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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.


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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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Relaxer Versus Natural Hair: A Verdict on Ethnic Pride?

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Today’s post is short, sweet (I hope) and to the point:

If you put chemicals (e.g., relaxer, Brazilian blowout, etc.) in your hair you are denying your ethnicity.

You should be able to wear your hair however you like and not have your ethnic identification be questioned.

What is your response to those two statements? How do the statements make you feel? Have you ever had someone express these sentiments to you? Please comment and tell me a little bit about yourself. J

  • Cláudia Santos

    I have to agree with Topie. (:I wear my hair uncurl because it gives a lot less work. When I have my hair frizz, there are times that I p I lack the strength to get caught. : (But unfortunately I see that my hair needs a break and because of this I will go to have it natural. 🙂 I'm pretty contentente so why will start to grow more healthy.(Sorry my bad English but I used the google translator)Kisses from Potugal * (:

  • Cláudia Santos

    Sorry. I was wrong! (: I agree with another reader's comment above.:)

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Hair Care Product Overload

I continued to feel like an alien in the workplace, well, at least when it came to my hair. There were very few Black consultants never mind Black people with natural hair. I transitioned from a TWA, to twists (that I’d occasionally wear in a twist out). I never felt like my hair was approved of by my colleagues. Believe it or not, this was somewhat empowering. I realized that since I didn’t fit the typical beauty standards I might as well venture out and fully embrace my natural hair. After all, whether I wore straight twists, arranged my twists in an updo, or wore an afro nothing quite meet with other’s approval so I might as well do whatever I wanted.

This led me to experiment with my hair and with hair products. Oh my goodness. Hair products!!!!! Over the course of my life, I must have used a million and one hair care products. Let’s see: African Pride, Aqua Net, Ampro Aveda, BB, BB African Royale, Blue Magic, Carol’s Daughter, Crème of Nature, Dark & Lovely, Dax, EcoStyler, Elasta QP, Head & Shoulders, Infusium, Isoplus, Johnson, Let’s Jam, Lottabody, Luster, Mane & Tail, Motions, Murray’s, Nexxus, Optimum, Organic Root Stimulator, Pantene, Paul Mitchell, Queen Helene, Revlon, Royal Crown, Smooth ‘N Shine, Suave, Soft & Beautiful, Soft Sheen, Sulfur 8, Taliah Waajid, Ultra Sheen, Vidal Sassoon. I’ve purchased picks, brushes, rat tail combs, wide tooth combs, blow dryers, diffusers, hooded dryers, ponytail holders, scrunchies, clips, etc. I could probably go on but I think you get the picture. I don’t know who said it, but I think the large number of products I’ve purchased indicates how important hair is and was to me. I remember the hopefulness that would fill me as I purchased a new product. Might this bottle, jar or can contain the elixir that would help my hair “behave”? Might this new gizmo help me tame my mane? It would be awhile before I learned that my hair had a mind of its own and no amount of coaxing or teasing would make it do exactly what I wanted.

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You should really reflect how the client’s top executives look

“You should really reflect how the client’s top executives look.”Say what?!I was taken aback by the comment because I was dressed beautifully in a tailored suit and donned a cute natural hair style.At the time, I was working as a management consultant on a work project in one of the largest private firms in the United States.The comment came from one of my project leaders.How do you react to such a comment?Perhaps she was referring to the fact that I was wearing a red suit?Or, was she talking about my hair? That is one of the challenges of being in a society where your beauty is often devalued:you don’t know if such comments were intended to be personal and related to immutable characteristics (e.g., YOU need to have straight, long hair) or general and related to things that you can change (e.g., NO ONE should ever wear a red suit).As our conversation continued, I picked my mouth up off of the floor and realized that her comments did in fact seem to be about my hair.Wow.I took a deep breath and weighed the thoughts whirling in my mind.Should I blast her?Should I say nothing?For those who know me in a professional setting, you know that I picked a diplomatic way, but direct way, to let her know that I thought her comments were ridiculous.I said, “Wow, that’s a…different perspective.What if we were working at Black Entertainment Television?Would you be willing to shave your head and wear a short hairstyle a la Robert Johnson?”A blank stare greeted my gaze.That was the end of that. Well, at least she didn’t say anything else. But, I’m not so naive to think that her authentic beliefs were changed as a result of our exchange.

Was this a one-off situation?I think not.The article in this link suggests that other Black women have been and will be subjected to insensitive comments about their hair in the workplace: picture of the beautiful, professional Black woman was copied from the same article.

What do you think?How would you have responded to my situation?To what occurred in the article?Have you experienced such behavior in the workplace?How did you react?To those who are non-Black, how would you have responded if you witnessed this situation?

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My Hair Broke a Professional Down

Given all of the hair self-reflection I’ve done over the past few weeks since I started this blog, it’s no surprise that I had a dream about my hair last night.I dreamt that I cut off my dreadlocks and went back to wearing a TWA.This time around, I used products that allowed me to enjoy the natural curl of my hair as my afro grew.I was loving life.Then, I went to some misty outdoor event and, POOF, my style shrunk.I woke up thinking, “Is this a sign?”I’ve gone back and forth about whether I should cut off my hair and start over.Honestly, part of the reason I locked my hair was that the maintenance of my two strand twists just got to be too much.In fact, my hair made someone cry.No joke.

My husband and I used to live in Atlanta and I got my locs maintenanced by a fabulous stylist at Nseya Salon and Spa (when I looked for it, just found out that it closed!Oh no!).Nseya was an upscale salon that used fabulous products and provided great customer service.One time, my stylist was on vacation and I made an appointment with another person.BIG MISTAKE!The new stylist took one look at my hair and excused herself.I could see her talking to the owner through the glass exterior window.She was visibly shaken and…wait a minute, is she crying?“What in the world is going on?” I wondered.In a few minutes, the owner came over to me and said something to the effect of the stylist didn’t specialize in my type of hair and that they’d be contacting my regular stylist to come in.WHAT!?I couldn’t believe it.My naps had broken the stylist down.That was too funny to me.And a little embarrassing.You mean my hair could make a professional cry?Wow!Anyway, my regular stylist came in (bless you wherever you are) and hooked my hair up.

I’d always loved locs and thought that they were gorgeous.I felt that locs would be a way to keep my hair natural and minimize the salon stay.That is what happened, but sometimes I still wonder what my hair would look like in all of its puffed out, afro glory.

I’d love to hear your stories.Why do you pick the hair styles that you wear?Creative exploration?Convenience?Habit?

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Natural Hair and Professionalism Part 2

Once I got the big chop, I was LOVING my hair. I loved the way that the wind felt on my ears and neck; loved that I could wash my hair every day if I wanted and still take only 5 minutes to style it and look FLY; loved that I was learning about my hair, how much to pick it, brush it, oil it, I was discovering myself; loved that my face had taken center stage; loved that I was a visual testimony that natural hair is an option. I was proud of myself for doing what felt authentic to me despite societal pressures to conform to another notion of beauty.

However, I must admit that I still had my hang-ups. I was about to graduate and I was very concerned that my natural hair would hinder me at my new consulting job. Consulting was (is) a white, male-dominated industry. While everyone, including white men, must conform to workplace expectations about appearance, I was concerned that my hair might make me stand out as a black woman and suggest that I was unwilling to be a “team player”. After all, wasn’t it best to just do good work, keep my head down and blend in as much as possible? Wouldn’t my hair peg me as different from the get go? Rosette & Dumas (2007)[1] wrote an insightful paper about this issue; an excerpt from page 421 of the paper sums up a key insight:

“…for minority women in general and Black women in particular, “looking the part” at work carries the additional dimension of managing attributions, expectations, and stereotypes based solely on core aspects of their identities—the immutable characteristics of race and gender.

In isolation, Black women’s preferences to straighten their hair may seem simply to be a choice of adornment; however, when coupled with all the other available “self-improvement” choices in which they sometimes engage—such as wearing colored contacts, lightening their skin, reducing the size of their lips, and decreasing the size of their noses—it is clear that the standard of beauty in the U.S. is in direct opposition to the natural features and characteristics of most Black women.”

I’ve noted that some people think this discussion about my hair journey is highly irrelevant because “hair is just hair”. However, when considered in combination with the other “beauty” choices we make, it becomes more evident that our hair is inextricably linked to how we see ourselves and how we think others value our natural beauty. If we really, really thought that our natural beauty was highly valued would we go through such extremes to change it? If people were spending millions of dollars to ADD kink to their hair, would we feel differently about our naturally kinky hair? My point is not that women shouldn’t alter the state of their hair, just that they ask WHY they are doing so rather than assuming that that is their only, or even best, “beauty” option.

[1] Rosette, A.R. & Dumas, T. (2007). The hair dilemma: Conform to mainstream expectations or emphasize racial identity. Duke Journal of Gender Law & Policy, 14, 407-421.

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Natural Hair and the Professional Environment

In addition to being concerned about my family’s reactions to my hair, I was also concerned about the professional implications of wearing a TWA. I cut my hair during winter break between my first and second year in the MBA program at the Darden School of Business. My classmates and I either wanted to become investment bankers on Wall Street or consultants at top management consulting firms. Umm, my TWA didn’t seem to fit either environment. How in the world was I going to get a job at a prestigious firm when folks might take one look at me and think I was a big, militant black woman? The other concern I had was that my new hair cut had practically made me a museum piece at school. Wait, people tend not to touch museum pieces, maybe I felt more like an animal at the petting zoo. I mean, I’ve seen people oh and ah over someone’s new hairstyle but the kind of attention I was receiving was unprecedented. One situation exemplifies my experience.

I was standing in what is now called the Pepsico Forum at Darden. It is a beautiful entryway with vaulted ceilings, marble pillars and beautiful interior design. We use the Forum to have First Coffee, a tradition where the Darden community (faculty, staff, students) convenes to socialize in the morning. One day, I was waiting in the Forum (I cannot remember for what), when one of my classmates approached me, shrieking with delight about my new hair. “I looooveeeeee it”, she gushed. Then, without invitation, she put her hands into my hair and begin to somewhat massage my head. If you read my 4/20/11 post, “Coming to the End of the Road: Bald Spots and Still Relaxing”, you’ll note the parallel between this situation with my classmate and that club situation with the cute guy I met at Club Zei. Why do people think that they have the right to touch my hair? I hear some of you, “Aw Tina, chill out, you are overreacting!” What would you say if you were on public transportation and someone just came up to you and put their hands in your head? You would probably go off and ask them what their problem was. I know it’s different because I knew my classmate, but I didn’t know her like THAT! Your hair is intimate, personal. It felt like the combination of my uniqueness and her white privilege made her think that it was okay to cross this personal boundary without my permission. I couldn’t hold it. I said, “Girl, get your hands OUT of my hair!” She looked hurt by my response. I then took the time to explain to her why it is offensive to do what she just did, how I felt objectified. I told her that I was not an inanimate object to be fawned over and ogled. By the end of our conversation, I think she got it and we continued our friendship. However, the experience left me wondering if I was going to spend precious time having to educate folks about my natural hair.

  • AJ

    Tina,I have had people touch my hair whether it was natural, braided, weaved, etc. And I can tell you right now that I am appalled by people's lack of manners. It's one thing if I was asked. That way it was my choice to say yes or no. If someone just did it, I swear it was like an out of body experience and I felt transported back in time to slave auctions. It was as if massa and his wife had come down to check me out. This one here is clean, good teeth, no bugs in her hair. Total freak out. I am so glad that you have done this blog. Thank you so much!Alicia

  • topie

    Hey AJ! Thanks so much for your comment! Yes, it can sometimes be a challenge, keep up the faith! 😉 An out-of-body experience indeed! 🙂

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My Family Not Feeling My Natural Do

I had agita in my stomach as I drove back home to my parent’s house in Alexandria, Virginia. I was home for Winter Break between my first and second year getting my MBA at the Darden School of Business. Oh my goodness, how was my family going to respond to my new hair?

Most of my formative years were spent in Alexandria, Virginia and I grew up on a FABULOUSLY SUPPORTIVE street. There were Black doctors, lawyers, teachers, principals, military personnel and they all took an interest in us young folks. We could rip and run up and down the street and bust into and out of each other’s houses. Whew, those were some FUN days. As I drove down the street with my newly shorn hair, I realized that I now felt a bit like an outsider. I could not recall one person who wore a short, teeny weeny afro (TWA) I like I had. I did not want to be perceived as the good girl who went off to school and came back a militant, crazy Black woman. After all, those were the people who wore this hairstyle right? Seriously, some people looked at me and wondered aloud why I’d do something so drastic, cut off my pretty hair. Didn’t I know that I had nappy, coarse hair? Why would I do that? Perhaps I should consider getting a texturizer? These questions all came from people I knew and loved, people who were close to me.

It hit me. This cultural norm of wearing long, relaxed hair is deeply imbedded in Black society and has been for DECADES, almost a century in the United States! That helped to explain why the women around me were resisting my change to natural hair. It was almost like I was doing something wrong. Betraying some secret sister commitment. Where did these attitudes come from? The following 1928 ad for Hi-Ja (a “hair fix” product) is from the Chicago Defender (click to enlarge). The ad illustrates some of the complexities associated with beauty.

My grandmother, and her mother and my mother, may have grown up with images like this, images that depict “long, wavy” and “straight” hair as “charming” and the alternative as “short and ugly”. Oh my goodness!!!! Oh my goodness!!! Furthermore, you BETTER change your nappy hair or you might lose your man. WOW! I’m going to need a minute to reflect on this.

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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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