(photos by Reza Clifton, Tamara Diaz, and Stephanie Monteiro)

The Shrinkage, The Blow Out & Styling From Curly to Straight:
The Vanity for the Movement Series Returns

PROVIDENCE, RI – Hair, jewelry and out-of-the ordinary fashion statements: yup, I was recently thinking about bringing back my Vanity for the Movement (#vanity4themvmnt) series – a selection of written, photo and video posts on beauty with an #AmbitiousBlackFeminist spin.

Then I got my hair (heat) straightened as part of my look at the RI Black Heritage Ball, which I attended with my friends from the RI Chapter of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women. That’s when I decided to make it a reality. Why? Because while yes, it’s my hair growing out of my own head, and I am my primary hair dresser and stylist, I was still shocked at how long it actually was. 

The phenomenon I was witnessing, the transformation I had undergone, the difference between it’s length in its natural, curly/kinky state and this (temporary) straightened state – why it was no less than a case study on shrinkage. 

Shrinkage is a funny thing, too. For example, “fighting shrinkage” is a normal lens through which I carry out my hair routine. After I wash and moisturize, for instance, I consistently put my hair back to dry in one or more buns, twists, or braids. Why? If I were to let it dry while being out, each strand would curl up with the ends acting as though they were racing to get to my scalp, and the exposure to air and elements would also dry it and invite frizz.

Braiding, twisting, or putting it in a bun, for instance, locks and seals in both it’s natural oils and the products I apply, and it ensures that the shrinkage race will happen at a more tortoise-like speed than that of the hare. But remember, even our shelled friend gets to the finish line – that’s why I say these styles only slow or delay the shrinkage. For me, anyway, these styles and products do not eliminate the curls (thank goodness) nor do they interrupt the destiny each strand feels it’s living out in moving toward my brain and skull.

Incidentally, the braid/bun/twist method is also a technique I apply to “pre-straighten” my hair if I have plans to blow out and flat iron it. Trust and believe me when I tell you that, contrary to how many beauticians and stylists want to start, if you wash my hair as part of straightening it, you are easily adding on three hours to the job. On the other hand, give me a few days to go from wash to two tight braids to one tight braid, and you may be able to get through it in ONE HOUR!

That’s how long my friend Melissa Wilson took recently when I visited her for this recent round of straight(ened) hair adventures. 

Wilson is a Rhode Island-based licensed cosmetologist who prides herself on “providing clients with professional beauty services including hair and makeup artistry.” She has a private salon/studio in Pawtucket – a warm and inviting venue complete with chairs, mirrors, dryers and all beauty salon essentials – where she takes clients by appointment only. This is because Wilson is part of and heavily involved with the community of designers, beauty professionals, and media working in the bridal industry. She also participates in various fashion-related endeavors, all of which is why she requires appointments rather than hosting walk-in hours. 

On my end, I plan to rock the straightened look for a few days longer. Don’t get me wrong; I’m an afro/natural hair OG and lover, but I also like versatility and non-predictability. As I explained to a friend who fretted, slightly, when I issued advanced notice of my intent to straighten (like an RFP for those in the nonprofit and government contract industries), the beauty of curly hair is being able to wear it big and frizzy, wavy, or straight and full. For me personally, I also like hearing, “I didn’t even recognize you." 

So, to maintain, as I have these few days so far, I direct you back up a few paragraphs to the braid/bun/twist method. That’s right; this technique even works once the hair has been straightened! In my case, 1-4 tight buns per night will keep the hair mostly straight – while also giving it a few nice waves. And double or triple-layering protection on my head while I shower will even keep the dreaded edges – with the help of a lil beeswax applied at bedtime before wrapping with a scarf or bandana – in check. 

I conclude here by reminding you – I love curls, kinks and naps. Therefore, I share these photos and stories not to encourage or reinforce straight hair supremacy culture. Why on the contrary, I share this to tell/remind you about the power, pliability and perks that come when those of us with ringlets and coarseness embrace instead of poison them. And then to remind you about how true this is outside of hair and beauty too. 

Yours in Curls,
Reza Rites

For more information about Melissa Wilson Hair and Makeup Artistry, visit www.mawbeautystudio.com, email info@mawbeautystudio.com, or call 401-678-0179.

To see past Vanity for the Movement posts, visit www.ambitiousblackfeminist.com or click here