seemingly begin to raise their voices: the beginning of a brawl. The hair in that section doesn’t ringlet as much as it is a strange, thick bushy texture more akin to waves—and very prone to dryness.  The back topmost part of my hair—I guess you can call that the “crown”—is the section I call: Sanjay and Kunta are fighting.  Yes, Sanjay and Kunta are fighting. Full stop—as this posture of strife is a permanent state of affairs.  It’s also a weird, thick wavy something—and I’m pretty sure Chip sat that one out.

For a large swathe of the very back of my head, the trio seems to have called a truce—back to drinking chai, dominoes, and back slapping. The lower rung of my hair hangs in a veil of beautiful baby curls: Kunta and Sanjay finally BFFs. But just below that, wait for it… the section I call WW WTF!!! (Or World War What the Freak, as we’d like to keep this family friendly).

As most Black women know, the kitchen area of our hair is the one that most denotes us as African women.  Sometimes it curls and clumps into little balls; sometimes it’s kinky and springy—yet smooth, lying relatively flat; and sometimes it’s straight.

Depending on a number of factors (a topic for another post) that section of my hair can be either of the three—or a combination. My theory on WW WTF: I think Chip tried to jump into the mix, but Sanjay pummeled him—then (eyes narrowed, breathing heavily), Sanjay turned to square off once and for all with Kunta.  But Kunta wasn’t having it….  And so they fight, on, and on, and on…. Stretched, that section of my hair reaches shoulder length. Unstretched, extreme shrinkage keeps it clinging to the base of my neck, appearing as though it is less than an inch. It’s grown so long in the last year, it only recently occurred to me that what I really need to do is stretch it out and pin it up.

This post is the beginning of many on my head of hair: a beautiful, maddening, and complex thing, a gift from the mysterious, mixed-up, variety pack I call my ancestors. There are days when Sanjay, Kunta, and Chip are polite to a fault (“No, no, you go first kind sir. I insist.” “No, no, I’ll have none of it—I insist, dear old chap: you….”). Those days are glorious: My hair is everything I want it to be, I am brimming with confidence, and all is right in the world. Then there are days when an ugly, bitter war has broken out, flags are planted, and WW WTF is in particularly rare and embarrassing form, and I feel the very confidence drain from my body, as I try to get the rogue, mutinous sections of my hair to yield—knowing full well they’ll ignore me and any pressing business or social engagements that I may have…

Oh, yes, I can tell you stories…. I know you have some, too. What have your own experiences been with your hair in its various states (be it natural or chemically treated)? I would love to hear about your individual journeys. I know you each have so much to say.

Till next time: Love, Peace, and Hair Grease, my friends y amigas….


Petra E. Lewis is a writer, author, entrepreneur, Tastemaker, and Synergist who lives in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. The first novel in her trilogy, The Sons and Daughters of Ham, Book I: A Requiem debuts February 2014, .

  • Sandi Webster

    Petra, I so understand the hair thing and sympathize. I, too, come from an “unidentifiable” Jamaican ancestral tree that plays out in my hair. I was constantly frustrated with my “thicker than most” hair until I cut it off in sixth grade (whupping followed!) – I’ve not had long hair since. My grandmother would take all day to “chiney bump” my hair and then I would wake up the next day with wet hair after sleeping on a wet pillow. Right after that, I started to use a pressing comb to straighten my hair – all in the hopes of gaining consistency and decrease maintenance. It gave me a lot of flexibility between my natural states until one bout at the beach when I was 28 made me convert to a perm. A perm is my ancestral hair equalizer the same way my short haircut is time equalizer, meaning it makes everything look and feel the same and I can be out of my house in 15 minutes because I simply need a brush. Not to mention, I think I look simply fab this way.

  • Petra Lewis

    Hi Sandi: Thanks for this. And, yes–you do look fabulous! Didn’t realize that you had had it for this long (no pun intended : ). Can’t imagine you in anything but short hair!

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Beijing’s First African Hair Salon

Hello everyone,

I’ve blogged about how African / Black hair is big business but you might not think there’d be much of a market for it in China.  Well, this BBC story “Chinese embrace Beijing’s first African hair salon” suggests that that may be changing.  Here’s a screen shot of the video:

African hair salon in Beijing

Given African immigration to China for job opportunities (hundreds of thousands according to the BBC website), there is a growing need for African hair salons.   The interesting thing is that, at least in this video clip, a lot of the clients appear to be Chinese little girls (this screen shot captures the little girl’s grimace.  Brings back memories:  I remember those days!).  What an amazing example of cross-cultural exchange!

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Pantene’s campaign “Truly Relaxed & Truly Natural”

Hello everyone,

My blogging has been spotty and I hope you’ll agree that it’s been with good reason!  I am working really hard to get tenure at my college so I’ve had my head down teaching, grading and conducting research.  However, I just completed a major milestone (whew hew, graded a TON of papers) and one of the first things I wanted to do was blog and reconnect with you all.

While I was grading and watching the BET Honors show, I happened to see two Pantene commercials that comprised a campaign entitled “Truly Relaxed & Truly Natural”.  Here is a picture of the campaign.

The first commercial starred Chrisette Michele donning her beautiful, golden-hued, faded afro.  The second commercial starred ballerina Misty Copeland sporting her relaxed hair.  Did you see the commercials?  I find it interesting that Pantene is addressing the fact that women of color are returning to their natural hair but that it’s our choice whether or not we do so.  I’m a proud kinky afro wearer.  However, I don’t think you lose your Black card if you opt to get a relaxer.  I do, however, think it’s important that we ask ourselves WHY we make our hair choices.  In a similar vein, I don’t think you lose your identity card if you choose to alter visible signals that you belong to a particular identity group.  Said differently, we may or may not choose to reveal our identity but that shouldn’t mean that we are somehow deemed less embracing of that identity.  Or, should it?  What are your thoughts on this?  What are your thoughts on WHY women make particular hair choices (i.e., to wear natural hair or not)?  Back to Pantene, what do you think of the campaign?

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