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What I Learned at My First Natural Hair Meetup

My hair journey has been filled with surprises and disappointments, but most importantly, discovery

I remember the first time I got hair extensions. It was my freshman year of college, and, up until then, the most action my hair had ever seen came from a flat iron. My roommate — who wrapped her hair every night, and whose desk was blanketed with enough creams, oils, and gels to stock a local beauty supply store — was the first person to take my short, thin ponytail and turn it into something long and full, with the help of some smartly-placed hair tracks. I was elated, and ready to try more.

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That was just one of the many standout experiences from my hair journey; a journey that's been filled with surprises, disappointments, and most importantly, discovery.

Since then, I’ve experimented with everything from lavender color to beaded twists and an ill-advised pixie cut. I’ve never been afraid to try something once, without knowing what the end result will be. This is the beauty of Black hair: it’s versatile and strong enough to handle just about anything I throw its way. And the most gratifying side effect of being a beauty chameleon is the ability to carry this source of confidence to other parts of my life.

All these curlies!! ➰➰ @naturalpartnersincrime #hueaffairnycinhmd2016 #HueAffair #INHMD

A photo posted by #CurlsAndCocktailsTakeover™ (@thecurlybunch) on

I’d be lying if I told you this was a life-long mindset. Although my mother rarely straightened or added relaxers to my hair growing up, I had an underlying insecurity about my bushy, curly mane. I secretly pined for the straight hair on the drugstore hair-dye boxes. I don’t know who to blame for this false sense of inadequacy, but thanks to the natural hair community, I’m hopeful that the next generation of Black girls won’t have to feel the way I did.

Working in the beauty industry has granted me insider access to this growing sector. A typical day for me includes collaborating with beauty business owners, crafting how-tos that speak to the Black hair experience, and researching the ingredients typically found in most products.

Beyond what I like to call the Holy Trinity of natural hair — coconut, argan, and avocado oils — the list of recommended ingredients and techniques is always expanding and, consequently, challenging us to stay current. As this list continues to evolve, the natural hair community has invented methods beyond digital curation — these demonstrational videos, product recommendations on beauty blogs — to keep up with it all.

Meetups for Black women are becoming more popular because they foster real life interactions, where attendees can learn from and with each other. This past weekend, I got a taste of that camaraderie while attending the Brooklyn stop of the International Natural Hair Meetup. Since it was my first time attending this type of event, I had only one expectation: that there would be a lot people. And I was right.

Upon arriving at the Sheraton Hotel near Jay Street, I couldn’t avoid a line that extended far past the outside entrance. Dozens upon dozens of impeccably dressed women populated the space, taking selfies and exchanging contact info with one another. The event may have been a fun, weekend leisure activity, but making business connections appeared to be an underlying objective.

As we inched toward the registration table, the mood became lighthearted and jubilant. Organizers greeted us as if we were family, and invited attendees to jump out of line for a picture in front of the step-and-repeat. Even though there weren’t any barbecue grills or tacky T-shirts to wear, it felt very much like the old-school family reunions you eventually learn to love. That feeling never left me as I entered the crowded vendor space, where I realized three very important things.

First, we are beautiful.

This goes without saying, but seeing a room full of women who look like you is a tremendous confidence booster. There were so many different shades of brown skin and hair textures; I was overwhelmed in the best way possible. Black beauty isn’t skin deep, and when Black women are gathered like this, it gives me the kind of glow I can feel from the inside out.

This all goes way beyond the beauty business.

What I loved about the INHMU is that the vendor list wasn’t exclusive to beauty brands, and it included a lot of independent fashion labels run by Black women, featuring Afrocentric collections from The Wrap Life and Li Li’s Creations. Who needs to shop at department stores when there are this many independent brands to choose from?

I noticed a lot of the brands were a family operation, and saw everything from an elderly mother handing out samples of her daughter’s body salve to a woman overseeing the sales for her sister’s haircare line. It only took minutes to understand the amount of love and time required to grow an independent business. If I ever choose to go into business for myself, I’m comforted by the fact that I’ll have this community to support me.

There’s always something new to learn.

One of the best pieces of advice I heard all weekend was from Obia Ewah, a chemist who owns her own natural haircare line. She urged the crowd to be "practice junkies," not "product junkies," meaning that hair journeys are personal ones. What works for one person may not work for you, even if you share the same texture.

For instance, I’ve used countless butters, but learned after a quick assessment that I should be using a lightweight cream instead because of my curl pattern. Wavy hair exists on its very own spectrum, which makes crafting your own regimen that much more important. This is the ultimate benefit to attending a meetup: by gathering with hundreds of women, you end up learning the most about yourself. The Black hair community has so much to offer, and now that I’ve experienced it on this scale, I know I’ve barely scratched the surface in my quest for the best beauty secrets.

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