At Curlfest, a cel­e­bra­tion of nat­u­ral hair and black beauty

So­cial me­dia pro­vided the seeds to high­light ‘magic’ of nat­u­ral hair

The Hamilton Spectator - - GO - TA­MARA BEST

— As I stood be­fore a slightly foggy bath­room mir­ror a few weeks ago, my fin­gers gin­gerly grasped a few strands of freshly washed hair. Ex­tend­ing my arm, I watched, cap­ti­vated, as the tightly wound curls length­ened, then quickly sprung back into place. I smiled. It was the first time as an adult that I had seen my hair purely in its nat­u­ral state.

My re­la­tion­ship with my hair has been one of pride and oc­ca­sional pain. As a child, I rel­ished the sound of beads clink­ing to­gether at the end of my braids as I jumped rope, but flinched while get­ting my hair pressed, fear­ing the sting of a hot comb per­ilously close to my ear­lobes. As I grew older, I was be­wil­dered by the tele­vi­sion char­ac­ters and glossy mag­a­zine cov­ers with girls whose hair — and skin tone, for that mat­ter — rarely re­flected my own. Still, I re­mained proud of the grav­ity-de­fy­ing na­ture of my dark hair.

Knock­ing on the door of high school, I de­cided, with my mother’s ap­proval, that I wanted the creamy crack, also known as a re­laxer, so that my curls would be bone-straight. Since then, my hair has changed many times, of­ten re­flect­ing new chap­ters of my life: a pixie cut à la Ri­hanna, caramel and blond highlights, ex­ten­sions of var­i­ous lengths and tex­tures, Sene­galese twists and, cur­rently, cro­chet braids.

Last year, my stylist, Jen­nifer Yves, fi­nally asked the ques­tion: “Why don’t you go nat­u­ral?”

Over the last decade, as the nat­u­ral hair move­ment has grown, new prod­uct lines have flour­ished, while YouTube and so­cial me­dia have made it eas­ier for women to con­nect with other women, fos­ter­ing a more di­verse nar­ra­tive around black beauty. I fig­ured I would be fine. And I am. Well, mostly.

Newly nat­u­ral, I’m still flail­ing at recre­at­ing YouTube styles and de­cided to stop by Curlfest in Prospect Park last Satur­day for help. At this free cel­e­bra­tion of nat­u­ral hair and black beauty, I basked in the sea of multi-gen­er­a­tional melanin. My eyes darted in ev­ery di­rec­tion — at styles I had never seen, at women adorned in Ankara print dresses, at teeny-weeny Afros and god­dess locks. There were no cu­ri­ous glances and ques­tions like “How does your hair do that?” or “Can I touch it?” (No you can’t. Don’t ask.) Rather, the af­ter­noon was one of af­fir­ma­tion.

“You’re able to come into a space and see your­self re­flected ev­ery­where,” said Gia Lowe, direc­tor of strate­gic part­ner­ships for Curly Girl Col­lec­tive, which pro­duces the event. “We come to­gether for hair, but we know it is a grander, much big­ger ex­pe­ri­ence than just that.”

The seeds for the Curly Girl Col­lec­tive were planted in an on­line group dis­cus­sion about ways to high­light nat­u­ral hair, the beauty of black women and, more broadly, women of colour. The women (Lowe, Charisse Hig­gins, Melody Hen­der­son, Tracey Cole­man and Si­mone Mair) saw a void in off-line ex­pe­ri­ences for black women. Through the or­ga­ni­za­tion, they con­nect women to one another and to stylists, in­flu­encers and brands. Curlfest, its sig­na­ture event, is now in its fourth year.

“So­cial me­dia has changed the way we all work,” Hen­der­son, the col­lec­tive’s cre­ative direc­tor, said. “You’re kind of in this vac­uum, and we’ve dis­cov­ered when you come out­side of the vac­uum, that’s when the magic hap­pens.”

“When peo­ple talk about Curlfest, they talk about the en­ergy, and it’s al­most hard to ar­tic­u­late what it is,” she added. “You just can’t have it by look­ing through In­sta­gram.”

Through­out the af­ter­noon, styling sta­tions showed women how to cre­ate new looks. A “beauty row” of­fered sam­ples from brands like Shea Mois­ture, one of the spon­sors, and ven­dor booths sold cloth­ing and jew­elry from ar­ti­sans around the coun­try. The celebrity stylist Ur­sula Stephen, the writer and im­age ac­tivist Michaela An­gela Davis, and Spike Lee, among oth­ers, led em­pow­er­ment chats. This year, for the first time, there was also a beard bar for men. Even with fa­tigue from the sun, I left Curlfest lighter and more in­formed about car­ing for my crown. In con­ver­sa­tions with other women, I was re­minded of the beauty in re­dis­cov­er­ing pieces of your­self.

Tracey Cole­man, a founder of Curly Girl Col­lec­tive.

Clock­wise from

above: Curly Girl Col­lec­tive founders Si­mone Mair, Gia Lowe and Charisse Hig­gins.

Anna Bain­ter-Clark, 10, at Curlfest. At­ten­dees at Curlfest in New York. Thou­sands of women came to­gether at the Brook­lyn event, now in its fourth year.

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