The Accidental yet Unapologetic Politicized Crown

“What I have learned for myself is that I don’t have to be anybody else; and that myself is good enough; and that when I am being true to that self, then I can avail myself to extraordinary things” – Lupita Nyong’o

Back in 2009, with my three high school friends, I started an organization that led to an annual exhibit called AfroChic celebrating black beauty manifested through fashion, art, hair, music, and businesses in a safe community space. AfroChic has since gone on to become what could be considered a staple in Toronto culture. Our mandate has been to provide a positive representation of the black community and culture. Our goals have helped us to foster relationships with a myriad of local based organizations and even global corporations with a similar mission.

Our emphasis on highlighting “natural hair” throughout the exhibit during the fashion show, artwork and overall promotional aesthetic has led many to deem AfroChic as a “natural hair art show”, a categorization we have not only embraced but have also used in our communications marketing strategy. We have created a brand that has thrived off of providing an outlet for women of color to see images of women of color in their natural hair state in a chic and glamorous light. We have worked with women in beauty industries and put them at the forefront of our campaigns to show that their beauty, their gifts, their light are valuable and deserve recognition in a world that may or may not provide similar opportunities.

Over the years, we have experienced some who are in support of the AfroChic mandate as well as those who believe we are divisive and dismissive towards black women by our choice to highlight natural hairstyles (locks, twists, kinks, curls and coils). Outside of these variables, we experience criticism against our personal appearances as a result of this production and its layered relationship with image and community representation. Many have questioned my appearance. People often tell me in varying ways; “If you put on a show about natural hair and all of your marketing, branding and efforts goes towards highlighting the natural hair community – why do you yourself color your hair, wear hair extensions, rock straight weaves, and flat iron your real hair?” “Aren’t you contributing to the self-hate and standardization of the Eurocentric beauty value system that you fight against?”

These are very layered and powerful, important questions that I have never truly felt the need or had the ability to address until now.

When I first “went natural” back in November 2009, and earlier before that back in summer 2004 – I made the decision to stop relaxing my hair simply for financial, health and fashion reasons. Plain and simple. I wanted to try out new hairstyles that would give me the ability to do creative things without having to put costly chemicals in my hair.

There was no real political, social or emotional agenda tied to this decision. I had a great boyfriend at the time who would listen to me talk about how burnt off my edges were and would see me sacrifice some basic necessities for my bi-monthly committed hair perm or treatment. I decided one day I was over the expensive part of permanently straightened hair, and that I would just be chopping it all off and starting fresh. I also thought to myself “damn I don’t even remember what my hair looks like without perm in it.” So I was up for the challenge.

The first day, it was all good and dandy I loved my short crop and was digging my kinky coily texture. Days, weeks and months went by and I started to feel absolutely bored and bland. I tried the Teeny Weeny Afro (TWA) twist out look, I tried putting a flower behind my ear, tried putting on a headband and rocking out but I was truly bored and feeling uncomfortable.  My good friends and boyfriend at the time would say very uplifting things to me like; “Don’t worry about it Amoye, it will grow soon, you’ll love it.” But it took forever to grow for me.

After hours and hours of constant YouTube do-it-yourself videos, articles upon articles of “This is my hair journey, it only took 3 years from my TWA to grow my hair to my waist” I started to lose patience and belief in the life-changing ability of natural hair and the internet! I thought to myself; “How long is this thing going to take?”  “Don’t I have a graduation coming up?”  “I have events to attend and life to live I can’t be so consumed with this natural hair stuff, spending money on all these products – way more money spent than when I was relaxing” “I’m taking back control of my life…” so I bought a few wigs and kept it moving.

My friends and I then formed AfroChic and as I struggled through my TWA phase, the powerful message we tried to connect to our audience started to resonate with me. Our fashion show featured beautiful women who were proud of their natural tresses at all lengths and styles. They mesmerized and wowed the crowd with their confident strides and powerful visual proclamation of self-acceptance.  After the first and second show, we had incredible feedback. There were people emailing us left, right and center, telling us that they had just done the “Big Chop” after coming to our show, or that they feel inspired and proud of what we were doing and we should also be proud of ourselves. I was proud of what we created and excited for the future, but I never really tied my personal hair journey into what we were trying to do as much as everyone had wanted. I thought to myself, “just a few more inches and then I’ll do more twist outs” or “in a year or so I’ll start locks” etc. I was never firmly committed to embodying the image I glorified through my show because I began to feel that AfroChic was a movement beyond our personal journeys. Although I was one of the founding members, I was still trying to find that “inner AfroChic” in me – I just was not “there” or “her” yet.

Time has since passed and as we have grown as an exhibit, attracting close to a thousand attendees and supporters over the years combined, I have grown and began to accept me for me. I have begun to trust my ability to express myself and fashion through my hair and styles whether I’m rocking a twist out with the hair growing out of my scalp or marley twists with hair I bought in the store, or straightened hair I bought from an online based black business woman.  I have not been as consumed with “natural hair identity” and aligning myself with the AfroChic brand because I have never stated I was here to be a brand. I was here to create an event that showed women, including myself, including my little sister, including my mother that natural hair styles and natural beauty is attainable and it exists.  Natural hair, is not some foreign look that is only sported by girls with “good hair” or those who do not have “professional jobs” or women who cannot afford to go to the salon. We highlight 4C hair, we highlight 3A hair because at times, we do not see our own selves in the systems and structures that rely on our subscriptions and our dollars for support.

The beauty and entertainment industry have recently gone crazy over Lupita Nyongo, and for understandable reasons – the woman is drop dead gorgeous.  I am absolutely certain that through her existence alone, thousands, probably even millions of little girls can confidently look into the mirror and feel they are beautiful, they are accepted and desired just as they are. And even the Melissa’s, Fatima’s, Hyancinth,’s Latoya’s of our community who do not have the perfectly smooth chocolate skin, high cheek bones, perfectly chiseled TWA’s and world-class Harvard education – I think they too feel a sense of pride when they see Lupita gracing TV screens across the globe.

And now that “society” has given her a platform and recognizes her beauty as the new standard, this creates space for more dialogue and will hopefully usher in more support for women the sexy and voluptuous size of Jill Scott or those without the commanding hips and curves of Nicki Minaj or Beyonce. Lupita has re-ignited this dialogue for an incredibly large audience and unintentionally created a new standard of beauty through her brand and identity.

As a black woman communicating in a space with other black women and sisters of color, I personally feel the need to continue dialogue around the topic of self-representation and further re-examine the ways in which our obsession with hair texture and naturally hair styling can sometime lead to oppression. When did being “natural” make you more “conscious” and more “down to earth?” When did having straight hair, or wearing a weave make you “insecure” or “weak” in the context of black beauty and identity?

Amoye Henry is a Project Manager based out of Toronto Canada. She is the co-founder of AfroChic, a cultural arts exhibit that thrived in Toronto from 2009-2014. She currently works in health care and tries to travel as much as she can. She loves hard and triumphs often.

Stopped relaxing my hair simply for financial, health and fashion reasons #bhs #naturalhair Click To Tweet

As a black woman communicating in a space with other black women and sisters of color, I personally feel the need to continue dialogue around the topic of self-representation and further re-examine the ways in which our obsession with hair texture and naturally hair styling can sometime lead to oppression.



5 Things I Didn’t Know Before Going Natural

Going natural is no easy task–it wasn’t easy for me, and it probably won’t be easy for you. Being healthy in all respects is so necessary, and that includes having a healthy head of hair. Ridding your hair of harmful chemicals, heat and unnecessary manipulation is important and good for you in the grand scheme of things, but it doesn’t mean it is a smooth ride.

Going natural is like having a baby–every woman’s journey is different, and no matter how much literature you read, it’s never the way you expect it to be. I would say I have a combination of 3B, 3C and 4A hair, and before I went natural I chemically straightened my hair and straightened my hair daily for the span of 5 years.

I finally decided to go natural around 5 months ago when I became more active and couldn’t keep up with the time commitment needed to maintain my straight tresses. Admittedly, my broken flat iron helped catapult the decision. I used to straighten my hair daily, with no natural hair days in between. Then one day, I went cold turkey and just stopped.

Here are some of the things that I discovered:

  1. My curl pattern changed

    As a child, my hair was more wavy/ curly, falling into the 3A category. Consistent artificial manipulation changed my curl pattern in ways I had no idea was possible. My hair changed from being 3A to an erratic combination of 3B, 3C and 4A, leaving behind no signs of my previous spirals. This was a hard blow- especially since my hair was already difficult to take care of with one texture. Having to learn to care of three new hair types made me want to pull every single rebellious strand out in frustration.

  2. Finding the right routine

    I constantly heard about how difficult it is to find the right routine with natural hair, and like ghost stories, I chose to ignore them. But the stories are true. There are so many factors that go into taming a natural mane–humidity, a cloudless sky or a light drizzle, products used, the amount of water in your hair, air drying vs. blow drying… The right routine is a fine art, and finding it can take months, even years. Your body is constantly changing, and the needs of your hair change with it too. The key to keeping your sanity is taking each day as it comes, embracing your good days and shrugging off the bad ones.

  3. Shrinkage

    Shrinkage is probably one of the biggest factors that deter women from going natural – the time commitment that goes into growing out your hair can be ludicrous. When straight, my hair would touch my lower back. It took me over 3 years to get my shoulder length hair to that length. The intensity of shrinkage depends on the day; some days my hair is down to my lower back, and other days my hair is up to my shoulders. The inconsistency can be frustrating, especially on days when it seems like I’ve lost half my hair.

  4. Terminology

    The amount of products, hairstyles and routines out there is overwhelming. Trying to figure out where to start made me feel like I was drowning. Should I do a twist-out or a braid-out? Should I sleep on silk sheets or cotton? Is silicone serum good or bad? Should I use coconut oil or shea butter? All the options and terms were so overwhelming that I didn’t know where to start. What I learnt was taking it one step at a time and experimentation is the only thing that works for me.

  5. Learning about myself

    I had no idea how much I would learn about myself when I went natural. I learnt life is full of full of ups and downs, and that embracing the good days and letting go of the bad days was key to maintaining my sanity.

I had no idea how much I would learn about myself when I went natural. #bhs #naturalhair Click To Tweet

My hair became an extension of my self-expression, and a huge part of my identity. I learnt that I wasn’t going to look perfect all the time, but that imperfection is perfection.



My Natural Hair Journey

With big hair comes big responsibility. The weight of the curls brushing against me was too heavy a burden for my shoulders to bear. My natural hair journey is one filled with ups and downs–disappointments that shook my self-esteem to the core then bounced me back up. My entire being moved to the bounce of the spiral texture that is my hair.

The power of the curl is something only a person with curly hair can understand. I am coming to terms with it, and take each day as it comes, but boy has it been hard.

It is getting better though.

I grew up feeling like some freak of nature. My East Indian roots didn’t seem to sync with my curly fro of a mane. My sister has thick wavy “East Indian” hair. My brother’s hair has always been really thick but too short to make comparisons. How did I end up looking the way that I did? Am I adopted? Do I have African blood in my lineage? Did my mother have an affair and I’m the offspring of a milkman?!

It was hard when I was younger. I remember looking at my cousins with deep envy as they detangled their silky straight hair with a brush. A NORMAL HAIR BRUSH! My hair breaks brushes. They would stand by the mirror and brush their glossy straight hair and look at me with feigned pity and say with a flick of their silky strands, “Aren’t you hot? I feel hot just looking at you”.

I just wanted to fit in and look like the other kids. I would often be the odd one in dance performances – my hair was always in a ponytail because the other hairstyles my dance group would rock wouldn’t hold. The latest hair trends always seemed to favour straight hair. At swimming practice, my hair wouldn’t stay in my swim cap, leaving my hair drenched and green after every swim practice. I didn’t know where to start when it came to styling it. I always wore it up in a ponytail pulled so tight I would get headaches, all in the hopes that my new growth would somehow be straight.

Growing up, my mum took care of my hair–she brushed and tied it every morning. Being the strong-headed child I was, at the age of 10 I proclaimed that I was old enough to take on the responsibility of styling my own hair. My mum protested, I protested even harder until she eventually gave in. I was in over my head by the first day. My baby chicken arms would hurt trying to brush my knots out. What did I know about sectioning? So I fell into the routine of brushing just the tops of my hair, tying it into my too tight ponytail, then rushing out of the house before my mother could get the chance to see me.
This routine continued for 2 weeks, before I was eventually caught. I remember sitting in the special chair my mum kept to sit on when she did my hair, my knees shaking and my lips quivering knowing the neck yanking that was to follow. My knots were so bad and my hair so matted that the only solution was to tie my hair in a ponytail and chop it right off. I was sent to school with eyes puffy and red and visions of my mangled ponytail on my bedroom floor.

Haircuts are a nightmare. I dread having to walk in to the hairdresser and have all the stylists gather around and stare at my hair, while sneaking pity looks at the stylist that has to deal with my mane. I guess you could say that I am a stylist’s nightmare, and my doubled bill represents it. The first time I ever did anything with my hair was in high school when I relaxed it. The results were disastrous. Apart from the burns behind my ears, only the top half of my hair straightened. To my disappointment, my bushy ponytail remained despite numerous attempts to tame it chemically.

I then began straightening my hair with a flat iron after I finished high school. Yes, it took 3 hours every week and I would have to wake up an hour earlier every morning to touch it up–but in my mind, it was worth it. I could do what I wanted with my hair. I didn’t stand out. I looked like every other girl walking down the street. That was what I needed at that time in my life. Looking back, I guess you could say that my straight hair was my safety net. I looked the way I was expected to and didn’t draw too much attention towards myself.

My turning point came about 5 months ago. My lifestyle had changed. I started living a healthier, more conscious lifestyle. Yoga consistently became part of my daily routine, and I became more aware of every ion in my body and every strand of my hair. With sweating daily came the realization of how impractical it was to spend all that time manipulating my hair. So one day, I let go of all the preconceived notions I had about my appearance, and went natural.

The key to living with my hair natural is taking every day as it comes, and learning to let go. In that way, my hair has been a guiding metaphor in my life. My hair has taught me so much about myself. I have learnt to let go and acknowledge that I can’t control everything, and that’s ok. I appreciate every stranger that comes up to me on the street, and entertain the men at that bar that respectfully ask to touch my hair. Embracing my hair has taken me a step closer to the individuality we all seek to have. I love my hair through the good and bad, but especially on the days when the stars align and it does what I want it to. It’s been 5 months and there’s no going back.