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I have what some people call “virgin” hair. That means in layman’s terms that I have never had a perm to make it chemically altered to become straight. It’s never been in a “relaxed” state unless it’s been through use of a hot comb, flat iron or blow dryer. As a young child I dealt with other girls who hated on my thick, wavy braids. Quite a few of those girls had perms or activator-induced styles (i.e., jheri curls). Sometimes there was obvious damage evident in the uneven, frayed heads of my peers. I was a daughter of a mother who was just trying to make ends meet. She didn’t have money to take me to a hair salon. Every once in a while she would press my hair for a special occasion, but I stayed in neat pigtails most of the time. My mother never had a perm either so it was not abnormal in my home to be natural.

In the early 90s, long before the natural hair trend became popular, I decided to wear my hair curly and see what would happen. I remember picking up a can of mousse at the store and dousing my head with it after it was washed. By my first year of college, I became known as the natural, earthy girl. One day when I was at the mall a guy yelled out “Freddie!” in a nod to my hairstyle reminding him of Cree Summer’s character in A Different World.

Cree Summer

Sometimes my family wasn’t always the most supportive of my naturally curly style. Countless times I have had various family members say I should get my hair “done.” And various sisters from church will often say to another as if I am not there: “You should see her when her hair is done. Her hair goes all the way down her back.” I’ve even had someone say to me that I need to learn how to “do” my hair. It’s as if I am wearing a style they do not prefer. Maybe it’s me, but that word “done” gets underneath my skin a little. I like the way the Lord made me and I’ve never considered the waves upon my head to be “unfinished.” I know blacks have a complicated history with our hair based on various factors brought on since our ancestors were brought here. I get it. So often I just smile and walk on. Not everyone will be convinced that natural is a legitimate hair style. But there are so many people (men and women) who I receive much love from about my style. I cannot count how many times I have had another black woman look at me curiously and then ask me what I put in my hair to get it to look like it does. Over the years I have experimented with quite a few products (many were marketed for caucasian hair but worked pretty well for me) and many became my favorite go-to items. Thankfully because of the natural hair movement, I have many more options that are usually relatively inexpensive. So for any folks out there who are curious about my styling products and how I style it, this is the rundown:

1. After washing and conditioning my hair, while it is still very wet I apply Kinky-Curly Curling Custard and I mix it with water (the custard is quite thick) as I apply it through all sections of my hair.

Kinky-Curly Curling Custard, available at Target ($16.99) and Whole Foods ($17.99)

2. I then apply Herbal Essences Totally Twisted Curl Scrunching Gel throughout my hair.

Herbal Essences Totally Twisted Curl Scrunching Gel (retails between $2 and $4 at various locations)

3. I dry my hair with a diffuser attached to the blow dryer. If I were to let it air dry, it will have a fuzzier, less defined curl.

It’s so nice to have so many options of how to wear ethnic hair. From Miss Jessie’s, Carol’s Daughter, Mixed Chicks, etc. there are so many products to experiment with to see what works well with your texture. Just pack your patience because you may have to mix it up to find the right recipe for your own “brand” of hair. Though I love the convenience of wearing my hair natural, especially on rainy or muggy days, I do love to wear my hair straight as well. So don’t be surprised when I pop up with a straightened style. I love the versatility my hair provides and it’s not exclusive to women with a curly texture. I love locs, afros, braids and dreadlocks as well as a cute weave or sleek bob. And I have seen some gorgeous women with no hair at all that can light up a room with their confidence. I encourage all ethnic women to embrace your texture and enjoy the options we have to help us highlight our own beauty.

Singer Celia Faussart of the music duo Les Nubians

Kerry Washington