Natural Hair Revolution

Yveline Previl-Exantus one year after her second big chop.

Have you or someone you know been thinking or talking about “going natural,” making the “big chop” or growing locs? Well, I used to think this emerging trend was solely limited to my circle of friends but I now understand that we’re part of a growing movement. A sort of awakening is in progress. I can feel a change in the air, and it certainly feels like we are on the verge of a natural-hair revolution!

Lately, within the past year or so, there has been a lot of discussion about natural hair. Chris Rock’s Good Hair might have been the catalyst, drawing attention to the issues surrounding black hair, but since then, the revolution has picked up speed. New YouTube videos and Facebook pages on the subject are popping up daily, and a wealth of information on how to style, maintain and care for natural hair await anyone the least bit interested in learning more. We are doing away with the chemical relaxers and opting for natural curls, coils and kinks and are eager to share this rediscovered love.

Traditional hibiscus leaf cleanser. A gentle no-poo method. Photo compliments Caribbean Natural

Black women are caring for our natural tresses in new ways and are falling in love with our different grades of hair all over again. We’ve gotten a little help from beauty lines like Carol’s Daughter, and Mixed Chicks, lines specially developed to treat our hair and skin, but we’re also exhuming homemade concoctions.

My Caribbean heritage is rich with natural recipes made from aloe and hibiscus leaves, coconut oil, castor oil and honey.

Hand-made 100 percent PURE St. Lucian Castor Oil. Image compliments Caribbean Natural

All these ingredients are found right in the garden or kitchen cupboard and I’m making the best of it. Not only am I  embracing my roots by returning to these old recipes, but I also manage to save money while seeing and feeling the difference in my hair and on my skin. Ingredients like these make hair happy and we keep  finding new ways  to showcase our individualities.

No two heads of hair are the same, so the magic lies in this diversity and the ways in which we choose to showcase that versatility. We are learning to moisturize, accessorize, massage, twist, lock, curl and braid as we embrace individuality and breathe new life into our hair. I for one am loving it!

My sister Melissa and I way before the relaxer or big chop.

In essence, black women are re-learning to love their hair and I couldn’t be happier or prouder. Together, we brave and beautiful women, are raising consciousness about our hair and ultimately our health as we stop to consider the effects of certain ingredients found in products currently on the shelves.

I know it may sound strange to say we are “re-learning” to love our natural hair, because we start off both natural and loving our hair, but that sentiment usually gets turned around before the age of ten for black girls. Some parents start the ritual of straightening girls’ hair from as early as four.

Getting one’s hair straightened, either through applied heat or a relaxer, is a sort of rite of passage for us.  I remember family discussions about when I would be old enough for the application of my first relaxer, which happened about the age of nine by the way, because my mother couldn’t handle the texture. I never had a problem with my hair but learned to want something different and I trusted that my mother knew best. I still remember getting my hair styled in cornrows and two-strand-twists in my earliest childhood and I always liked it. I especially liked adding colorful beads to the ends, not just for the appearance, but the pleasing sound they made near my ears.

After my first straightener, my hair felt softer, lighter, longer, but also thinner, more fragile and somehow foreign. It never did feel completely mine. I don’t think I understood that I was saying goodbye to my natural hair for the next seven years and I understood even less that I would miss my natural hair so much. I would miss the way it felt to pass a comb through it, or how it looked with neat rows of well oiled cornrows.

Ashlei Alexander rocking a pipe-cleaner mohawk up-do. Photo compliments Loc'd and Lovin' it!

I kept my hair relaxed (usually wearing it up-in-one because I hated sleeping with rollers) for many years until I was sixteen and therefore old enough to make the decision to go natural again. I took the “big chop” and about five years later, decided to grow locs. I’ve been happy with my hair ever since but only now can I truly say that  I have re-learned to love my hair.

A few of my friends have started Facebook pages “Caribbean Natural”run by

TheQuitabee and “Loc’d and Lovin’ it!” run by Nikita Alcide are a couple of my favorites. I check these pages regularly for new posts because I enjoy their tips, styles, videos and photos. I also try to add my voice to the mix by participating in their discussions whenever possible. It makes me feel good to share what I find there and I find myself using more and more home recipes. For instance, I’ve adopted a deep banana conditioner and monthly ACV (apple-cider vinegar) rinse into my regimen. The banana promotes manageability, shine, growth and controls dandruff while the vinegar removes build-up and residue from hair-shafts and closes the cuticles.

I’ve also learned about sister locs, a very popular style in London, and endless variations on styles for all lengths and textures.

TheQuitabeeof Caribbean Natural wearing her chunky fro.

People like Lauryn Hill, Jill scott, India Airie and especially Bob Marley, and entire Rastafari culture, have all influenced me and my love of natural hair.

I’ve always known that natural hair is beautiful no matter what the $1.8 billion black hair product market says with its weaves, wigs and relaxers. I’m just happy more black women are returning to their roots and taking the initiative by finding out and sharing all we know about hair.  Not only it is healthier, but I swear; natural hair looks better.


Personal Interaction and Gossip in Dacia Maraini’s “Woman at War”

Life has slowed down considerably since I graduated and moved back to Louisiana.  I now spend my days working on my novel, filling out applications, taking long walks to Granny’s house, cooking, and catching up on last season’s True Blood (the new season started Sunday!). I haven’t been reading as much; I went from reading one or two novels a week, to starting three and not finishing any this last month. It feels like my days are all lazy days. Though there’s always a lot to do and I try to accomplish something each day, I know I can always do more.

The thing is, I have ample alone time (something I crave as a writer), but I’m discovering that even that can get frustrating. To my surprise, I’m beginning to feel too alone. In fact that’s how the walks to Granny’s house started. I needed the exercise, yes, but really I needed stimulation; writing requires my senses to be alive. How can I create a world the reader will be happy to be immersed in if I don’t get out and explore and experience the world about me?

That walk through the neighborhood, past the park, Botanic Garden, fire station and police training ground, is quite stimulating. The French architecture, huge

Botanic Garden Sunflower

old trees and flowers are visually stimulating, while the herbs at the Botanic Garden are olfactive. Passing joggers smile and wave, giving me a sense of belonging, and it’s kinda cool to have a sea of soon-to-be -policemen part as I jog through with a reggae and soca soundtrack on my iPod pushing me on. All these little things add to the experience, but the talks in Granny’s kitchen are the real inspiration. It’s amazing how talking to the right person can make me feel more myself.

Saturday, I attended a party (baby shower/birthday celebration for the daddy) and delighted in the opportunity to interact with a new circle of women. There were so many new characters, so many personalities to analyse and so many stories to piece together as I tried to figure out how these women were connected. This led me to think about Dacia Maraini’s Woman at War and Vannina, the first person narrator and protagonist who grows through her interactions with a new circle of friends. Vannina never plans it, but while on vacation in Addis, then Naples, the people she associates with, from all walks of life, change her. She tries to, but finds she can’t go back to life as it was in Rome.

Maraini uses gossip as a literary device to make a quick connection with the reader and uses this protagonist in particular, to demonstrate how personal interaction can influence a person. Vannina, a twenty-five-year-old Roman teacher, is introduced at the very onset of her summer vacation and the reader finds her to be a reliable first-person narrator, because she “gossips.” “So starts my holiday,” she writes in her diary and it is important to note that keeping a diary isn’t something she is driven to out of necessity. As far as the reader can tell, she just does it. This means she has no audience to address, no jury or judge to appeal to, and no listener to impress or persuade. The reader can take her at her word and not feel coerced or manipulated into liking or caring about her.

Vannina doesn’t aim to cloak, hide or explain away any aspects of her personality. The reader can trust her. She records her story assuming absolute privacy and appears quite comfortable with keeping a diary. She doesn’t fear prying eyes because not even Giacinto, her semi-literate husband, will read what she’s written. Maraini presents Vannina as having no reason to lie, and like Tota, a native of Addis who quickly befriends Vannina with her penchant for gossip, Vannina doesn’t hesitate to reveal the most scandalous details about everyone and everything in her diary. The text is designed to allow the reader to get to know Vannina in much the same way she gets to know her new acquaintances and friends. The reader can therefore trust that Vannina has no reason to deceive, and since she doesn’t have to worry about what is appropriate, she can talk freely, sharing all the good gossip. The text takes the form of an uncensored dialogue Vannina has with herself so that the reader can eavesdrop on a conversation that gets real intimate real quick.

Though Maraini lets the reader know that Vannina can be a bore (she appears meek and

 subservient in her interactions with the other characters), the text is chockfull of personal reflections and secret confessions. Maraini allows her protagonist to use language that is raw and honest. When she writes in her diary her voice is strong, direct and bold. She notes the most exciting and bizarre things in the most succulent language and writes with confidence and reckless abandon, precisely because she never intends an audience.

Maraini places the reader in the position of ultimate gossip buddy to Vannina, much like Vanina’s early interaction with Tota, who “started talking straight away in a carefree, natural way as if we were two old friends” the narrative voice connects with the reader as it is straightforward and has an intimate and familiar tone (9). This approach lends the work a conversational tone and the familiarity with which the narrator addresses the reader suggests that Maraini uses the first-person narrative voice to evoke gossip, and by extension, folklore.

Like gossip, the stories Vannina records seem shocking and outrageous at first, but one advantage for Maraini is that the reader doesn’t have to guess at what Vannina might be lying about. Maraini’s technique of plunging the reader into Vannina’s story, just as easily as one would “fall” into a bit of gossip, takes the reader as close as possible to what the protagonist really thinks. She also applies an oral tone to the work by using dialogue—usually without tags— throughout the text as a means of inferring this uninhibited speech, or gossip. In this way, the reader gets the story directly from Vannina, not a third party. Maraini aims to recreate a natural meeting between protagonist and reader and she draws a parallel between the new relationships Vannina strikes up with people like Tota and Suna, and the simultaneous impression she makes with the reader.

As Vannina’s transformation from subservient wife to independent woman isn’t explicitly stated as being her intention at the beginning of the work, and does not become her focus at any particular point in the work, her growing self-awareness is presented by the author as being organic, unforced. The shift occurs subconsciously, “I was sunk into a dark and painful sleep for days. On the fifth day I had a strange and obscurely revealing dream which changed the course of my life” (279). Vannina’s transformation/evolution is presented as occurring, naturally, and as unconsciously as her original social conditioning must have.

In this way, Maraini presents Vannina as somewhat in-condemnable. The author doesn’t try to distance herself from her protagonist and Vannina appears to have an acceptable reputation though she engages in actions and events the reader may not approve of. This encourages the reader to side with her, in the same way Vannina chooses not to judge her new friends, and excuse her improprieties.

Vannina eventually comes to admit to herself that some things she believed to be true about herself and the nature of a woman was only in an effort to gain the approval of the people she deemed to be better than her. This belief is a part of her social conditioning. Like a girl, she still wants to be liked, so she is willing to do things not in her own best interest; “I wanted to say no. But I let myself be carried away by the pleasure of saying yes, of being ingratiating, carrying out a task without question, so that I could then be rewarded with the approval of those who were cleverer and more confident than myself. It was just what they expected from me, naturally, it was my role as a woman” (Maraini 110). Vannina grows to understand that her unquestioning acceptance of these norms is unreasonable. Her obedience therefore, doesn’t reflect her shifting self-image or improve her life.  She learns to be more selfish once she has the opportunity to understand the extreme measures people will take for presumed personal advancement. She starts to form her own opinions and begins to take responsibility for her actions.

Maraini, in the tradition of a folklorist, seems to value the oral text as primary in the way she presents Vannina’s story. The diary format, the gossipy tone, and the repeated use of dialogue all suggest an oral text. The stories a society chooses to tell and retell form the fabric of the culture as “[w]ith time and repetition, some examples of human expression become pervasive and common place. When they do, we conceive them to be traditions or traditional; and we can identify them individually or collectively as folklore” (Georges and Jones 1).

Maraini is brave enough to write about these people, in their words. She does what the history books fail to do and allow the reader to experience the everyday activities and daily lives of these common folk by writing about gossip or folklore.  This has been the function of the earliest forms of literature in narratives by Italian author Giovanni Boccaccio and the English poet Geoffrey Chaucer.

Unlike Vannina, I wasn’t exposed to the personalities, characters and energies of the women at the party long enough to adopt any of their traits or develop any major changes in the way I view the world. The women at the party, unlike Tota and Vannina were more guarded, reluctant to share too much, there wasn’t any gossipping, so I came away with very little. My talks with Granny however, are more embracive and should therefore be more influential. What about my interaction with Maraini through this work? I read it, studied it, wrote my final paper on it and even got the chance to talk with her briefly at The John Fowles Center for Creative Writing Annual Reading Series. I hadn’t known it until the words were spoken, but I told her that her work had inspired me to be more bold in my writing. We absorb something of another in the books we read, the music we listen to, the television shows we watch, the people we work with and those we live with, so be aware of what you’re absorbing, what your children are absorbing and how we are all affecting each other as we evolve in this web of life.

Dacia Maraini is an Italian writer. Maraini’s work focuses on women’s issues, and she has written numerous plays and novels. She has won awards for her work, including the Formentor Prize forL’età del malessere (1963); the Premio Fregene for Isolina (1985); the Premio Campiello and Book of the Year Award for La lunga vita di Marianna Ucrìa (1990); and the Premio Strega for Buio (1999).

Spotlight: Michelle

My Name: Michelle

Where I live: Orange County, California

Favorite Excuse: I don’t really have an excuse for not working out, although there are sometimes reasons I can’t. I try to run at least five times or 25-45 miles a week and usually do. I’m almost always training for a marathon, so not running isn’t an option. I also attend a weekly spin class. I wish I could do more, though. I’d love to take yoga two or three days a week and lift weights more often than I do. Between work, school, writing, and my training schedule, it’s hard to fit all that in.

My Inspiration: Pushing myself beyond my perceived physical limitations has always inspired me. When I used to run five miles, my “unattainable” goal was ten. When I ran ten miles, a marathon seemed like Everest. When I ran my first marathon, the new goal was to qualify for Boston. I just ran the insanely vertical North Face Endurance Challenge trail marathon in San Francisco last month and have my eye on the North Face 50K next year. I’m also going for a personal best at the Orange County Marathon in May, so I’ll need to find some new inspiration for speed work.

My workout habits/Personal Strategy: Food and music are critical to my running success. I always try to eat an hour and a half to two hours before running. I have really low blood sugar, so running on an empty stomach is disastrous for me. I’ve nearly fainted on runs before, so I never take chances. Since I have to run before or after work, timing meals and snacks around my runs can be tricky. I schedule my long runs (12-22 miles) on Sundays, which means getting up around 3:30 or 4:00 a.m. to eat and get out the door before dawn. Those are hard days. I also have to refuel every five or six miles, so I usually stash packets of GU and Fig Newtons in my pockets.

Music is also really powerful – it’s super corny, but I always listen to the Top Gun soundtrack in my car when I’m driving to a race. By the time I get to the starting line, I’m pretty amped. The right song can also keep you going when you think you’re not going to make it. At some point during a marathon or long training run, I enter a zone in which time seems really abstract. Sometimes hours pass, and I realize I’ve listened to the same song on my iPod for miles. I ran about 17 miles of the 2009 San Francisco marathon to “It’s the Climb” before it occurred to me to change the song. Thank goodness for the zone, though; it helps you forget how much pain you’re in!

Spotlight: Loverly

My Name:LoverlyWhere I live:Gothenburg, SwedenFavorite excuse: “It’s to cold outside! lol…it usually is in Sweden!”

My inspiration: As I get older- my health, trying my best to live a healthy /balanced lifestyle, feeling great (I believe if you feel great about YOU, then everything comes together in full circle!:)

My workout habits: Hmmmm…I am not the least bit a “workout” person. Mundane routine workouts like going to the gym won’t work for an energizer bunny like me.  I tend to get bored with daily workout routines, so I try to mix it up. However, for many years I have maintained the routine of walking for at least one hour every day. I love walking! It’s my therapy session, plus I get to burn a few calories. Since the weather can be brutal in Sweden, I usually go swimming two days a week when I’m unable to go walking. That amounts to two one-hour sessions, which, I must say, is the best full body work out for me! I love it! I sometimes go hiking with friends, play badminton, dance at home, (lol..I know) and of course, keeping up with an energetic two-year-old can keep anyone in shape! lol

Personal Strategy: I do what works for me. I don’t kid myself by starting workout routines that I know will be short lived. If you do what you love, then it just becomes a way of life and not a task, and since I love to walk, walking has been a way of life for me. No matter what, I know that as long as I am able, my daily walks will be a part of me, always. Also, I believe in setting limits and boundaries. I try to make seven pound weight gain the limit, and then get back to form. Otherwise, it is just too easy to loose oneself in the weight struggle!

A Little Fitness Inspiration for the New Year

Happy New Year, everyone!

I hope you enjoyed the season, got to spend quality time with those who matter most, had a little downtime to reconnect with yourself, and now feel rejuvenated and ready to face 2011.

Many of us make resolutions to lose weight in the new year and have no idea where to begin, so I thought I’d  share my workout habits, though I’m no expert, and pose the following short interview to a few of my friends. I’ll go first, introduce the first young lady, my high school friend Anamai, then go on posting a new response each day that follows.

I chose these ladies for their varied approaches to fitness and the fact that their fabulous bodies help keep me inspired and motivated. I hope their unique approaches will inspire you to develop an approach that works best for you. No two people are the same, no two bodies are the same, and no one knows you better than yourself, so trust your instincts, listen to your body and have fun!


My Name: Natalie

Where I live: Los-Angeles, California

Favorite Excuse: “Too much reading/writing to do.”

My Inspiration: Friends, Beautiful weather, Desire for a feeling of general wellness when things get too stressful, Music.

My workout habits: I visited my neighborhood Y.M.C.A this summer, played volleyball two or three times a week with a bunch of friends I met in the park, tried my arm at tennis, but all this got to be more and more infrequent as the semester wore on. Very very infrequently I go hiking at Runyun Canyon; it’s not often that I feel compelled to brave the freeway, though it might be well worth the drive. I get a pretty cool view of the city and the Hollywood sign, plus I might run into a celebrity (I once saw “William” from Girlfriends and I hear that J-Lo hikes there).

These days I’m mostly indoors, so I get up and dance for as long as I like whenever I feel the need to let the music move me. Sometime, when it’s nice out (that’s often enough), I ride my bike in whatever direction the wind blows. I also like doing You Tube yoga classes in my living room whenever I need to get centered.

My personal strategy: I’m a very spontaneous person so I rely on my feelings to decide what I want to do. I find that I can’t really stick to a schedule, so I pay close attention to how I’m feeling on every level. I’ve learned that neglecting one aspect of my being affects every aspect; if I’m not physically active I pay for it mentally and spiritually and vice-versa for each. Kundalini yoga and meditation take care of the physical and spiritual, while school, reading and writing, all challenge my mind.

Now to introduce the first of my friends:



My name: Anamai

Where I live: Miami, Florida

Favorite excuse: “I’m too busy, I need to ease myself back into it”

My Inspiration: My friends who are dedicated athletes, Shaun T and his Insanity program, Never having to count calories or diet.

My workout habits: I used to keep my weight down by smoking. YES! TERRIBLE, I KNOW. Smoking was an on-again, off-again habit for me for a couple of years. I also used to count calories, submerge myself in my work and practice strict diet regimens. This worked for a while, but I started noticing that my arms were losing definition, my hips were widening and my core was becoming engorged. I also often experienced back pain, which led to me having to stretch every few minutes in an effort to alleviate the pain.

All that changed once I was introduced to Shaun T’s Insanity program. The first day I tried it, I was wheezing, gasping for air, pausing the video and lying on my back while my heart pounded away in my ears. Shaun kept encouraging me (the audience) to pace myself and to take breaks if necessary. At the end of the Fit Test I was only able to do one-sixth of what Shaun and his trainers were doing (if that). I checked off my first day on the calendar and kept going.  There were a few days I took off, but I just kept at it.

By the third week, I felt like a completely different person! I was keeping up with the guys on the DVD and sometimes even outperforming them! I was getting amazingly toned, fit and CONFIDENT! My hair, skin and nails were renewed! The back pain was gone! I felt amazing! For the first time in my life, I felt like I had found the “magic pill” to being the person I always wanted to be. I was singing in the shower and was able to hit the high notes! My mood was 100% improved. That’s why I encourage others to try this workout. It is why I’m such an advocate.

My personal strategy: Keep fitness as a VERY important and necessary part of my life. To keep outperforming myself and pushing myself daily and remaining focused on my goals. People are now telling me I could be a fitness model. Just imagine if I were able to keep this up for a few years. I think fitness can be a part of even the busiest lifestyle because all it takes is a few minutes a day to transform your body and your life. I am not an actor for an infomercial. I’m a real person who has experienced it, so I will remain steadfast in my fitness goals for myself and always look towards self-improvement.