Hair As Identity Menu



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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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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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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“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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A balding 13-year old boy and me

Harold movie poster

Good day everyone!  I recently watched a movie on Netflix called “Harold”.  Here is a description of the movie on NetFlix:

“Fitting in at his new high school is tough for Harold (Spencer Breslin), especially since he suffers from early male-pattern baldness. With mean classmates making his life miserable, Harold tries to turn his luck around by taking the advice of a caring janitor (Cuba Gooding Jr.). Co-starring Ally Sheedy, Nikki Blonsky and Chris Parnell, this delightful comedy cleverly depicts the harsh realities of being an outsider.”

Ohhhh how I felt for Harold.  I couldn’t relate to everything because, fortunately, I was not the recipient of bullying.   It was so interesting to me that the whole premise of the movie was how a child would be tormented for his bald pate, how his hair could make him an outsider.  I can relate to feeling like an outsider Harold.  I have been there.  On numerous occasions, I’ve shared how I felt almost like a water-aversive alien because of my hair; afraid of rain, pools, humidity, even a crazy fool with a water hose.  Thanks be to God, I’ve learned (am learning) to accept my hair in all of its glory (even in its smashed, half frizzy state as I type this).  No, I’m not equating kinky / coily hair to male pattern baldness. But, what I am doing is recognizing that we all have identity battles, as we work hard to figure out how we fit in in this world.  May this year bring you self-discovery and self-acceptance as we strive to become the best people that we can be.  Hugs to you all.


If you or someone you know has experience with male pattern baldness, I’d love to hear more about your experience.  Please email me at to schedule a chat.  Thanks!

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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 (

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

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Brazilian Blowout

Last night my husband and I watched a fascinating episode of Dr. Gates’ “Black in Latin America” on PBS ( episode focused on Brazil, specifically Salvador, Bahia.This city is the third largest in Brazil (behind São PauloandRio de Janeiro).Dr. Gates was drawn to investigate Salvador because upwards of 80% of the population has Black African heritage.This is not surprising because Brazil had the largest Atlantic Trade slave population in the world at a whopping FIVE MILLION SLAVES.This was ten times the number of slaves deposited onto the soil of the United States of America.

Given the high number of slaves, it was almost inevitable that there would be a lot of “race mixing” and the resulting rainbow hue of people.And with mixed race, you KNOW there are varying hair textures.I was thrilled when Dr. Gates visited a hair salon renowned for teaching women how to embrace their natural hair texture.This is in stark contrast to the famed hair treatment known as the “Brazilian Blowout” which is reputed to have originated in Brazil.The hair treatment is renowned for giving people shiny, bouncy, frizz-free hair and works best when applied to chemically treated hair according to this website:

But, STOP!Recent media coverage ( and suggests that the hair treatment contains formaldehyde which is hazardous to your health.Why would such an unsafe hair treatment have originated in Brazil? The above MSNBC article “Hazardous for Health?Roots of Brazilian Blowout” quotes Ms Eliza Larkin Nascimento[1] as saying, “There is a racist culture in Brazil, and one of its expressions is a beauty standard that values what is European.Discrimination in Brazil rides a lot on appearance — on facial features, on hair texture. Hair is a great focus, a great symbol”.

Wow, we are all sisters confronting many of the same issues.

[1] Ms. Nascimento is director of IPEAFRO (LOVE that “AFRO” is part of the acronym!) an organization that concentrates on Afro-Brazilian studies.

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Strong Hair

In an earlier blog, I wrote:“Looking back, I have to ask myself why I thought an afro was the antithesis of femininity.I admit that while I loved the freedom of my afro, I still felt like I HAD to wear nice makeup, and cute jewelry whenever I went out in public.In other words, my hair was not cute on its own merit; I now had to be accessorized in order to look feminine and pulled together.Ouch.This is painful to admit and see in writing.”

This is disturbing to read. It is so clear that I’d bought into the prevailing beauty standards about my hair and about me.I had yet to learn how to appreciate the strength of my hair.I found this poem by Sharon Harvey Rosenberg that beautifully depicts the strength and resilience of tightly coiled hair ( plan to read it to my children and my nieces tonight.I hope you can share with those you know too.

Coil vs. Combby Sharon Harvey Rosenberg

Tight curls

wound like small coils

in a retractable pen

have no patience

for hard plastic combs

with jagged seams

and sharp teeth


through the dense spirals


around my head.

Snapped, my naps snap back.


the tight texture tenses

against those little teeth.

And with vengeance,

my hair

breaks combs

into plastic


And the coils spring back.

Like the spring in my pen

held in knowing fingers,

twisting strands of lines.

Forming follicle phrases from:

Curls coiled in S's, O's and Z's

Spelling my hair free

in long hand.

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Hallelujah I’m Free: Liberation from the Relaxer Cage

I continued to relax my hair until the winter of 1998.A lot went into my decision to embrace my natural hair.I’ve mentioned the health issues I had (i.e., bald sections on my head).I also began a lot of introspection trying to unearth why I was still relaxing my hair.I realized that since first getting my hair relaxed, I perceived two main hair options:1) get a relaxer or 2) have nappy hair.I know, that sounds ignorant.It really does, but that’s what I felt.I felt that the relaxer was saving me from having nappy, difficult hair.WOW!I couldn’t believe that I felt so negatively about my hair, and by extension (no pun intended), I felt negatively about myself.

I’ve heard people say that hair doesn’t matter.I don’t see how it cannot matter.Hair is public.Hair is judged. We know that people look at our hair and develop impressions of us.Plus, if hair didn’t matter, we wouldn’t have spent $1.5 billion in 2009[1] to press, comb, relax, brush, pull, tighten, weave, gel…ANYTHING to hold down and control those immortal naps.Yes, I said immortal.Because they keep coming back, the natural texture of my hair never changed no matter what I did to it.At that point, I realized, WAIT!This is what God has blessed me with.He blessed me with a certain texture of hair, shouldn’t I at least take the time to learn about it, how to style it, how to nourish it, how to LOVE it?If altering my hair is not such a big deal, why didn’t I also choose to alter my eye color?Wear blue contacts, green contacts (it was a fad back in the 90s but has passed)?Heck, get the color permanently changed?Or, alter my skin color?Skin lightening is big business (see earlier post) why not alter my skin color?

I think the reason I chose not to tinker with my eye color or skin color was because it seemed too artificial…like I was changing a key part of my identity.Ahhh, but hair, it is malleable, it can take on different forms.I could dye it, cut it, relax it, wet it, etc and it would still be there (well, except for the bald patches).But, I realized that the fact that I chose to alter my hair was affected by societal norms.I mean, if we lived in a society where people walked around barefoot all of the time and painted the pads of their feet, there would likely be debate about the best color, texture, brand and style of foot painting!

Society determines the value affixed to different standards of beauty.I realized that I did not have to buy into those standards.Hallelujah, I realized, I’m in the process of being liberated from societal notions of what is and is not beautiful.I claim that I’m beautiful and I’m walking in it!

[1] Note that the vast majority of the market is comprised of chemically based hair care products targeted to African-American consumers (Packaged Facts, 2010).However, the same report estimates that while it has been historically reported that approximately 80% of Black women relax their hair, the number may be more like 31% according to data from Experian Simmons.Also promising is that a Packaged Facts survey done in February 2009 revealed that 18% of Black adults, 17% of Hispanic adults, and 12% of White adults are trying natural and or organic products.I hope that this means healthier option but the jury is still out.

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Coming to the End of the Road: Bald Spots and Still Relaxing

At a certain point in my life, I was still getting relaxers but questioning myself about why I was subjecting myself to the process.As I’ve mentioned before, hair is linked to femininity and attractiveness.I remember I was at a local DC club (Zei Club in Zei Alley…yes, I’m showing my age as I’ve heard the club has long since been gone).I had just gotten my hair relaxed that morning but it had come out too straight so I put on a cute hat.I met a handsome guy and after talking, dancing, and exchanging numbers he reached up uninvited and pulled my hat off of my head.He then said something to express his relief that I didn’t have a knotty head of hair.I was stunned.I mean, “REALLY!?REALLY?!”The nerve!Anyone who knows me (especially my guy friends I grew up with), is probably waiting for me to say that I clocked him in the head right on the spot.I didn’t.Instead, I was relieved that I’d gotten my hair relaxed because if he’d seen my hair, oh, 14 hours earlier, he’d likely have ripped up my phone number and walked away.

Perhaps I continued to get relaxers because I thought that I’d be unattractive to Black men if they saw me in my natural state?I’m NOT saying that all Black men want women with straight hair.I am saying that in the mid-1990s when I was dating, it seemed like the “in look” was long straight hair.Hits like “Bump and Grind”, “That’s the Way Love Goes”, “Weak” and “Whoomp There it Is” filled the air waves and the women dancing in the videos had weaves down their backs.It was only a matter of time before I noticed more and more women wearing similar styles.My girlfriends and I lamented the fact that we were single despite being attractive, educated, kind people.It felt like there were eight Black women for every one Black man because almost every woman I knew was single while every guy I knew had two, three or even ten “girlfriends”.When I reflect back and think about the high demand for men and the sense that my natural hair might put me out of the “running” (not to mention perceived convenience, style, family input, etc.), it is understandable why I continued to get relaxers.Not making excuses, just trying to understand my thinking at the time.

Yet, my hair continued to fall out.This was a time when I was grateful for thick, thick hair because I just had to style my hair in a certain way and the alopecia bald spot was covered.After a while though, the insanity of the situation made me rethink my relationship with my hair.Heck, my relationship with ME.

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