November 21, 2011

Going Naptural

The Lovely and the Ugly about my natural transition

Okay, so there really isn't anything ugly about going natural. I think challenging is the better word, but there are definitely pros and cons to consider. Maybe chopping all your hair off isn't considered a major contemplative occurance to some people -- it's just hair. This is true, but I'd have to disagree. I actually think the act of cutting off all (okay, in my case not all, but MOST of) your hair is a big deal, and depending on the context, hair itself carries the weight of an endless amount of connotations including ethnicity, race, sexuality, health, age, personality, decades/time. I could probably talk on and on and on about hair alone, yet at face value, hair is really nothing glamorous. It's just keratinized dead skin (or something like that). People are especially good at taking something small and simple and turning it into something large and complicated. I think hair is a great example of this.

Even though I realize that hair is "just hair," I still can't deny that it may actually be much more than that. My hair has actually caused a lot of distress. This sounds silly now, but I remember being on the swings with my friends as a little kid wishing my coiled hair would sway in the wind just like theirs. I think my hair insecurities were likely because I am mixed, so me and my mom have totally different hair which means she had no idea how to take care of it. I have to give her credit though, because unlike many moms who resort to relaxers and detexturizers for their textured hair children, my mom always tried to convince me to keep my curls and steer clear of chemicals. Convincing her to schedule an appointment to get my first relaxer took a lot of effort on my part. The real issue was I didn't know how to take care of my hair, either. The truth is, not many people do. As I've said earlier, Black women make up about 80% of cosmetic purchases, yet when you walk through any hair care aisle the serious majority of products are not for Black hair. There's usually a tiny segregated section hidden off in the corner labeled "ethnic hair care," that shelves maybe 20 Black products.

There is also the myth going around forbidding Black women from using White products. I don't really know if it's true or not, but I've had a lot of Black hair stylists warn me to never use white products because they are damaging to textured hair. They have all had their different reasons. I've never actually compared the ingredient labels of White and Black products to see if there's any difference, so I can't say if there is or not. Also, I've heard good reviews on certain products that aren't in the ethnic sections from texture haired people.  Point is, instead of applying Jim Crow-like segregation to hair-care isles,  I think there should be more products for minority hair textures and some hair care integration.

Aside from the extremely limited selection of products for mixed, Black, textured, curly, kinky...(list goes on) hair, is the limited amount of information out there for the caring of textured hair. Now that there is YouTube and every other social media sharing source on the web, finding information is a lot easier then it used to be, but only for those who are searching hard for it. As a little afro-headed girl living in the early 90's, there were literally almost no sources other than word of mouth. Neither me nor my mom had ever even heard of a "twist out" or "Bantu knots" until recently, and when I say recently, I mean 2011. When we would ask for hair advice, more often than not, the answer would be "Just For Me -- their hair relaxers are gentler." No one ever said "try a braid-out" or "try a Denman brush." If we had known about any of the multitudes of natural hair styles, our experiences with my hair would have been very different, and maybe I would have never begged for a perm in the first place.

After 10 years of chemically straightening my hair, I finally mustered up the courage to just stop. Maybe it sounds silly to call going natural a courageous act, but it really felt like one. I think most of what motivates people to continuously and voluntarily apply damaging chemicals and heat to their hair, is fear. Fear of just being who you are. Fear of not being what people might expect you to be. Fear of being incomparable to Cosmo girls. Fear of being excluded from what constitutes American "beauty." Fear of looking anything less than "business professional." Fear of simply not being able to manage your hair.  I obviously can't speak for everyone, and everyone has their own reasons for styling their hair in the ways they choose, but after a while I realized fear was the only thing keeping my hair straight and smooth and swaying in the wind. So I decided to shed some of that fear and start over. So far, I love it.

There are times when I love it slightly less, though. For those considering going natural, or for those who just like hearing my thoughts, here are some pros and cons I've noticed from being natural for about seven months now.

The Ugly (not literally)

  • I Miss My Length --- No ponytails. No messy buns.  Even headbands look weird. I've put most of my hair accessories on hold for now while I wait for my hair to grow. Plus, I just miss the long hair look sometimes.

  • Dressing Up --- A huge component of getting dressy used to involve doing my hair. Now, when I get dressed up there's not much I can do in terms of new styles. There's something psychologically pleasing about changing your look for special occasions. I know it's all in my head, but having to wear my hair exactly the same makes the special occasion feel slightly less special. 

  • Air Drying --- I try to use minimal heat. It seems silly to cut off all of my damaged hair just to damage it again. I'm not opposed to heat-styling every now and then, but I try to avoid blow drying because of unnecessary heat damage and extra frizz.  I bought a diffuser, but those still take a long time. Sometimes waiting for my hair to dry... Just. Takes. Forever.

  • Detangling --- Forget about dry combing my hair. It gets really difficult to send even a wide-toothed comb through my hair even when saturated with conditioner. I could put it in twists to avoid tangles, but I like how it looks out better and twisting TWA's is a tedious process. When I do detangle my hair, I also lose a lot of hair it seems.

  • Girlyness --- Super short hair can give off a more androgynous look. Hair alone shouldn't define sexuality, but every now and then I feel like I look less girly than I am. I don't have a problem with a more tom-boyish look, but sometimes I feel like I don't really look like myself. 

The Lovely 

  • Time --- I probably spend under 3 minutes on average, if that, doing my hair every morning. This is a blessing. Since I don't have to fuss around with my hair so much, I also have more time in the morning for other arenas like wardrobe, makeup...and things that really matter, like breakfast. 

  • No More Brushing --- Bristles are the afro's worst enemy. I don't even think I own any brushes. I only detangle my hair with a wide tooth comb once a week when I wash it. That's it. 

  • Less Products --- Since my hair is so short, it doesn't need a lot of product which means I go through bottles a lot slower. I put a tiny bit of moisturizer and a few spritzes of oil in every morning. Always soft, never greasy, and a lot less product build up making shampooing a breeze. 

  • No More Thinning --- When my hair was longer and relaxed, I used to come out of the shower with a rat tail for hair every time I washed it. After I'd style it and fluff it out, you couldn't tell, but my hair was so thin. I lost a good deal of hair every time I relaxed it and every time I brushed it and every time I washed it, which all used to be more often. Even though I still have breakage, my hair is far from thin now. 

  • Color Treatment --- I dyed my hair a few times while my hair was relaxed which is a double wammy when it comes to damage. Deep frying already fried hair. I'm probably going to dye my hair again in the future just because it's fun and knowing me, I will get bored, but this time, the damage will be far less. 

  • A Better Kind of Attention --- I noticed I get a lot more genuine compliments on my hair now from friends, family and strangers. Teeny weeny afros stand out. When I used to straighten my hair, I seemed to get more of the different, more annoying kind of attention if you catch my drift. Maybe this is a bold statement, but I feel like natural hair has attracted more genuine people. 

  • Liberation --- Call me crazy, but sitting in the salon chair under the stylist's scissors was like being drenched in a wave of freedom. Seeing all the straight, fried strands fall to floor was surreal almost. It felt spiritual, like I walked out of the salon a different person than I was walking in. I say try it out for yourself.


November 17, 2011

An African Woman by an African Woman

I found this hiding in my sketch book the other day. I happened to flip to a random page and there it was. Maybe nothing is really random, but that's what it felt like. It made me smile so I thought I would share. My mom drew it. She draws me often I think. She always makes me look older. Even when she used to paint or draw me as a little girl, it seemed she would craft the face of an older woman. I don't know if that's intentional or maybe more just stylistic. I think a lot of my inspiration when it comes to art has come from my mom. Stylistically maybe we aren't so distant, but our styles are definitely distinct.

Sometimes my mom doesn't give herself enough credit or she says she is not that good, but I think she's a great artist. Next time I go home, (which may be next weekend!) I'll photograph some of her paintings to show off. A lot of her inspiration seems to come from Africa. On canvas, she can turn any scene into a shot of a tribal African village or an African market or anything African, really. I think she sees Africa in everything and in everyone. I also think that sometimes she thinks she is African. She's told me she's more African than I am. Which may be true in a way. I am African by blood, but she is African by experience. She lived there, studied there, loved there, and married into the culture. I think she dedicated a lot of her passions to Africa. Maybe you can't see all of this in this tiny pencil sketch, but I can, clear as day.


November 14, 2011

Recipe: Thai Apple Salad

This recipe is super easy and super yum. It works for apple people who like to keep their foods simple and for those coconutty people who like to spice things up a bit. It is also vegetarian friendly (and vegan friendly, too, I think). I got the idea from a Thai restaurant in Ann Arbor. When I ordered apple salad I was expecting a few apple slices on a bed of lettuce. I didn't think the whole salad would be made out of apples. But, as usual, my assumptions were wrong and it ended up being really good. I tried re-making it and it was a success. The Thai restaurant's version had chicken in it, but I think it's actually better without meat. Their version also looked a little fancier because they shredded the apples to look more like broccoli slaw than apples.

What you will need:


2-3 green apples
1 cup shredded coconut (I used sweetened)
1/2 of a medium to large sized red onion (chopped)
1 cup cashews (chopped)
Tsp  lime juice (or possibly more, I didn't measure)

What to do:

1. Get rid of the apple cores and chop up apples into itty bitty pieces. If you want to be fancy, you can use a grater to create a slaw instead. Throw in bowl.
3. Add chopped cashews and onion. You may want to add the onion little by little in case 1/2 an onion is too much. It just depends on how many apples you use and what you like.
4. Add shredded coconut. If you want to bring out the coconut flavor more, then you can toast the shredded coconut in a frying pan on medium heat until they brown before mixing in with the rest of the salad. You don't need to add any oil or anything to the pan, coconut has it's own natural oil.
5. Squeeze some lime juice (or lemon) over the salad to prevent apples from browning and to add flavor.
6. All done!

November 11, 2011

Where to Shop with Siblings

A post for those of us with siblings who are nearly decades apart...
...and who appreciate together time.

November 10, 2011

Dreaded double standard

Photo credit:

The dreadlock

Dreadlocks aren't just knots. They are a traditional hairstyle of the Rastafarian. The ones who see God in the Ethiopian emperor and in Africa the promised land. Dreads are also one of many hairstyles commonly worn by peoples of African descent. Maybe indirectly, then, dreads could be considered representative of a dimension of beauty  belonging to the African American race. Dreads emphasize the coarse, curly texture that makes Black hair so unique. More than any other hairstyle out there, I would say dreadlocks seem to embrace "naptural" textures. I'm sure that many would agree there is something beautifully stunning about a headdress of long (or short!) dreadlocks. So why is it that when non-Blacks, and more specifically White people, decide to lock their hair, they get a different reaction?

Not to be offensive to any White people who have begun or are thinking of beginning a rasta hair journey, but more often than not, it seems like people aren't so fond of the idea of dreadlocks on non-Blacks. I hear a lot of, "it looks messy," or "only Black people can pull off dreads." There seems to be this idea that White dreads seem unnatural or forced. But when we make these critiques, are we genuinely saying that White dreads look bad, or are we more simply and instinctively rejecting an image headbutting the "norm" that's been established for us?

The idea of more-typically White characteristics being the Western standard of beauty is a concept I've heard of often. It's also an idea that is hard to dispute. When you look at media and fashion, it becomes pretty evident that straight and wavy hair are what make it on screen. Maybe you'll find "tousled" and curly looks every now and then, but they'll be limited to defined curls (think Taylor Swift) and absolutely no frizz! It is true that over time, racial representations in mainstream media have inched closer to reality, but even considering the progress, media representations are still no where near accurate representations of the American population. When you look at Black women whose faces are present in the movies and TV shows, how many of them wear their hair natural? Close to none. There's a reason why Beyonce, Zoe Saldana, Tyra Banks, Lauren London, Oprah...(the list goes on) rarely ever wear their hair in its natural state, and it probably has a lot to do with the American standard of beauty.

So here is the real question. Straightening Black hair and wearing wigs and weaves are equally as "unnatural" (well, actually more unnatural than) locking White hair, right?  So why is it that heads turn when Whites resort to typically Black hairstyles, but when Blacks resort to typically White hairstyles, nothing feels too out of the ordinary?

Photo credit: 

Admittedly, I've had the thought before that only Black people can really pull of dreads. But, lately I've been noticing more and more dreads on non-Blacks around campus, and I've begun to pick up on something I was missing before. People, Whites and Blacks included, are beginning to see something ideal in frizz and to see beauty in texture.

It feels as though Black women are especially affected by White American beauty standards. Black women actually purchase 80% more cosmetic products annually than do general market women (I'm probably in there somewhere, too). Some say that the yearning for straighter hair could be traced back to before Black civil rights. Straighter hair or looser curls implied being mixed, having traces of Caucasian blood. During and shortly after slavery, relations with White people could have been seen as a sign of status, and straighter hair then, could have been seen as more prestigious. Wherever the de-texturized ideal came from, I would say it's made many people feel negatively towards their textured or curly hair as if it is ugly or unwanted.

White dreads prove them wrong. Now, textured hair is becoming something fashionable. People are recognizing the beauty of Black hair. Not only is the general public becoming more tolerant of natural Black hair, in the sense that more women are embracing their natural textures (and now you may even spot an afro or two in corporate America), but White people are actually going out of their way to achieve Black hair textures. We're experiencing a cross pollination of racial differences. Now, the envy goes both ways. Despite any stigma against dreaded White hair, I find something very positive in them. Maybe as Rastafarians see divinity in Africa, the general public is starting to see beauty in Black hair texture. White dreads seem radiant of racial tolerance and appreciation. I think I kind of like them.


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Photo credit:

November 6, 2011

Intense work outs that don't make magazines

Photo credit: 
Climbing Jamaican waterfalls
I was actually pretty young when my parents took me on our Jamaica trip, so I don't actually remember doing this very vividly, but I do faintly remember. Maybe I'm just pretty low-energy, but I would say that this was definitely an energy-exerting experience. It was also a lot of fun and thrilling to be walking up a waterfall through rushing waters. The guides made us hold hands most of the way up, which I think made balance difficult. My mom actually slipped and dropped me at one point - which maybe made the scene feel more intense than it actually was, for me at least. If you're looking for a work out while still having fun and splashing around in the tropics, I would advise you to venture here. 

Kayaking trip with little sister

I thought I would be a nice big sister and make use of the kayaks my mom impulsively bought a few Summers ago, that spend the majority of Summer days sitting in the garage, hiding from the homeowner association that says we're not supposed to have boats. I offered to take one of my little sisters and her friend on a kayaking trip at a nearby lake. It made for good bonding time and also a crazy arm work out. This may be because I have spaghetti arms, but both my little sister and her friend (who are both probably stronger than I am) said that they thought it was hard on their arm muscles, too. If you're looking for a way to work out your arms without the use of a personal trainer, a gym, weights, bench presses or any of those fancy work out machines, I think kayaking may be your answer. 

Trail maintenance and gibbon 
observation in the Thai rainforest

This was no easy task. The Gibbon Rehabilitation Project (GRP) had us volunteers working from 6:30am to around 3:00pm everyday. Work involved walking for miles and miles through rain forest terrain and doing maintenance work like clearing and sweeping trials and tracking wild gibbons. Walking through rain forests wasn't simply walking either, it was keeping up with our quick-paced guides, crawling under and over thick tree trunks that had fallen on the trail, crawling under massive spider webs housing spiders the size of my hand, stepping along stones to cross small streams, and climbing up and down steep, rocks and dirt cliffs. It was like pacing through an obstacle course all day for two weeks. We were all tired and sweating but after a while, we got so used to it. Though the motive behind volunteering with the GRP was not to get a good work out, it still did just that. All the work was well worth it in the end. As you can see in the photograph, our gibbon tracking was a success.

Climbing Lake Michigan sand dunes

Towards the end of the Summer, my boyfriend and I planned a camping trip on a site near Lake Michigan. We definitley miscalculated the distance between our camp site and the beach while looking over the maps, so we decided we would just walk over the dunes instead of drive. The man at the camp convenience store tried to warn us subtly that it would be an intense treck, but we didn't take his warnings very seriously. We didn't realize that when we reached the edge of the dunes along our campsite, we were literally miles from the beach. We climbed up this initial mound of sand, which I think must be the steepest I've ever climbed. We figured the beach would be just over the top. We finally got up there to see no beach anywhere, just vast amounts of hot desert sand. This sand wasn't just flat, either. It was up and down and burning hot. On the way down one slope, I started getting burned and actually lost a flip flop. Eventually we reached a point where we could see the blue water in the distance and we kept going. When we finally arrived, we were gasping for water. I think we got Pepsi. It was the best Pepsi I've ever had. I think climbing dunes is probably the number one most intense work out I've done. If you're going to do this, I'd suggest wearing shoes with straps. 

Photo credit:
Getting lost in Washington DC

I took one of my little sisters on an overnight trip to Washington DC. Everything was going well. We visited the zoo and got kiddie food and everything was good. Then we started walking around town. I looked over the map before we headed out but of course didn't bring it. I knew our hotel was on C Street. Little did I know, there are actually four different C Streets in down town DC, and that we had actually wandered very, very far from our hotel. It started getting late and we started getting tired and decided to head back. Soon enough, we found C street. It looked a little different, but it was certainly C Street because the sign said so. We literally walked up and down this whole street maybe three to five times. The hotel seemed to have literally disappeared. At this point, we got a little panicked and headed toward the more populated part of town to be safer. We must have spent hours walking all over town trying to find our hotel. Eventually, we spotted a normal looking couple that kindheartedly guided us back to where we wanted to go. Thank God for nice people. All that walking, though (and increased heart rate from panic) probably made for a decent cardio work out, I would say, but If you're going to walk all around DC for some exercise, at least bring a map.


November 3, 2011

The Expressive Freedoms of Unisex Style

"Feminine" and "Masculine" labels are everywhere. On bathroom doors, on college Greek life, on the "le" and "la's" attached to almost every word in every romance language, on children's toys and children's films and on the separate mens and womens departments in clothing stores. It's hard to get away from gender. Girls are probably reminded a million times a day by subtle, and less-than-subtle societal cues that they are girls, and boys are probably reminded of their masculinity just as often. Maybe it would be nice to take a break from all the gender labeling and to just be. 

I say shop where you want to shop and wear what you want to wear, not because it's meant to be worn by the gender you happen to identify with, but just because you love it.



November 2, 2011

Details? Yes, please.

I've realized that I am a big fan of ink. If humans never came up with the idea of ink, I don't know where we would be. Probably still dragging chalk over slabs of slate. Not to say that chalk is primitive or less worthy or anything negative, but I think there is something valuable about crisp, bold lines and intricate details that tend to be lost with the fuzziness of charcoal, chalk, and pencil drawings. If Michelangelo or Davinci or one of those more modern hyper-realism painters were to see some of my drawings, they probably would not like them at all. Their work emphasizes and mirrors the very subtle color changes, color blending, color combinations and soft contours we see in reality. For example, when looking into the horizon, there is no solid line separating Earth from sky. Michelangelo might say that within representational art, there shouldn't be. Bold black lines disrupt the natural fluidity of color we are used to, but I think there is beauty in that disruption.

When I was younger, I completely disagreed with myself. Lines were those limiting boundaries in coloring books that made everything look like a cartoon and that challenged penmanship control - we all remember struggling to stay in the lines. I remember a specific incident where I deliberately went out of my way as to avoid black lines.

I was probably between five to seven years old. I was visiting Puerto Vallarta, Mexico with my mom on a vacation, back when we used to travel the world more often. Sitting on a stool perched behind a small table set-up was a young Mexican women with some ceramic bisque ware mini sculptures. She made a small profit (or maybe it was free) from having a workshop stationed besides the hotel pool for children to paint little ceramic animals to take home. Being a cat fiend, I naturally decided I was going to paint one of the cat sculptures. I remember sitting at the table and carefully painting the legs brown, the tummy white, the nose and ears pink. I wanted it to look like a real cat. I wanted it to look like Meow, my first cat, more specifically. The lady explained to us in broken English that we could go swim in the pool while we waited for our peices to dry. She also mentioned that while we were swimming, she would add "details." She held up an example. A vibrantly colored ceramic fish with bold black swirls throughout and bold black outlines separating its segments of color. This made me nervous. I thought my cat was perfect the way it was. I didn't want any added "details." Before I left it to dry, I remember telling this lady as clearly and politely as I could, "No. Details. Please."

When I came back from swimming with the other kids, I found that the lady had half-listened. She didn't add any swirls or fancy bold designs, but she did outline the different colors with black paint. Bold, black curvilinearities separated the white tummy from the brown legs and the pink nose from the brown face. I must have been satisfied with the result because even after the cat had shattered into pieces while being tousled in my suitcase throughout the whole flight home, I still asked my mom (in tears) to help me glue it back together. I still have the mended sculpture on top of my desk at home today, over 10 years later, with a couple of missing pieces. Even though the black lines made the cat look less like Meow's mirror image, they still gave the cat a crisp, liveliness that was absent before.

I didn't think much of the "details" at the time. But I think those "details" may have ignited some delayed, stylistic inspiration in me. If I were to approach the Mexican lady's table set-up today, I would probably say, "Yes, details please." I didn't start experimenting with pen and ink until middle school, when I was asked to illustrate a few of the poems featured in my 8th grade's class compilation of poetry. When they told me none of the illustrations would be xeroxed in color, I resorted to a bold, linear style because I knew it would look just as good in black and white. Last summer, I also started experimented more with ink. My mom gave me a set of pigment liners and I did a few drawings at home.  I also brought the pens to Thailand with me, where I did a series of mini drawings from snapshots I took through out my days volunteering with the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project. If interested, you can see those drawings here.

I actually haven't gotten around to drawing much this school year. I guess I've been pretty occupied with other things, but here are some pen and ink drawings I've done semi-recently, over this past Summer.


A smiling infant rhinoceros 

Grandma Lynn befriending Parisian pigeons with a friend

An African village women in Dshang, Cameroon

A grown Dchange chickidee

African woman with child

Little me, befriending alpacas 

Jennifer and Watson

November 1, 2011

Fall Favorites

Photo credit:
One thing I love about fall is fall colors. There's reds, browns, greens and mustards everywhere, and those are all my favorites. I get cold easily, so sometimes I find myself wishing for Summer weather again, but I don't mind bundling up. I also happen to love sweaters more than what may be considered normal.  Here are some of my favorite items that are perfect for the fall. Some are simply fall-colored, others are simply warm, and others are both. I may have rounded with some of the pricing. I did my best. This is probably not the most original list, as it may or may not overlap with everyone else's Fall faves, but at least it is an honest one!

Fall Nail Colors
-From left-
Boca Moca by Sally Hanson Complete Salon Manicure, $6.99
Moonstruck by Confetti, $1.99
Trenchcoat by American Apparel Nail Laquer, $6
*Colors are slightly off in photograph

I promise, they all look great on. I have medium/dark/tan skin, 
but I've seen these colors look nice on fair-skinned people, too. It's your call.

Chunky Sweater
Ragstock (vintage), $12

Ragstock has a ton of these sweaters. It was hard choosing. I bought
one for my mom, too and she loved it. You don't have to
worry much about sizing, they just kind of fit everyone.

Mustard colored scarf 
150 Baht (Thai currency, rounds up to $5)

I actually got this in Thailand over the summer at Kata Beach. 
I miss that place and all the lovely people who shared the experience with me.
I probably wear this scarf every day.

Mini antique handbag
$15, Target

I think this is a perfect size. Small enough for just the essentials
with a little tiny bit of extra space for things you just like to haul around.

Fuzzy fleece north face
$99, Bivouac 

I shopped around for a long time looking for fleeces. I settled on North Face 
because it was far cheaper than other trendier brands and just as warm.
Also, I figured this type of fleece can be used as a liner as well as outerwear.

Riding Boots 
Rocket Dog boots - $65, DSW
Fleece liners - $30, Hunters

These were actually a gift from my two besties. I wear them all the time,
 except I switch over to rain boots if it's really wet outside. These aren't waterproof.
I bought the liners with my Hunters, but they insulate just as well in these.

Thigh high socks
Photo credit:
$18, American Apparel

Mine are in Oatmeal, a pretty beige color. These look cute 
scrunched and worn as knee high socks, too. Scrunch them even 
more, and they are good boot liners. (I know it isn't good 
to cut up the body like this picture does, but it was hard to find 
an American Apparel knee high sock picture without blatant nudity.)

Velvety leggings
Photo credit:
These are from somewhere else, but mine were:
$24, Garage

You can never have enough leggings. 
They make almost any summery item wearable
in cold weather. I think they are okay as pants, too.
The velet makes them extra cozy.

High waist belt
On Clearance
$19, Anthropology

This belt adds earthiness to anything. It also gives extra baggy
 tops and dresses a more fitted look - but nothing too diva.
I especially love it because I got it in the clearance section, marked down
from like $60-something to $19.