Photo: John Lander
Almost 2 and half wonderful years later of co-founding Urban Bush Babes with Nikisha, I have never really discussed my past and the reasoning behind my own journey of going natural. I thought I would open up a bit with all of you since it is a personal and important journey I wish to share.
Hailing from Baltimore, Maryland but as a native we officially call it B’more. My younger years due to my family history was immersed in the world of arts, music, education and political/social issues. Raised by a strict, militant, outgoing, political, street smart and “I brought you into this world I can take you out” father and a highly educated, beautiful poised, amazing, motivating and John Hopkins graduate (one of the top universities in the nation) mother, I was quickly taught “you can do anything, be anything if you put in the work and don’t let anyone tell you differently”. I grew up in a household where age didn’t mean a thing, I was doing chores at 5 years old, and since I couldn’t reach the kitchen sink my father would place a bucket underneath us so we could access and wash our own dishes. Being a southern girl; manners, respect to others and myself was a necessity not a choice in my upbringing.
The beginning of everything. My Father and mother with my twin and I. Definitely feel blessed to have been born with two best friends, my mother and sister.
I was exposed to a strong sense of what family meant and the resilience of my father and mother from my youth, especially living in rural parts of Maryland where the Ku Klux Klan would literally parade around in their costumes. Dealing with racism was something I was exposed to at a very young age. When we were just babies, my Mother was coming home from work and took us to the office beforehand, while in the back seat someone attempted to run my Mother off the road simply because of the color of her skin, or bricks that were thrown in our apartment windows or being chased by a vehicle full of skinheads shouting n@gger when my sister and I were 9 years old coming home from school. As you can imagine this did not go over well with my father who pursued them immediately, and let’s just say that was the last time. So honestly I can say by the time harassment reared its ugly head regarding my natural hair, it didn’t really bother me as much since I was already exposed to such heavy issues early on.
Growing up being natural was well… just naturally who I was. My twin sister had natural hair, my Mother had natural hair and many women on my Mother’s side who lived in the country parts of Maryland had natural hair, in fact massive waist long braids but on the other hand I was not naïve to chemicals from certain teenage cousins who rocked relaxers, but little did I know I would fall under the influence of creamy crack, and chemicals would become a big part of my life.
Till this day I do not know how my Mother did it while being a supportive, loving mother, wife, full-time student while working part-time with two twin girls and massive amounts of hair. My mother is a pivotal part in how I take care of my hair and without her invaluable lessons I might not have been as knowledgeable today.
To the most amazing, strong, intelligent, caring and beautiful woman who influenced my world, my mother pictured here at 19 yrs old on the right. Part of an all girl’s rock/soul band. My Godmother is center.
The earliest memories of my hair are fond ones, my Mother would wrap my hair up and read to us every single night. In our pre-teens we would watch FAME with Debbie Allen and 21 Jump Street with Holly Robinson-Peete and Johnny Depp while she finger detangled and combed our hair. Hands down my Mother taught me the true meaning of patience. The gentle care and time in which she handled our hair led to the debate between my sister and me on who would get their hair done first.
Pictured here with my mother, identical twin, grandmother and grandfather when I was 10. My mother was relentless in the style and proper care of our hair but unfortunately the harassment of our hair was relentless as well. I actually remember this day, it was so hot that when I was sitting in the back seat of the car I pushed one of my ponytails out the window to give me some relief! Plus in the picture you can’t see but we had three huge French braids in the back because our mom couldn’t place all of our hair in two ponytails, lol.
In fact until my early teens natural was all I was exposed to. Mainstream media didn’t have an effect on me yet, because I wasn’t consumed by it to notice an artificial “standard of beauty”, my standard of beauty was my Mother who I adored, I had a strict upbringing and wasn’t allowed to watch tv on school days and most of my summers when school was done for the year was spent with additional homeschooling, learning how to box, play the piano, music, arts, basketball camp and hard knock life lessons by my father whose ideologies included daughters who could take care and support themselves physically while being educated with no distractions which meant no boys… I was petrified of my father, so when he said “if you ever come home pregnant I will kill you”…I believed it, we didn’t have our first date until our early twenties so you can guess how popular we were in school, and I can say this in a light manner now, but as for harassment thru my youth, yes, there are more than a FEW stories but my father taught us from an early age when people usually express meaningless negativity towards you that it is coming from a place of ignorance or something they want but feel that they can’t achieve. My father always stressed “would you rather deal with them or me” and if you knew my father you would know the answer would be “them”. Perhaps not the best strategy but as militant as my father was, my twin and I quickly learned how to fend for ourselves and confront issues head on, but if teasing reached extreme measures my father had no problem coming to my school to address the issue to the principal, which lead to a student/parent conference. My parents wanted nothing to affect my learning haven in any environment. It was a bit embarrassing then but something I really have come to appreciate today.
During my high school years, teasing reached a minimal low because of the history of my father’s presence in school and our tomboyish nature. We definitely acquired the “fighter” from our father and the “lover” from our mother. So with my head in the books and sports my sister and I were quite the tomboys/nerd/loners and deemed outsiders because of it. The only activities we could participate in after school was music, art and sports and this is exactly what we did. We played basketball, volleyball and lacrosse, my sister focused on writing and choir and I on art and band (yes, I was in a marching band). Though deemed the schools outsiders and the “Twin Towers”, stress was never an issue because I had the support of my twin, therefore never felt alone and thank the lord we had each other, without her I am not sure I would have made it through half of some of the physical and violent tragedies of our youth but that is a another story for another time. Anyway with such an active lifestyle I remember most of my youth wearing box braids or corn rolls and the only major altercations to the natural texture of my hair is when periodically my Mother would hot comb my hair on special occasions, which meant church holiday sermons for Christmas, Easter and my Birthday…then I turned 13 and my Mother came home with a leisure curl.
The time and effort my mother showed me is something you only come to understand and appreciate with age.
Now up until then my Mother was natural all her life. She sometimes wore wigs as her preference for a low maintenance style but other than that, completely natural until she came home from the salon with a leisure curl. Now for those unfamiliar with a leisure curl, think jheri curl but with a looser curl pattern and a more filtered “soul glow” in other words, less greasy. The leisure curl was a spontaneous move, scheduled for a roll press, her trusted stylist alerted my mother of a new process that wasn’t harmful to the hair, a “safe” version of a relaxer, making her hair more “manageable”, of course now we know this couldn’t be anything further from the truth but of course at the time it sounded like a good idea, especially since timing was exactly what my Mother needed during a period when my father almost passed away from a vehicular accident causing major TBI (traumatic brain injury), losing most of his memory of everything, including how to walk, talk and even who we were, but a miraculous year later, his rehabilitation was a success. So naturally when a Mother who I adore comes home with a completely new look, my sister and I wanted to be in her image and begged her for the same process. To be honest if my Mother came home with locs I would have begged for the same. Long story short I found myself with my first chemical process at 13.
Four years later my hair was in rapid decline, problems I never knew existed like split ends, dryness, breakage and dandruff were in full affect, making my hair more difficult to manage than when I was natural. Also, my father was not thrilled of the end result of the leisure curl but for different reasons meaning cost, he pulled a cease and desist, leaving me with two different types of textures that had I no idea how to work with. There was nothing I could do to salvage my hair and soon the “safe” alternative to a relaxer was causing my hair to fall out in clumps not only from the chemical but not knowing how to gently handle the demarcation line.
Through this disastrous transition, a memory I will never forget is loving the feel of my natural texture versus the altered strands which I had not felt in four years. Naturally my hair continued to decline, leading me to cut all my hair off or “bc” (the big chop). Having no clue what to do with my hair, I just washed it every three weeks and slapped grease on every other day. I didn’t know about the natural oils so slapping on some Blue magic or Johnson and Johnson’s was the only way I knew how to deal with the dryness. I was also distracted by another major event when my parents parted ways due to a tumultuous partnership. I am grateful for the many positive attributes of my father but it was certainly a Jekyll and Hyde relationship in terms of his moods physically and mentally. While the separation was taking place before I knew it my hair was growing like weeds, and 3 years later my hair was 18 inches long from braid outs and constant updos. So without realizing it I was protecting my hair via low stress hair styles, updos and unconsciously sealing. I know without a doubt this was the key to my healthy hair growth.
In my senior year of High School I took place in Maryland’s Statewide Art Competition. I was discouraged by an AP teacher (Advance Placement) to enter because of no formal training. On the flipside, I was strongly encouraged by my family and the day of took home every single award (“Best in Show” “People’s choice” and a partial scholarship award). I was quickly accepted to one of San Francisco’s top art universities but during a summer family vacation to New York I was scouted by Elite Modeling Agency in NY, which quickly diverted my plans and submerged me into the wonderful world of the fashion industry…. or so I thought.
As a high fashion model you are representing a blank slate meaning everyone has their own look and personality but the client is choosing the foundation and then molding you into how they see fit. When I started I was naive about the business. Little did I know that change is what makes this fashion business go round and as a black model with afro-textured hair most of the jobs I received involved changing my natural hair state “by any means necessary” and my hair suffered DRASTICALLY. I did not take this sitting down but even with my respectful attitude I became known as a bit of a rebel. Rebel? Why should I be tagged as a rebel when I mention that my hair cannot withstand the constant heat or my hair is not compatible with glue or glitter (I don’t know if anyone has ever experienced glitter in afro-textured hair, but let me just say it was a NUNACE of my existence to remove and lets not talk about glue). This led to the usual responses of “my hair needs to conform to a certain curl pattern to be accepted by the masses”, “that everything was working except the hair”, “you could go so much further if you just did something to this head”, but at the end of the day I was hired to do a job and that is what I did. I slowly but surely transitioned from a full set of hair to a distant memory of what was, but soon “at the end of the day, I am hired to do a job” wasn’t cutting it for me. I was tired of everyone telling me what my hair should look like. I expressed my concerns with my agency and said I would not do any more jobs if they wanted to alter my curl pattern (meaning no heat). They respected my wishes but thought it was a radical move and needed to mention that it is my job to “conform” but whose conformity? Models of color who did not have my hair type were not told they needed to change the texture of their hair on a DAILY basis, a cut, length, extensions or color yes, texture no? On one occasion I had a meeting with my booker to discuss the texture of my hair alone, who pointed out a young model with a loose coiled textured and said my texture should be similar if I wanted to book more work. Or another incident experienced my second chemical, a texturizer, when I was told by another agent that my scalp along my hairline was not visible because my hair was too thick, lol yes she actually said that. With the boom of the .com and social media, the industry is of course making changes but years ago it was a different story.
A small timeline of the disintegration of my hair through my experience in the modeling industry. Far left representing the beginning stages while far right represents the latter years. Volume and length of hair decreases towards the end of the timeline.
My goal was not to become a top model but to earn money to pursue my love of the arts. Even with my hair fiascos in this business I have skipped down the forest and experienced every hair story imaginable such as traction alopecia from weaves, burning, singeing, breakage from dryness, unintentional dreading, accidental haircuts and on and off chemical warfare “lions, tigers and bears oh my”, work and pay was very steady but I began to wonder is this where I belong? As a black woman I didn’t feel comfortable conforming to a certain idea of beauty. This just didn’t feel right. I would look in the mirror and always felt something was missing but I couldn’t peg it down. What I didn’t realize then, that I was beginning to become conscious of my conformity to a certain “standard” of beauty and it didn’t feel right. I am so grateful for all the opportunities of past and present such as traveling, meeting so many amazing people and financial stability but I had to make a choice in money or my own happiness, I chose the latter.
Even though I was chemically free, mentally I was not completely natural, I still had to face another hurdle, accepting the natural texture of my hair. Being natural was great but I was still stuck in a rut of trying to achieve the perfect curl, braidout or twistout and even using heat every other day because I wanted to constantly keep shrinkage at bay, no matter what the cost. Through all of my years of conforming to a certain “standard” of beauty, I was now conforming to a certain “standard” of natural hair. Believe me it was frustrating and draining to say the least. “Health” and retaining length came when I finally saw the beauty in my afro-textured hair and realized all the constant manipulation and heat to alter my curls into something they were not was doing as much damage as when I processed my hair years ago. It wasn’t until I truly accepted all of my self when all parts of me flourished in more ways than I could have ever imagined, it was a gust of cool breeze on a humid and muggy summer day.
The truth is hair is just hair for many and who I am to judge, I have met plenty of natural hair women who couldn’t give a damn about others while women who choose to wear their hair in other states combat the injustices of this world with a ferociousness that is hard to believe, but for me natural hair meant a bit more. The natural state of my hair is just a physical transformation of the changes from within and now when I look in the mirror, I feel like…me.
You can also find me on instagram @ciprianaquann
I would love to know your story.