The star of "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" chats with CurlyNikki about her new love of natural hair.
One year into her healthy hair journey, Kimberly Elise, the acclaimed actress best known for her roles in “Set It Off,” “John Q,” “Diary of a Mad Black Woman,” and “For Colored Girls,” talked with CurlyNikki about how natural hair has changed her life. Kim pre-poos and utilizes protective styles, and is now a member of the natural hair community, even calling sites like CurlyNikki, the Natural Hair University!
Embracing Your Curls at Any Age!
CurlyNikki: Your hair is stunning, so thick and healthy. Have you always been natural?
Kimberly Elise: I had my last relaxer in the early 2000s. I grew up with the pressing comb, had a Jheri curl and then I started relaxers. I have a very sensitive scalp and no matter what I did, they always burned. My hair wasn’t happy and didn’t do well. I just stopped at a certain point, and my last one was probably in 2000 or 2001. I reverted to using the pressing comb, then I tried braids, sort of leaving it alone, and I found that that made it really grow.
Then, just last summer, I thought I’d try something a little different. I had heard about the keratin thing and I understood it to be a temporary process — something you could put in and wash out in like two months. I thought it would be a nice change. Well, it didn’t wash out and my curls were gone. It was really upsetting. I pulled back again, put it in and braids to let it grow, and recently cut off about 6 inches — all the keratin. Now I finally have my curls back.
It’s been almost a year of letting it regrow itself. That’s where I am now. My curls are back, and honestly, I didn’t know a whole lot about how to take care of my natural hair until this last year. I learned so much on your site. I don’t even know how I stumbled across it. It’s, like, so educational — a university for natural hair.
I’ve also learned so much from Youtube, everyone from CurlyChronicles, Naptural85 to NaturalChica and Kimmaytube. I so love and appreciate the community and I’ve learned what my hair does, what it is, and how it thrives in a way that I really never understood before. I felt like I’d been given a key to a secret room and all the answers are in that room. It’s very empowering because you really are in your own little world trying to figure it out. To find this whole community of support and education and sharing information — it was refreshing.
CN: I see that you’ve been wearing your natural hair on the red carpet quite a bit. How has it been received?
KE: I’m extremely protective of my hair, so I don’t let them use it. In my last movie, they wanted to style my hair, and I said no. I’ll do wigs, but I don’t want the stress on my strands. There are too many people who don’t know how to take care of it, and I’d be bald by the end of the production. It’s too sensitive for the rigors of production.
As for your question, people love my natural hair. Certainly on the red carpet. They’re also excited to see natural hair out and wearing it and feeling free about it. I’ve received nothing but compliments and good feedback from just being myself.
CN: What’s your current routine and staple products?
KE: I went through the whole junkie phase and tried all types of things. Now I have a very simple routine. I spritz day and night with rosemary water I make myself. I get rosemary herbs from Whole Foods and boil them and let them sit overnight in purified water. Then, I’ll either use shea butter or coconut oil to seal in the moisture. And that’s it! Very simple.
I’m still trying to find the right shampoo because I’m very particular about products. I’m a vegan, I was a vegetarian for 13 years and just became a vegan. And I’m very particular about natural products, organic products, and that’s been like my biggest challenge. And, that’s why my routine is so simple because I am so selective.
Mostly I pre-poo with Aubrey Honey Suckle Rose Moisturizing Conditioner or coconut oil. Then I was using the Giovanni to shampoo, but it wasn’t quite right for me. So I’m still searching there. And I find that that’s a part of it too — the journey to find what works.
My mom is on the journey with me. She’s been natural forever, but didn’t really know how to care for her hair. She grew up saying, “black girls don’t like water.”
We need water. We need to drink it and put it on our hair. So she’s really on this journey with me too. Things that don’t work for her might work for me, and vice versa. I’m still figuring out what’s best for me, which is why I don’t want to put a brand name out there.
On Sunday, I’ll shampoo and condition. It’s an all day thing. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I’m in a protective style. I have learned that with my hair, less is more, with as little manipulation as possible. I will wear a cute braid/twist/bantu knot style, a pretty scarf, a cute hat and always some sort of hair accessory that brings it all together. My hair grows very fast, over a 1/2 inch a month. Protective styles allow my hair to grow at it's full potential, so when I do want to wear it out, it's healthy and vibrant.
If I have something that I’m going to go to and I want to wear my hair out, that’s a special thing. I don’t just wear twist-outs and curl outs everyday.
So Sunday, I’ll do that and braid it, spritz it and put my silk scarf over it, or find a cute braid style that I can wear out. Come Wednesday, I’ll co-wash with Aubrey, and then do it again on Sunday. And in between, every morning and every night, I spritz with the rosemary water and seal with coconut oil.
For events, I’ll stretch my hair. I learned from GirlsLoveYourCurls about threading. So I stretch my hair and then very lightly spritz, and either twist it or roll it, and then finger it out and apply a little more coconut oil. And that’s how I got that look.
CN: I've seen pics of you with your daughter. She's adorable! Does she love her natural hair too?
KE: My daughter is feeling more and more comfortable about her natural hair as she watches me embrace mine. What’s really amazing to me is that growing up, the pressure was, “When are you going to get your relaxer?” or, “When are you going to change what your natural hair is?” And you didn’t feel good unless it was pressed or somehow chemically processed.
My daughter is 12. She goes to school and the girls are all natural. And they’re teaching each other how to take care of their natural hair — really supporting each other in their natural hair. And these are 12-year-old black girls — all kinds of textures of hair — and they’re all natural!
No one uses any chemicals, and it’s a whole different world. My daughter comes home from school with a new technique that she learned from another girl about how to flat twist, or another moisturizer, and it’s beautiful. They’re learning from us as mothers, but they’re being very strongly influenced by their peers.
CN: Any words of encouragement for a newbie or a woman thinking of making the transition?
KE: It’s so incredibly personal. I definitely wouldn’t try to persuade someone because there is a lot of commitment that goes with it. But if a person is at a point where they're sure that this is what they want to do, I’d say get as much education as you can even before you big chop! I recommend reading “The Science of Black Hair.”
Be patient with it, listen to it. What works for your sister may not work for you. It’s an exciting, magical process to watch your hair come to life and thrive. My mom is 73, and she said her hair is saying, “Finally!” It’s true, because your hair really will talk to you.
Surround yourself with a community of support. Not everyone will be supportive. There is still a lot of stigma against us with our natural hair — pressures to have it straight. It’s important to have a support group, even if it’s just strangers on the Internet. Have fun with it. Create some new styles and share them. It’s a magical journey, and it’s liberating. You can walk out in the rain and not worry about it… it’ll create a new fantastic hairdo!
CN: What's the best thing about being curly?
KE: I love how my curly hair is such a personal expression of the woman I am — the woman God created. I get excited as I see it grow and grow and I see it as a direct reflection of my own growth into myself and accepting me as me. I find that though not everyone embraces my hair, most people do and they love to ask me about it and learn how I care for it, especially if they are struggling to understand their own hair.
I am always open to answer their questions and advise them as much as I can. They will start asking me about my movies and we always end up talking about hair care! I also find that people of other ethnicity's really, really love our kinky, curly hair. They are always full of compliments and praise and simply can't stop the flow of positive words about my big kinky curly hair. It's a wonderful way to celebrate self and be celebrated by others who may be different from me. I love it!
Catch other celebrity interviews with CurlyNikki, like the one with Wanda Sykes!
Final Thoughts: What Projects Are You Working On?
KE: I just finished a really fun film… “Hannah’s Law,” a western with me, Danny Glover and Billy Zane. I had a blast creatively; it was a really fun experience. I played a cowgirl.
For that project, all my projects, I cornrow my hair and wear character appropriate wigs and that’s what I did for “Hannah’s Law.”