I often wonder about the thousands of dollars I would have saved, hours in time, if I had “different” hair. If it wasn’t just so “my hair.” When I stop to think about it, what I really mean is straight Eurocentric white hair. No matter how self-actualized I am, how bathed in self-love – there is still the small internal inkling that says, “Well wouldn’t it be easier?”
Nneya Richards Shares Her Hair Journey
These recent months, before NYC went on lockdown, that “wouldn’t it be easier” led me to rush to the beauty supply store to get braiding hair and try out knotless braids based on YouTube tutorials. I didn’t want to have to “think” about my hair not being done, and I didn’t know how many weeks the quarantine would last. Recently, since living in Italy, I’ve become proficient at my own sew-in weaves, and crochet braids as I am unable to find stylists at the level I was used to in NYC. And, after getting a chemical cut in 2006 from a black hair salon in Milan, I’ve been pretty gun-shy to try again. I get my aptitude for styling my hair from my mama, she did a stint in beauty school as a teen. She’s had long locs, short curls, finger waves, you name it! Whenever I go to a stylist, I end up tweaking the look after I leave the chair. I know what looks natural and best on me. Plus, being pretty tactile, I observe their techniques, feel around my head and have gotten proficient at perfecting a look to my personal taste.
So with the world about to lockdown, I decided I’d try braids again. I haven’t worn braids since my freshman year of college. At Amherst, in the throes of WASPdom, my switch to a straight weave from braids made sense. At the time I asked my mom for it, I saw it as a more mature, grown-up look. Though I didn’t really understand a weave. I got one the summer after my freshman year, went to my friend’s 21st birthday party and the compliments unleashed a new me! “Omg! Just like Naomi Campbell!” By the way, before any major hair decisions, I consult archive photos of Naomi Campbell and Kelly Rowland. They’re celebs with a similar face shape as my own, and I decide if they can pull it off so can I. I wore straight weaves in side parts and middle parts throughout college, even forayed into bangs, sometimes when I cut my bangs I’d give pieces to my white girlfriend Kelly to add into her hair. Even before Amherst, at Trinity, I went to school in a pretty white environment and while Eurocentric beauty standards were subtly enforced — so many nose jobs — I was never made to feel less than because of my hair. Maybe exoticized occasionally in that, “I wish I had your hair” way, but always from a positive.
“Wouldn’t it be easier to manage” is why I begged my mom for my first perm.
Hair is such a pivotal part of the experience of a young black girl. As a kid, I spent countless hours in my mom’s lap as she braided my hair, combing through it and setting it just so. I remember being proud of my patience, while cousins and childhood friends who brought their daughters to my mom to do their hair lamented at the girls being “tender-headed.” “I never cry!” I often proudly exclaimed. In fact, I often fell asleep, I still do when getting my hair done — it’s a problem.
Since perming my hair and going natural, my hair is a lot coarser than that of my youth. My hair was always what my mom called fine, and it wasn’t that thick. Looking back at pictures recently, I was surprised. I’m playing in the water and I had inches haha! For picture days my mom would press it and I’d look fresh, but nevertheless, almost as a right of passage back then, I begged my mom for a kiddie perm. I finally got one going into high school. I don’t know why I miraculously thought my hair would go straight down my back. But for the most part, I wore my hair in braids after my first perm through my freshman year of college and even started straightening them at one point. I picked up some weird habits from my white friends. Like Christian from Long Island who I went to summer camp with. She would actually use an iron on her hair for premium flatness. So I tried it too!
In my early days in fashion, the black girl hair template was a straight or wavy weave, unless you worked at a magazine like Essence. There was an element of fitting in. I think it was Raven Simone who said a relaxer keeps the white people relaxed around you. I used to do a lot of modelling for Refinery29. I remember one hair wrap story had message boards in an uproar because Refinery29 didn’t mention that I was wearing a weave. Some of the harshest comments came from black women — also some of my and Refinery29’s biggest defenders. But never-the-less it stung. That Chris Rock documentary “Good Hair” was jarring to me. I watched it and was immediately off of the creamy crack for 4 months. Then I was back on it and wearing my hair in a straight lob with a few tracks sometimes, but often my own hair. Keeping my hair bone straight for the look during this time caused damage. I would get a Dominican blow out every other week. I’d lament about it with a good childhood friend of mine who was white and also wore wigs due to alopecia. Occasionally, I’d mix it up with wigs, but I have a pretty low hairline and found they were horrible on my edges. As I made the transition to travel writing and launching my blog, NAPerfectWorld.com, I wanted my hair to be “manageable.” And for a while, this was a long wavy weave. Wigs, or at least the way I wore them, weren’t conducive to how reckless I was when I traveled, cliff diving, surfing, etc. Even now, my partner teases me because I seriously consider before I dip into the ocean with him, “my roots!”
“I don’t know what to do with your hair”
Just three years ago, I went with my friend V to an Oscars watching party. The brand was a pageant dress style brand and treated us to hair and makeup at the event. I pretty much went with hair and makeup done, and boy was I glad. The hair and makeup team were “not what I was used to” having been on fashion sets. They had a small-town junior prom hair and makeup vibe. I had a curly weave at the time as I was transitioning back to natural hair and asked the stylist to enhance my more curl definition. She just looked at it, put her hands in, and said with confusion, “I don’t know what to do with your hair. It’s really greasy.” We black girls have to moisturize our hair to prevent breakage, and I have products that moisturize weaves. I could feel my face burning as V looked over and asked what was going on. I sharply looked at this junior stylist and said, “When I’m on the set of teenVOGUE and Refinery29, they don’t seem to have a problem. Maybe it’s just the caliber of stylists there.” Her Hispanic male colleague took over after hearing my tone and apologized on her behalf. My hair turned out great.
This one time surfing in Sayulita…
It was my first time in Sayulita, Mexico. I was there for some peace of mind and to learn to surf in early September between jobs in fashion. I had not thought about travel writing at this time. I had a wig because I wanted to give my hair a break and wouldn’t be going into an office. It was a human hair wig, that I ordered to custom fit and pinned it down with hair combs and had my hair braided underneath. One afternoon my little body was particularly rocked by a wave and while adjusting my swimsuit I popped up and realized I lost my wig! I’m in the waves, looking at the beach, thinking, “That’s that. First day of my trip!” Luckily the riptide hadn’t hit yet and it floated past me — I thought it was a sea creature. I grabbed it, plopped it on my head and jogged to a beach bathroom to adjust. That wig STILL has sand in all of its crevices that I couldn’t get out. So while wigs are an option, during my travels, I’m not the best at wigs. I felt powerful with my long wavy weaves. While I was in Lima, Peru people said I reminded them of indigenous ancestors. I got my hair from Indique & True Indian Hair, purchasing from both companies from their beginnings. Seeing both brands’ growth, especially Karen Mitchell as a Caribbean-American woman makes me proud. Often black people aren’t the ones making money in the black haircare industry. Premium quality hair, pretty expensive too, but well worth it and you get multiple wears out of it — think like $400 easy on just the hair part of getting your hair done. I rewash and save. Sometimes I take them out and my mom asks if I’m opening a hair shop. Again, I would cry if I calculated how much I spent on my hair in JUST the last 10 years including hair and products. Now with my braids and crochet braids, I’m even making some of my own products, modeling after Naturall Club. I mix my own leave-in conditioner and keep it in the freezer. Jamaican black castor oil is a must for my edges and I recently ordered a homemade black castor oil and chebe hair cream on Etsy that can be used as a hair cream or body butter. Look at me, a natural shea butter queen! Who would have thought!
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The warm weather hit and I was craving seafood and watching #RHOM so I made my #tunaceviche. My memory bank through food is so rich and deep. I remember eating my weight in #ceviche through #Lima… devouring a treasure chest full of ceviche and plaintains @epichotel in #Miami with @scaglione_michele — when I first made it for him in London, he had never had it before and didn’t tell me but was game to try, and joyriding in the Hamptons to Devon with @paddymeltt leading to a trunk full of chimichurri sauce and tuna ceviche… it’s amazing how a spoonful of deliciousness can take you back. – tuna – lime juice – lemon juice – soy sauce – ginger – avocado – spring onions – red onions – jalapeños – tomatillos – cilantro – plaintains #quarantinecooking #easyrecipes
That “It Gets Better Moment”
One of my best friends Sophie Elgort was leaving Trinity and had a photoshoot of all of our girlfriends at her dad Arthur Elgort’s studio. It was just one of those days where I wasn’t feeling very confident, my look wasn’t exactly right, I should have gone with a knee-length skirt instead of a mini, my hair was between fresh braiding sessions and was pretty much just my hair braided and grown out, without the added length and polish of a freshly done look. Sophie’s godfather and hair legend, Christiaan Houtenbos was on-set at the time. He looked at me and said I had “the only interesting hair [there].” It was a passing comment, but I beamed with pride. I keep Christiaan’s words in my head when I’m in Italy. Wearing my hair in Crochet braids mixed with its natural state has gotten a lot of attention here. In New York, there’s the “cool hair” comment and New Yorkers keep it moving. But Italians are really up in your face. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to someone thinking it’s ok to reach out and touch my hair. I’ve moved from shocked horror to passive-aggressively doing it back. Agreeing with the ask that often comes with the touch, “Can I have some of your hair?” “Yes! You need it!”
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I’m a full on night owl, but I sure do love when the days get longer. Even from my apartment now, I smile when I look at the time and see dusk coming on after 8. This is my favorite time of the year… and though I might not be able to mark it with an aperitivo, lockdown hasn’t changed that. #nydolcevita #dolcevitahome #naperfectworld #bergamo #melaninpoppin
I love my adult braids. I’ll definitely do them again for the summer months. My partner is hoping he can help too! He likes to get in the mix with my haircare products and asks the questions! You should see the way his face lights up to see my brushing my edges. He cheers “nice edges!” I don’t think that’s normal for a white Italian man. His family is in knitwear, and so his dad is fascinated by the texture of my hair, hair in general as part of his craftsmanship. It’s pretty funny looking at it like that. My hair is closer to wool but has the delicacy of silk, which the strands of Michele’s is closer too, and we can go on….
Since living in Italy and having to style my hair on my own, I have had the time to reflect on the awesome stylists I’ve had throughout my hair journey. Before the days of Instagram, the salon experience was a highly anticipated social moment — now stylists have rules, you can’t bring friends, hair must be blown out… I fondly remember practicing my Spanish with Margo while getting my Dominican blowout. My friend and my older Jamaican weave stylist Trixie would share stories of my mom and uncle’s youth – she’s known my family forever. When I wanted to do balayage and applied too much blonde, she said to me, “You’re not a party girl!” I remember my first time at an African hair braiding parlor and learning about Senegal from my stylist. I sat there with wide eyes as she burnt the ends of the braiding hair to “close it” and dipped it in water. I remember going to my mom’s stylist Caroline as a kid and spending the whole day there with my mom reading magazines, listening to grown women talk. I do miss that sisterhood that you find in salons — a YouTube tutorial just doesn’t cut it.
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