Hair As Identity Menu



How Living Abroad Pushed me to Become Natural Again by Alex, a contributor

As a southern belle growing up in the deep-south in the 80s, relaxing my hair was the cultural norm. Like most little girls in Memphis, I had my first relaxer at age five. My dear sweet mom did not know how to braid or twist my hair so wearing a relaxer was the only option for me. Plus, I have really thick, “kinky hair” and there was no way my mom was going to struggle to press my hair. I clearly remember the skin burns and burnt scalps I got from the hot comb straightening out my “kitchen”.

Going to beauty salon was the solution to my mom’s problems and quickly became our mother-daughter ritual until high school. We enjoyed flipping through the Dudley hair magazines to see the latest trends before our next six weeks touch up. However, the day I left for boarding school in a remote, predominately white town in New Hampshire, my hair took a turn for the worse. Now, I had to survive on my own and learn how to relax and care for my hair. Yikes! My classmates and I played kitchen beautician and did each other’s hair. I am sure we did some hair damage along the way.

My hair journey got better during my college years in New Orleans where I started to experiment with natural hair and did my first big chop. I had just returned from my internship in Connecticut and decided to cut off my hair after being inspired by another intern. One day, I was at home in the bathroom slowly cutting out my braids and was anxious to reunite with the natural hair that I had abandoned since childhood. I was bold and ready to free myself from the bondage of the relaxer.

Being natural was a time of rediscovery and self love. I enjoyed rushing to the mirror to measure my hair monthly. Twists outs, braids, and Bantu knots were my go to hairstyles and I had even tried locking my hair for a brief period. However, my personal natural hair movement came to an immediate halt when I got married and started working for corporate America. I quickly felt pressured to conform to the relaxed hair regime.

However, life took another turn and in 2010 I returned to my natural self. As my husband and I prepared to travel to Honduras with two kids in tow, the first thing that I stressed about was how I was going to do my relaxed hair in Latin America. When you have relaxed hair, finding the right salon is imperative, especially in cities with small black populations. I searched throughout Tegucigalpa where we lived, and finally I found “ a black hair salon”, which was a blessing and a curse. Located deep in the “barrio”/hood of Honduras with lots of reggeton and salsa music, “Maria’s Sala de Belleza” as I shall say, was a black girl’s heaven. It was the one safe place where a black woman could easily get a Dominican blow out without the mean stairs or was refused service for having “cabello malo”, which means bad hair in English as is a racist term. “Maria”, my new found black hair stylist, over- relaxed my hair and did not rinse out all of my Mizani relaxer that I had bought from the United States.

Maria’s lack of running water and poor relaxing skills led to my hair eventually falling out. My hair was weak and my scalp was always burning after a retouch. I should have run for the door as soon as I saw the bucket of water that was used to rinse my hair. I knew better, but was blinded by the fact that “Maria” was a black hair stylist. Wearing braids was the only way to go until my natural hair grew out.

Since then, I have worn my hair natural and will never go back to a relaxer. In developing countries, the salon industry is so unregulated that you do not know who you can trust with chemicals. My frustrations with hair and finding good products on the local market in Honduras led me to form my cosmetic distribution company, Marina Bella Imports. I currently represent four major U.S. brands in the United States, Honduras, and Rwanda: Luster Products, Cortex Professional, and GK Hair, and my own exclusive line of Passion Remy Indian Human Hair. I did not want future women of color to visit salons with bad products and hair stylists. Now that I work in the hair industry, I have learned how to better care for my hair and teach other hair stylist in developing countries how to properly use chemicals.

As for as hair maintenance, I keep it very simple. I wash my hair once a week with GK Hair Professional, Color Protection Moisturizing Shampoo and Conditioner. I also deep condition my hair with Shea Moisture products. I apply moisturizing lotion and Olive oil daily. I love to twist or roller set my hair too.

I am very pleased with my hair growth. My hair is thick and is pass my shoulders when it is pressed out. I can do various hairstyles and updos. My bangs stretch to the bottom of my nose. Now I am wearing hair color by GK Hair Professional, and thus my hair is still healthy and strong.

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Isis Brantley: Entrepreneur and Trailblazer WINS hairbraiding case

Isis Brantley, an entrepreneur and trailblazer for natural hair

Isis Brantley, an entrepreneur and trailblazer for natural hair (image found on

I am thrilled that Isis Brantley won her lawsuit and is now able to braid hair without unnecessary government regulation.  I find it deeply troubling that the state of Texas would bring suit against a woman who is doing what Black women have done for centuries: braid the hair of other women in the community.  Are ancient cultural practices protected from government regulations?   Hairbraiders are entrepreneurs and Black women have long used hairbraiding as a path for economic gain, perhaps when they were unable to or chose not to obtain employment in the larger economy.  Since money is involved, must these practices be controlled by the government?  That is a troubling thought.

According to the Institute for Justice website (, the state of Texas began regulating hair braiders in 2007; and, in a seemingly unwise move, subsumed hairbraiding licenses under the state’s barbering regulation.  This decision would have forced Ms. Brantley to install barber chairs, almost double the size of her business and install sinks (ironically, in Texas hair braiders cannot offer services that need sinks).  Additionally, Ms. Brantley would have had to invest up to 750 hours learning to be a barber instructor, and passing exams related to barbering.  Seriously?!  What’s next?  Are we going to force the women who bake and sell cakes for the church to become licensed caterers?

Thanks goodness Ms. Brantley pursued justice.  Not only did the court rule the barbering requirements as unconstitutional for hairbraiding schools (January 2015) but, the legislature fully deregulated natural hairbraiding in Texas (June 2015).

Ms. Brantley, I salute you.  You are a trailblazer for natural hair and for justice.

Sources that discuss Ms. Brantley’s experience:

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LOVE: Black Women of Brazil Website

I recently came across a new website that made my heart sing:  This website shows me that women around the world are on a quest to embrace their natural hair, to stand up and speak out on what authenticity means to them.


Image found at

According to the website:

What is Black Women of Brazil?

“Black Women of Brazil is a photographic and informational blog featuring a diverse array of Brazilian Women of African descent. As much of the English speaking world is not familiar with the history of African descendants in Brazil, it also features news, essays, reports and interviews spanning an array of topics including race, racism, hair, affirmative action, police brutality, etc. intended to give a more complete view of  the experiences of black women in particular and black people in general in Brazil with a goal of provoking discussion through the lens of race.

Photos feature women who are models, singers, rappers, dancers, actresses as well as politicians, activists, journalists, athletes, etc.  and common everyday people from the República Federativa do Brasil (Federative Republic of Brazil). The women range the gamut of phenotypes in terms of skin color, hair texture and facial features.”

I plan to learn more about this website and feature it going forward.  What do you think?  Do you know of other websites around the world that promote authenticity, natural hair, etc.?  If so, please let me know.


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Andre Walker Shares 8 Natural Hair Commandments

Andre Walker is the  Love him or not, he’s an Emmy-award winning genius who has his own hair care line.  He’s credited with the hair typing system (if you refer to hair as 4b or 3a, you have his original typing system to thank).  He also famously styled Oprah Winfrey’s fabulously fluffy and healthy hair for her show.

Andre Walker

So, when Mr. Walker shares natural hair commandments, I take notice.  Here are the tips as shared at

Shampoo and Condition More Often
There are many schools of thought when it comes to how often you should wash your hair. Walker believes for those with dry hair, the more the better. “Many people think that dry hair should not be washed too often, but that is incorrect,” he explains. “Dry hair needs moisture, water is moisture. Use water and highly moisturizing products to deliver moisture to your hair.”

Rinse Shampoo Thoroughly
Rinse for an extra minute or two in the shower to make sure you get all the shampoo out of your hair. This will leave you with less frizz and extra shine.

Condition From Roots to Tips
Make sure to get conditioner on your whole entire head. Leave on for a few minutes before you rinse to lock in the moisture.

Related: Why Can’t a Black Woman Have a Perfect Bedhead?

Deep Condition
During the dry winter months, deep conditioning treatments are essential to combat breakage and frizz. If you can’t make it to the salon, you can easily do a DIY version at home. Simply shampoo your hair and rinse it out with hot water, then add a conditioner throughout. Dampen a towel with hot water, ring out the excess, and wrap it around your head. Place a shower cap over the towel to lock in the heat and keep things in place. Once the towel gets cool, soak it again and rewrap. Do this for 15 to 30 minutes.

Do Not Brush
When styling natural hair, Walker says it’s best not to disturb the curl pattern as it dries. Brushing, combing, even touching your hair will cause frizz.

Go to Bed With a Ponytail
If you want to keep frizz at bay, don’t wear your hair down when you sleep. Lying on your curls will cause them to frizz and straighten out. Instead, Walker suggests loosely pulling all of your hair into a pony at the center of your crown.

Related: Why I Stopped Relaxing My Hair

Sleep on Silk
Cotton pillowcases absorb moisture and will dry your hair out and cause breakage. Switch to silk or satin and you’ll keep the moisture in your hair (and feel that much more luxurious).

Get Misty
To freshen up kinks, curls, or waves that may have drooped or frizzed when you don’t have time to shampoo and condition, mist your hair lightly with water (be careful not to saturate it too much) and add a small amount of styling product and Argan oil.



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LOVE OUT LOUD! Ms. Verta Ayanna’s Beautiful, Personal Story (Part 2 of 2)

love it and let it go

part 2

by verta ayanna

naa sees verta

i have come to learn that alopecia is the medical term for balding.  like so many things, using the term alopecia alone is not descriptive enough.  it does not encompass or adequately define the various types of alopecia that exist. when i returned for the results, dr. jones told me that i had two forms: androgenetic alopecia and scarring alopecia. i am not a doctor, however, experience is making me more expert at understanding my alopecia.

androgenetic alopecia is in essence pattern baldness.  yes, my eyes got wide too. it generally affects men and women differently. for me it started with the shedding/thinning hair i was experiencing. i would literally have large amounts of hair in my hands after running my fingers through it. over time this form of baldness will likely lead to thinning hair mostly at the crown of my head and eventually could lead to baldness in that area.  scarring alopecia, as i understand it, is a relatively rare diagnosis and it can only be diagnosed with a biopsy. there are several forms of scarring alopecia and symptoms usually include burning, itching and pain in addition to hair loss.  the hair follicle is destroyed under the scalp in scarring alopecia and in its end stage results in smooth, clean, bald surfaces on the scalp (scars) that can be raised.  to prevent permanent hair loss it has to be treated pretty aggressively.

since my diagnosis in 2013, i have received several injections in my scalp. i am being treated with kenalog, a steroid solution. this is injected directly into my scalp and it hurts. i started with injections every six weeks. then every three months and now every four to six months depending on how i am responding. eventually i will only need the injections once a year. according to dr.jones and no second occurrence of balding to date, i am responding well. in fact, hair has actually grown in places on my scalp it was not present before.

alopecia, while ego threatening, is not life threatening. i chose an aggressive treatment because i still cannot and currently don’t have to imagine life as a bald or balding woman. shortly after i was diagnosed i decided to dye my hair blonde. my new motto on hair is “if i may lose it anyway, then no regrets” i have long adored dark skinned women with blonde tresses. my entire life i felt i could never pull that off. i was wrong. alopecia taught me that. currently my hair is exactly representative of who i am becoming on the inside. a more bold, more honest, more open and more confident version of myself.

alopecia is teaching me to let go of some of the external things i use to define myself. i am being forced to slowly let go of hair as such a strong definer because it is deciding to slowly let go of me. alopecia is a reminder that i am meant to grow. that with each passing day, every cell in my body is growing older, just as it should. i, just like you, am miraculous in this way. i am not ready to lose my hair, yet i know that i will one day. in accepting this inevitability i get to use my hair to weave whatever identity i choose to or not. i get to love it and let it go.




Justice Thurgood Marshall

On this day in 1967, Thurgood Marshall was appointed as a United Supreme Court Justice, the first African-American to ascend to this position.  Did you know that Thurgood Marshall’s light skin and hair impacted his reputation?  Hair has always been an identity marker, something that may signal inclusion or exclusion; acceptance or rejection.   Thank goodness for all of us, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall was appointed.  Our country would be a different land without his brilliant legal mind.thurgoodmarshall

Here is an excerpt from Juan William’s book, “Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary” that underscores how hair and other elements of appearance impacted Justice Thurgood Marshall:

“RUMORS FLEW THAT NIGHT. Supreme Court Justice Tom Clark had resigned a few hours earlier. By that Monday evening, Solicitor General Thurgood Marshall and his wife, Cissy, heard that the president was set to name Clark’s replacement the very next morning. At the Marshalls’ small green town house on G Street in Southwest Washington, D.C., the phone was ringing. Friends, family, and even politicians were calling to see if Thurgood had heard anything about his chances for the job. But all the Marshalls could say was that they had heard rumors.

    T1521520_28As Marshall dressed for Clark’s retirement party on that muggy Washington night of June 12, 1967, he looked at his reflection in the mirror. Years ago some of his militant critics had called him “half-white” for his straight hair, pointed nose, and light tan skin. Now, at fifty-eight, his face had grown heavy, with sagging jowls and dark bags under his eyes. His once black hair, even his mustache, was now mostly a steely gray. And he looked worried. He did have on a good dark blue suit, the uniform of a Washington power player. But the conservative suit looked old and out of place in an era of Afros and dashikis. And even the best suit might not be strong enough armor for the high-stakes political fight he was preparing for tonight. At this moment the six-foot-two-inch Marshall, who weighed well over two hundred pounds, felt powerless. He was fearful that he was about to lose his only chance to become a Supreme Court justice.”

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Watch Tina’s Television Interview!!!

I was recently interviewed by Emily Rooney on the WGBH Boston show “Greater Boston” about the army’s ban on particular hairstyles.  Here’s a link to the show:  Tina’s WGBH interview. Please let me know what you think!

Now, for a litle bit of trivia.  Who is this?

gene anthony ray fame newspaper report 1983

Post your answers in the comments section before you watch the video!

Once you watch the video, you’ll understand why this particular image is in this post!!!!  

  • Erica Addison


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SBD Days: Some Days All You Got to Do Is Stay Black, and…. by Petra E. Lewis

Kevin Ryan Headshot - ColorIn Black America, at some point the following is almost a universal scenario: Someone will tell someone else they “have” to or “need” to ________ [INSERT BLANK DIRECTIVE]. And that person will sassily reply (tone of voice the equivalent of hands akimbo, and sometimes hands actually akimbo): “All I got to do is stay Black and die!”

This for me is the genesis of SBD Days: ones that are obligation free.  I’m one of those people who works (hard) constantly, my ambition almost a flaw. And when SBD Days come, they come vengefully and unapologetically: I sip hot chocolate and catch up on literature. Cruise the web and LOL (the stupider the post, article, or video, the better). I have no desire to see significant others—that, after all, would be an obligation—an obligation–when all I got to do is stay Black and…. Well, you know.

Kevin Ryan Headshot _ B+W

SBD Days are lovely, lazy things when I allow myself to luxuriate in sloth, and contribute to the unraveling fibers of American society by ignoring the Protestant Work Ethic. Curiously, I don’t have SBD Days when I’m on deadline. Why? Simple: Mama didn’t raise no fool–plus I carefully guard my professional reputation.  SBD Days that fall on client deadlines are greeted with tough self-love—and a big stick. Hot chocolate and lethargically scrolling through hipster posts on Guest of a Guest’s Facebook page do not pay the bills.

However, SBD Days do sass and trash hair rituals. Due for a wash, a detangle, a deep condition? What? (Suck teeth.) All I got to do is stay Black and…. Well, you know. And guess what? My hair is just fine. I even get compliments. Race is irrelevant. Everyone deserves at least one SBD Day in their lives. Just become courageous enough to be selfish and put your peace and sanity above all else.

P.S. I was supposed to scribe this post two months ago, but I decided: All I got to do is stay Black and…. Well, you know.

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 : :

  • verta

    yes. yes. yes. we all need SBD days!!!

  • Petra

    LOL, Verta–yes, we do! BTW: I greatly enjoyed your first-ever post for HAI.#greatstuff

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i love chimamanda – by verta ayanna

i have a serious crush on this chimamanda ngozi adichie. she is feminine and feminist.  she is strong and vulnerable. she is humble and brazen. she is beautiful and Nigerian and brilliantly talented. she is regal; from the top of her beautifully styled head to the tips of her stylishly outfitted toes.  she uses words in the ways i hope to. chimamanda and her heroine in Americanah, ifemelu, came to me when i needed them most. when i needed to see myself in this world and be more fearless sharing myself with this world. when i needed to be reminded that the human experience is not reserved for a select few in literature. there is space and a need for all of us.

Chimamanda Adichie

chimamanda and ifemelu came to remind me of all the characters and books and people that are a part of me; that define me. when obinze’s mother treats ifemelu as her own, telling her “I was once young. I know what it is like to love while young … you can love without making love.  It is a beautiful way of showing your feelings but it brings responsibility, great responsibility, and there is no rush…wait until you own yourself a little more;” it is just as i imagine my own mother would have told me, had she the words and wisdom to do so. this moment and so many more in Americanah touched me deeply. they take their rightful place next to my own memories of my grannie teaching me, and me alone, to eat avocados from their skin with a dash of salt. teaching me to savor what is given, as it is given. these moments, these remembrances, are tucked away for safe keeping; for times i need to be fortified when the world drains me.  i am grateful to chimamanda and ifemelu because when i needed confirmation that love always wins — when we let it — they came to me.

i feel sad when a book i have loved is coming to an end.  i feel sad when time spent savoring the ones that i love is coming to an end. while i am more skillfully present in life than i once was, there are moments when i find myself dwelling momentarily  in the future. considering that in just a few hours these characters, real and fictional and real, will only be a part of my memory. i will no longer see them unfold themselves before me nor will i be able to hold them near and smell the scent of creation on them. i fall in love with books and people often but not easily. i am cautious and selective about what and who i let into my heart.  i breathe people and books in deeply when they are great and admittedly even when they are not so great. i do this so that i will remember. so that i can recall their truth. great books like great people hold truths. we never know which truths will be revealed. once the revelation begins, i long to hold them with me, in the present, for a while longer. at that very moment, i find that it is with greater speed that they start to take flight forcing me to let go. this act of repeatedly letting go allows me to recall that truths once revealed remain. they stain our souls.

a few months ago on facebook, i was asked for my list of ten from a friend.  ten books that have influenced and shaped me.  ten books that caused me sadness when they came to end. ten books that have left their indelible and brilliant stain on my soul. i cheated.  it was too hard to come up with just ten.  here is my list in the order i recall them becoming a part of me:

the orginal facebook list (yes, there are twelve):

the ones i remembered immediately after i posted the facebook list:

the ones i have read after age 40 that i must include:

and the book that prompted this post:

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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Straight hair for holidays?

According to Merriam-Webster, a “holiday” is a day of celebration when most people do not have to work.  Thus, holidays are a particular time when people may construct special hairstyles to fully embrace the festivities.  Further, hairstyles also convey that the wearer is special because she (or her mother) has taken extra time to create a highly polished, intricate style.  As a little girl, I remember getting my hair “done” for holidays.  Typically, that meant I’d get my hair straightened.

Original image by Bob Croslin from Tampa Bay Times (Combing through memories (4/14/06) by Nicole Johnson)

As I grew older, it meant that I would get my hair relaxed.  I’ve learned that this pattern of straightening on holidays is not atypical…many women I know practice the same hair ritual. What do you all think about this hair ritual?  How does it affect girls and women?

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