How One Beauty Editor Finally Perfected Her Natural Haircare Routine
Original Illustration by Stephanie DeAngelis
Here at Byrdie, we know that beauty is way more than braid tutorials and mascara reviews. Beauty is identity. Our hair, our facial features, our bodies: They can reflect culture, sexuality, race, even politics. We needed somewhere on Byrdie to talk about this stuff, so... welcome to The Flipside (as in the flipside of beauty, of course!), a dedicated place for unique, personal, and unexpected stories that challenge our society's definition of "beauty." Here, you'll find cool interviews with LGBTQ+ celebrities, vulnerable essays about beauty standards and cultural identity, feminist meditations on everything from thigh brows to eyebrows, and more. The ideas our writers are exploring here are new, so we'd love for you, our savvy readers, to participate in the conversation, too. Be sure to comment your thoughts (and share them on social media with the hashtag #TheFlipsideOfBeauty). Because here, on The Flipside, everybody gets to be heard.
For decades (centuries, even) naturally curly hair has gotten an unfair and, frankly, discriminatory reputation. While there's still work to be done, the mainstream media is finally beginning to recognize and feature the empowering beauty that comes along with a woman's God-given hair texture. It's imperative to celebrate what we're born with, no?
As such, I reached out to a striking, intelligent woman in the industry to tell her hair story. (I've stalked her on Instagram for months.) She happily obliged, discussing topics spanning from haircare to racism, and her own personal journey toward hair love and acceptance. I thought it more appropriate to use her own words, so keep reading to hear hair musings and thoughts directly from Essence Gant, BuzzFeed's beauty editor.
"Growing up, I didn't know my natural texture to really have a feeling about it. One of my favorite beauty icons, though, was and is Pam Grier, and I admired her Afro! As a kid and teen, I went from getting it pressed, to getting it relaxed, and then pressed again in college. I wore my hair straight just because that's how all the black girls I knew wore their hair. I finally transitioned with weaves my senior year of college, mainly because my big sister, who's a stylist and salon owner, was like 'I'm not relaxing your hair anymore.' Can't argue when you're getting your hair laid for free, so I was just like, 'Cool.' Right before grad school, I chopped off the remaining relaxer and LOVED it immediately. It was really cool because, for the first time that I could remember, I saw and felt my natural texture. I wouldn't go back to relaxers ever. My natural hair has really become apart of my look and identity.
"I wear an Afro puff the most because it's easiest, but I feel the most 'me' when I blow my curls out so my hair is really, really big—not blown out straight but just into a big 'fro. I love big hair because it makes a statement like, 'Hey, world! I'm here.' I think it's important as a woman, and a black woman, to make bold statements with my presence.
I think it's important as a woman, and a black woman, to make bold statements with my presence.
"I think [the current rhetoric surrounding natural beauty] is a step in the right direction. For so long, black women have been fed harmful narratives about our appearance, especially regarding complexion and hair. Straight hair without any kink or curl has been so long ingrained in us as the ideal beauty. And it's fine if you prefer straight hair, but you should always make sure it's achieved in the healthiest way possible and that you're doing it just because it's your preference and not because you're scared your natural texture won't measure up to beauty standards. I think the new natural beauty movement provides balance and inclusion. If you want straight hair, you can do that. And if you want curly, kinky, wavy hair, you can do that too! Everybody gets a seat at the table.
Straight hair without any kink or curl has been so long ingrained in us as the ideal beauty.
"The biggest, and most offensive, misconception is that natural hair is unprofessional. How is the natural texture that naturally grows out of someone's head unprofessional? I'm always taken aback when I hear of companies who make their employees straighten their hair, or who discriminate against people of color in the interview process for wearing their natural texture. That is so strongly rooted in racism.
"[I love that my hair is] thick and big. My Afro puff reminds me of a crown because it's so full and stands so tall. I learned that my hair looks and feels best, and is its healthiest, when I use as few products as possible. There are so many products out there, but who needs 10 things on their hair every day? That's doing way too much. Shampoo, conditioner and mask, and a moisture product: Less is more for my hair. I also learned that drugstore haircare products just don't do well by my hair either. I think it's because they're loaded with so many preservatives. I wish they worked for me, though, because I'd save so much money. But for the best-feeling and -looking results, I gotta invest. I'm okay with investing in my hair and cutting back in other ways, like taxis and cocktails, if I have to.
My Afro puff reminds me of a crown because it's so full and stands so tall.
"My haircare routine is super simple. My daily routine is to spray it with water, dab on a little edge control (either ORS Olive Oil Edge Control, $6, or Creme of Nature Argan Oil Perfect Edges, $6), and brush it up into an Afro puff. That's literally it. But on washday, I usually shampoo with Ouidad's Curl Immersion Co-Wash Cleansing Conditioner ($36). It [suds] up but not so much that your hair is left feeling dry and stripped. Then I follow up with Ouidad's Curl Immersion Triple Treat Deep Conditioner ($38). I also apply Ouidad's Curl Recovery Melt-Down Extreme Repair Mask ($44) while the conditioner is sitting. (No, Ouidad is not paying me. I just love them that much!) That mask is the best detangler I've ever used in my life! My hair is super thick, and when I apply this stuff to wet hair, I can comb straight through my curls. It's magic. I'll then either two-strand twist my hair all over to detangle it and then wash out the product the next day, or if I'm feeling lazy, I'll just wash it out without the extra detangling step. I'm not too picky about the moisture product I apply after, as long as it makes my hair feel good. I usually go for a nice and thick hair butter or cream. Some good ones are Darcy's Botanicals Peach Kernel Hair Milk ($12) and Kurlee Belle Kurl Defining Crème ($16). And that's it. I don't really do thorough product pull-throughs, because I don't like my curls super defined. I just want my natural-looking ringlets. I love a big-hair, cute, but not perfect look!"
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For more girls with curls, read these curly-hair love stories from real women (and find out their holy-grail products).