CurlyNikki visits Brazil and discovers how hair connects us all.
Looking for motivation to determine my next vacay destination, I remembered several alarming articles written by Marques of Black Women of Brazil about race and hair relations in Brazil. I then heard about an organization called Estimativa (means 'esteem' in Portuguese) that works primarily to empower women of color and couldn't help but want to do a little more. After some thought and emailing back and forth with the organization, I thought it'd be pretty cool to bring the CurlyNikki community with me to Rio, armed with curl knowledge and translated articles to share. I called my good friend Mahisha at CURLS and she wanted to get in on the action too and donated hundreds of products.
Brazil is known for beautiful people of color and highly textured tresses. I've played witness and it's no myth. I had the pleasure of spending an entire evening with the women of Estimativa and despite the language barrier, we were able to communicate our best practices, favorite products and frustrations and triumphs. I took three points away from my impromptu meet-up with the women.
Simplicity, 1, Doing the Most, 0 - Our curly Brazilian sisters have very limited access to products. Not only are they scarce on the ground, the cost and time to order online is quite prohibitive. Along with exorbitant shipping costs, they have to pay taxes to the tune of 30 to 70 percent (say it with me now… DAMN!). We shared a lot of commonalities, but product junkyism, yeah, not one of them. Every beautiful head of hair you see above was styled with water, fingers and little coconut oil or shea butter. How's that for keeping it simple? Perhaps all the twisting, braiding, banding, rolling and knotting is not always necessary. These girls are achieving disrespectfully huge, non TSA-friendly fros (who gon' check me boo!) with once-a-week washings and minimal manipulation. Their hair made my hair want a hat!
We're Not So Different- So there was an obvious language barrier and everyone's excitement to share and learn was a bit overwhelming for Nina, the only one in the bunch who spoke both Portuguese and English fluently. Much of everything from either side had to be filtered through her. At one point she grabbed the bridge of her nose in frustration, and speaking above the ladies asking her to relay questions to me, she smiled and said, "Woo! We get excited when hair is the subject, but this is ridiculous!" Somehow we talked about everything from relationships, to music, to the way Black women are portrayed in the media and were surprised that— and not to be cliché— it's the same old song. Solidarity.
Meet-up Deja Vu- It was cool how the tea party turned in to what for me was a very familiar and comfortable situation—a natural hair gathering complete with product talk, folks sharing and chatting it up and hair touching. I loved the diversity of styles and textures and hearing about how they too go through the same stages of insecurity and worries when transitioning— "professionalism" and "attractiveness," etc. Y’all know.
The ladies wanted to stress that the hairstyles in the room were not an accurate representation of the hair situation in Rio. Natural hair is the exception and although, like in America, it's on the rise, the beauty standard remains bone straight or maybe even looser curls and lighter skin. The women of Estimativa are spearheading the revolution in Brazil, which is majority Black, to not only accept but embrace their bodies, their hair, their skin and their natural beauty. I found it very interesting and inspiring how much these women do for their community with such limited resources. The programs Estimativa organizes are bountiful, offering discussions and informing on self-esteem, health, natural hair, violence, and the history of Black women that have contributed to the construction of their society. They work with both children and adults. Check them out on Facebook and tell them Nikki sent you!
Nikki "CurlyNikki" Walton is a successful psychotherapist and creator of one of the most credible online sources about natural hair care, maintenance, and decoding the psychological ties between black women and their hair. Visit her at her blog CurlyNikki or follow her on Twitter @CurlyNikki.