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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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New Hair Trend: Dyed Armpit Hair

This post may be a bit much for some, but here we go!  🙂  Remember, the goal of is to explore hair and identity…hair in its many manifestations!

I recently learned of a process where people are dying their armpit hair.  In some instances, the armpit hair is being dyed so that it matches bright hues of head hair.  In other instances, the armpit hair alone is brightly dyed.  Here is a link about armpit hair dying:

Here are a few images from Tumblr (I chose pics with no face).  This might turn into a few days of posting because I first want to ask, what do you all think?  What was your immediate emotional response to the images?  Please provide your thoughts in the comments section.  Thanks!

armpit hair3-tumblr_my44nfJS0T1qjsfy7o1_500 armpit hair4-tumblr_n0wm3xKJDw1qbrnido1_500

  • Laquita

    Hmmm…interesting. I can imagine some women choose to dye their armpit hair (particularly those who use bold colors) to make a bold statement about what is generally accepted as beauty for women in this country. Why are women expected to shave their armpits? Who determined that shaved armpits should be the norm?

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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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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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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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True Love- of Self and from a Good Man

In an earlier post, I mentioned how nervous I was about my family seeing my new short afro for the first time. My stomach felt sick. The thing is, I loved my new look. I was still adjusting to it, but I felt liberated. I was also proud that I could look myself in the mirror and know that I was strong enough to buck conventional notions of beauty.

I don’t remember the exact sequence of events when I first pulled up to my parent’s home and unveiled my do. I do remember my Mother staring at me like I had just announced I was addicted to crack or something. She blankly stared at my head and, finally, FINALLY said something like, “Do you like it T? If you like it, that’s good”. Wow! My Dad just told me that I was still pretty. Well, there you have it. My folks didn’t like my new TWA (teeny weeny afro). Guess what? I didn’t crumble, I didn’t cry. I was just relieved to know what they thought and I moved on.

I do think that it was incredibly helpful for me to have a relationship with a phenomenal man, Fred, now my husband. Fred and I started dating when I was still getting my hair relaxed. He has always been clear that he thinks I’m beautiful. I remember that he would run his fingers through my hair and I would say, “Stop!” because it was time for a touch-up. Whew, the roots were THICK! He’d look at me and ask why I was so touchy and then tell me that he loved the way my hair felt. It had texture, was springy, curly, kinky…he loved the way it felt. Say what?! That was so liberating!! To have someone you love validate your beauty, confirm that you are okay just as you are. Once I cut my hair, he continued to reaffirm his love for me and his appreciation of my beauty. I’m not saying that I cut my hair FOR Fred or that he loved me because I cut my hair. Our love is much deeper than that. The truth is that for so long I was afraid to reveal my true self to men so it was wonderful to take off the mask in front of him and let him see my natural essence.

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Happy Easter: Crowns of Glory

Happy Easter! Believe it or not, in my mind, Easter and hair are connected. Why you ask? Every Easter was a time for my family and I to get decked out from head to toe in our Easter finery. That meant a gorgeous hairstyle and, for the older women, a gorgeous hat. My husband and I gifted my Mother-in-Law with the book “Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church” by Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry. Here is the cover shot of the book. I love the look on her face because she is calm and serene and elegant enough to wear her ornate hat in such a dignified way. My Mother can rock a hat and so can my Aunties. I have yet to find a slamming hat that will fit all of my dreadlocks but I’m still on the hunt. Hey, let me know if you are aware of entrepreneurs who cater to the dreadlock set; I’d love to find a beautiful crown. Happy Easter!

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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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The Big Chop!

Equipped with a new desire to go natural, I now had to figure out what exactly I was going to do with my hair. Was I going to transition with braids, a weave? Or, was I going to just do the big chop? I am the kind of person who loves to do research, gather input and then conduct more and more research. BUT, once I make a decision, I go for it. I’d spent years thinking about my hair and now I was ready to do the big chop. One of my girlfriends in Baltimore had just done the same thing and she recommended that I go to a barber shop on Charles Street to get the deed done.

I was nervous when I sat in the chair. It’s funny, I remembered tons of women draping salon capes around me when getting my relaxers and now a young, black man was draping one around me, only this time to chop off my hair into a short natural. I was nervous that a man was cutting my hair. I did not want to look masculine. That was a big fear. I am just under six feet tall and I can range anywhere from a size 12 to a size 16. I am bigger than some dudes so the last thing I wanted was to walk out of the barber shop and be mistaken for a guy. Maybe that’s the main reason that I always wore flawless makeup and chunky jewelry during my short natural days (hmm, had I just exchanged one beauty standard for another?). So much (i.e., my self-image and my feminine pride) was tied to my hair. But, I know I’m not the only one. That is why this is such a big deal.

If I recall correctly, the barber first combed out my hair and then took scissors and cut off the bulk of it (does Locks of Love take relaxed hair? I should have thought about that then). I had my girlfriend snap a shot and I looked like Don King. Straight up. Thank God we used regular film back then because if she’d shown me the digital image I might have lost my nerve. The process didn’t take too long and before I knew it, the barber turned the chair around and I gazed at my new image. My stomach sank. Oh my GOD! What in the world had I done? I looked like a dude, a cute dude, but a dude nonetheless. Ok, maybe I didn’t look like a dude but I had NEVER seen my hair that short in my entire life. It was going to take time to adjust. I noticed that my facial features looked different, my cheekbones stood out, so did my eyes. It was pretty amazing to see how much a hair cut can transform you (I guess that’s why Tyra Banks has those makeovers on America’s Next Top Model).

I got up, paid the barber and walked out of the shop. I had no idea how my family was going to respond.

  • meandmrcole

    OMG!!!!! That picture brings back such memories!! It's amazing to think how far you've come in your journey– I am loving the blog.

  • topie

    Thanks, glad you're loving the blog! I love writing it! I'm so glad you were there to take the pic. Wow, how time has flown.

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