Curlfest and Why it Was Everything

Almost 2 weeks later, I still can't stop smiling ear to ear about my experience at Curlfest. Women ( and a few men) of all different shapes and sizes, hair colors, lengths, and textures occupied the park. So much beauty, confidence and radiance and nothing but good vibes, great music, and great people. It was every black woman's greatest dream. Not to mention, everyone came dressed to impress with long flowing African garments, flowers, and tank tops with catchy quotes about blackness. It was truly inspiring. And all the free products from top brands like Shea Moisture, Camille Rose, Eden Works, ORS and much more along with discounted prices on all their top products. But beyond the free stuff and people dressed to impress, the energy at Curlfest was palpable: the Black Girl Magic was in full effect! We were all in the same place for the same reasons: to celebrate black beauty and there was a sense of UNITY. A feeling that we all belonged to this unspoken movement/coalition of magical beings or superheroes and we didn't have to hide our magic powers anymore. We were safe to let our Afro's, African garbs, wooden earrings and gold hair clips flourish! It was a liberating experience which for many of those in attendance had not always been the case with our hair.

Being at Curlfest made me reflect on my relationship with my hair, which has been a tumultuous one for sure. As long as I could remember, I hated my hair. The tight kinky curls that didn't match my peers or the people I saw in the music videos. If hair transplant was feasible and affordable, I would have done it. And not to mention, my mom wasn't the greatest hair stylist. She did her best, but my hair was so thick and unmanageable that I always looked like Harriet Tubman. As early as 3rd grade I tried to do my own hair and even sabbotaged my hair right before school pictures. Mom was not excited that my ponytails were pointing to the sky like a horned animal in pictures she had paid so much for.

Eventually, the Just For Me Commercials and my friends with their cute straight hairstyles were becoming more and more appealing. I was so ready to join them and get my first perm. My childhood best friend already had a perm and soft silky hair. So one day after we went and got ice cream, my mom agreed to let her mom give me my first perm. It was a feeling I will never forget. A feeling of relief and happiness! I would finally be able to do all the hairstyles my friends were doing. My mom wasn't as thrilled. See, my kinky curly texture came from here side of the family, and over the years she went from a Geri Curl to long lustrous dread locs. She used aloe vera and coconut oil for her hair, African Best products and shea butter. She was a straight up naturalyte, with seashells in her hair, wooden bangles and an Ankh necklace dangling from her neck. She would light incense fragrances as she greased her scalp with a little Bob Marley playing in the background. Her skin stayed soft and melanated and her hair stayed kinky and conditioned. So when she realized her baby girl wanted a perm. She was hesitant, but she saw how frustrated I was with my hair, how it was affecting myself esteem, how out of my class mates I was the only one still rocking natural hair. So she agreed.

She had to buy me products that she never used for her own hair: Razaac Perfect for Perms finishing cream and oil mist, Lusters Pink lotion, a curling iron. Things she had long given up. By that time I had taken matters into my own hands and would style my own hair, drowning it in products and grease so it would glisten in the sun and leave stains all over my pillows. Back then, the trend was butterfly clips and I was no stranger to them. I would create a halo of alternating colors neatly arranged along my crown. And if I was feeling fancy, I would get the moving butterfly clips that had mobile antennas and wings so it looked like a real butterfly actually perched on top of my head.

I did some of the wackiest styles. Two ponytails, with two flat twists in the front and a triangle bang. A slicked down bang, flat twists on one side into a ponytail. You name it, I tried it. My mom had given up full creative control at that time and just let me do my thing. Eventually, I got pretty good at flat twists and that became my signiture. I would do other people's flat twist, all different styles and designs with zig zags, cross overs, you name it, I tried it! Not to mention I practiced on my Barbie Dolls (which I played with until the age of 12). I would spend my weekends drowning their hair in products too, practicing my flat twists and cornrows on them. Good thing I never put a curling iron to their hair or their plastic manes would have melted. But I sure didn't spare my own hair, and that's when the damage began.

My friends would always get doobies at the Dominican hair salons because they would make sure your hair was laid by any means necessary. So I started going too. I was used to doing my own hair, so it felt nice to have someone else wash and style my hair for me. But sitting under that dryer for hours always felt like an eternity! Not to mention getting a wash and roller set every 2 weeks was expensive. So I had to find a more economic way to straighten my hair. My mom would do my touch-ups at the kitchen table and I opted for using a straightener instead of sitting under a dryer. Eventually my hair had become damaged and it wasn't growing like it should. Those perm burns were no joke. I felt like a bald headed scally wag, so it was on to the next quick fix and latest trend among my peers: weave.

I started out getting micro braids, which by the way also take a thousand years and isn't good for your edges. But back then, they were all the rage (Beyonce had them)! I didn't know how to style weave, because my mom never wore it. So I used to go sit at someone else's kitchen table and feel like my scalp was being lifted off my skull. If you wanted an eyebrow lift you just got some new braids. Occasionally a loose braid would fall out and I would practice trying to put it back in. Eventually, I had figured out how to do my own braids and all that practicing on my Barbie dolls had come in handy. However, I was still not addressing the problem of my damaged hair underneath the braids.

Fast forward to college, and the era of the tracks and sew-ins had begun. In order to make sure my tracks were laid and looked flawless, I had to have a leave out. A section of hair I was willing to sacrifice for the greater good of my hairstyles. That poor section of hair would be fried and dyed and laid to the side, while the rest of my hair was protected and safe underneath the tracks. So obviously that wasn't sustainable either, as I could see the inches lost ever time I did a new hairstyle. So I began searching the internet for better/safer ways to style my hair. And that when I discovered the world of Black Hair on YouTube. All the information you ever wanted to know, from hair techniques to which products to use: it was a hair gold mine! I would spend hours and hours watching video after video, contemplating my next style and how I was gonna execute it.

Every couple of weeks I would do a new style and each time I would wash my hair and trim the ends. Because my hair was completely covered, I hadn't had a perm in months and my hair was starting to become more and more difficult to manage. The permed ends and my strong resilient natural hair that I had been trying to suppress for all these years was forcing it's way through. I began slowly trimming away at the permed ends, cutting away all the years of damage I had accumulated. And one day, it was all gone. Every strand that was coming from my head was the way God had made it, curly, kinky and beautiful. It took me over a decade to finally embrace and love my hair for what it was. I always tell people, I went natural on accident, but it was one of the best decisions I ever made.

Back then, the natural wave was just starting to take off. People were still clinging to the "creamy crack" and the long Beyoncesque weaves. Although I loved my hair, I still wasn't ready to expose the world to my curls. I decided I would start fresh and wait until I started medical school to wear my natural hair. Heck, those people didn't know me, so I wanted a clean slate with my hair.

So when it came time for my white coat ceremony, I wore it out! Curls, twist outs, mohawks, braids, wash and go's, updo's. You name it, I did it. When I started my clinical rotations, all that went down the drain though. I didn't have time to spend on doing my hair in the morning, so I went back to the weave. But now I was more experienced and I understood the importance of taking care of my hair underneath. And when I took a year off to do a Masters in Public Health, I unleashed the curls again! But this time with more sass and spunk, I cut it and colored it and tried hairstyles that several years prior were not even a thought in my mind. (How I went from Fade to Fro in 1 yr)

After the cut, I have been working on growing my hair back, long and strong. And natural hair to some, including the medical community is still slightly controversial. Hence the reason for my interview wig. (Operation WIG). And there have been a few hiccups along the way. (Moment of Silence).

And now here I am, almost 10 years natural, and I continue to learn things about my hair and about myself. It's an ongoing process of love and hate, of sacrifices and compromise, of learning and living. And that's what Curlfest was all about. Bringing together people with this shared experience of learning to love their hair even when the odds were stacked against them, even when hair companies didn't make products we could use for our hair, even when the media didn't represent us, even when our friends and family told us our hair was ugly, even when we felt vulnerable and naked without our weaves. Curlfest was about unshackling those chains, releasing those burdens, and basking in the beauty of other people who were just like you and letting our Black Girl Magic GLOW.

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