as i am smoothing gel

As I Am Smoothing Gel

When the As I Am brand for natural hair was launched earlier this year, Joy became the official face of the brand. Joy represents the collective know-how of a number of real life natural-textured women who are highly knowledgeable and experienced in the care and styling of hair. Her mission is to help others embrace their natural hair.

NaturallyCurly wanted to learn more about Joy, and her own hair journey. She was thrilled to share her story in the hopes she could help others accept their coily, kinky texture.

NaturallyCurly: How old are you?

Joy: Joy doesn't tell her age. I just like to say I'm fully grown, but young at heart.

NC: Have you always embraced your natural texture?

Joy: As a young girl, I did not. Like many African American women, I somehow got the notion in early childhood that certain hairstyles and hair textures are “pretty” and my natural tight-coily texture was not. It would take teams of psychologists and sociologists to unravel all of the reasons why these notions are so entrenched in our culture; however, I am certain that the media and social norms play a major part. At the age of six, my hair was straightened (pressed) for the first time, and at age 13 or so, I got my first relaxer. Over the years, I attempted to “go natural” a number of times, only to go back to either chemically- or thermal- straightened hair when I could not seem to style it or get a look I was happy with. It’s been a little over two years since I made the decision to be forever natural… to joyously embrace the texture that nature provided.

NC: How would you describe your hair?

Joy: My hair is type 4b, a very typical texture among African descent people. It has a definite coil pattern, configured much like the small springs in retractable ink pens.

NC: What advice would you give women who want to transition?

Joy: I would first say to practice patience. As you grow in your natural texture, the new growth can make styling your hair in its usual style a virtual nightmare. You may be tempted to use a lot of heat to blend the coily with the straight. This is not the best approach because high heat styling can straighten natural coils permanently. Additionally, I have three main things to suggest: (1) As you transition, It’s a good idea to switch to styles that better match your natural texture, like those created with rod sets, straw sets and braids (that are not too tight). In this way, you are coaxing your chemically-treated hair to behave more like your natural texture and not the other way around, (2) trim your hair gradually if you are not one to go straight to the “big chop.” When you have only 2-3 inches of straight hair left, then go for it! Cut all of the straight portions off, and (3) begin to “baby” your hair during the transition, just like you will want to do once your hair is fully natural. Use only the gentlest, most hydrating sulfate-free cleansers, deep condition often with a great conditioner, avoiding high-protein conditioners, except perhaps on the relaxed part of your hair (animal protein can harden the hair). Avoid styling products that contain alcohol and keep your hair well moisturized with rich emollients.

In my case, I wore weaves for two years as my hair grew out. My stylist would go easy on the underneath cornrows so that my hair would not thin out. I got my weave redone fairly often – every 6 to 8 weeks – and made sure to deep condition my hair well before the next one was sewn in. And I think this is very important… begin to visualize yourself wearing your natural texture - starting now. If you do weave your hair, select textured hair and have it styled attractively so that you can begin to see yourself natural. Weaving is not for everyone. Some would say that wearing weaves defeats the purpose of going natural, in the sense that they fall short of accepting yourself as you are. This, however, is an emotional thing for many women and we’ve got to cut each other a break. Some women will continue to blow dry their hair straight, even after going all natural… others will not. Some will wear weaves and braid extensions as they move away from chemical straighteners… others won’t. Some brave ladies go for the big chop and look and feel absolutely beautiful in a matter of a few minutes… others can’t fathom this idea.

as i am coconut cowash

As I Am Coconut CoWash

Let me say here that, aside from the style aspect of wearing natural hair, there are undeniably emotional and even spiritual components involved for many women. I think that anyone who has spent time on websites such as NaturallyCurly.com, CurlyNikki.com and countless other sites and blogs can see that a wonderful sisterhood has developed. I am happy to observe that this connection is overwhelmingly based on mutual respect, understanding, a desire to help, and tolerance of others’ viewpoints and methods. How - and even if - you go natural is ultimately one’s own choice, and whatever the choice, it’s okay.

NC: Are you seeing more women working with their natural texture? Are attitudes changing?

Joy: Yes, indeed, to both questions! Wherever I go, I am seeing more women of all ages rockin' natural styles. When I encounter another natural sister, often we take the time to compliment each others' hair and choice. There's an unspoken "congratulations" in the interchange for the freedom the other is inevitably experiencing because of her choice.

Attitudes are really changing. Most of the shift, however, is occurring in the hearts and minds of the natural women themselves. This is to say that others around us may think it strange and even ill-advised to wear naturally tight, coily hair. We who have decided to go natural, however, have already determined it's the thing to do. For some, it is a matter of answering questions such as, “Why am I fighting with my hair?”, “ Who determined that only straighter textures are pretty and acceptable?”, “ Why have I internalized that determination?” and "If I believe that a creator purposely and lovingly made me this way, don’t I already have an inherent, unique and divine brand of beauty?” Aside from the metamorphosis taking place as these questions are addressed, there is measure of bravery and boldness involved in wearing natural textured hair, particularly for those of us with type 4 textures. Increasingly, women are saying that “I have the guts and I am enjoying the freedom!”

NC: What products do you use to get your amazing look?

Joy: As the official, trademarked mascot of As I Am, I am of course partial to this brand. Each and every one of the 11 products are on my shelf at home because there is a unique place for each one in my hair care regime, depending upon the style I choose to wear and my hair needs at any particular time. For the pulled back, off-the-face style that I am wearing now in my pix on the site, I use the Coconut CoWash most of the time for cleansing. I always use the Leave-In Conditioner, I deep condition every 3-4 weeks with Hydration Elation Conditioner, and I sleek my edges with the fabulous Smoothing Gel. I love twist outs, so I use the Twist Defining Cream. I also enjoy the wash ‘n go style. For this style, I use the Curling Jelly. When my hair gets a little thirsty, I reach for either the Moisture Milk or DoubleButter Cream. The CocoShea Spray is a superb moisturizer as well.

NC: What do you think women should look for in products for natural hair?

Joy: Ingredients that are gentle and moisturizing. Products that do not contain sulfates and alcohol, for sure. Many natural ladies avoid silicones and none of the As I Am products contain them, however, others still use them. That’s a matter of choice. I want to mention, though, that our R & D chemists assure me that some of the ones used in hair care products these days are easily cleansed from hair and are not as problematic as many believe. Finally, look for products that do what you want and need them to do. If a product hardens or builds up on your hair, don’t use it. If it dries out your hair in any way, get rid of it!

NC: What types of different looks can you get with your hair?

Joy: Bantu Knots: On clean, conditioned damp hair, part hair in neat medium-sized sections, smooth on Twist Defining Cream and gently twist each section until it twines around itself near the scalp. Gently wrap the ends around the base of the knot until they are out of sight. To secure, insert a hair pin through and underneath the knot.

Two-Strand Twists: On clean, conditioned wet or damp hair, apply Twist Defining Cream liberally to small or medium sections. Use less cream when twisting barely damp hair. The wetter the hair, the more Twist Cream you can use. Divide each section in two, and twist one around the other, leaving about ½" – ¾" untwisted at the ends. Twirl the ends around your forefinger and carefully slide your finger down and out of the coil. As you twist, arrange the twists in the places and directions that you ultimately want them positioned in your finished style.

as i am twist-defining-cream

As I Am Twist Defining Cream

Very important: Apply As I Am Leave-In Conditioner liberally before applying Twist Defining Cream. This adds a great finish and prohibits flaking.

Twist-Outs: Two-Strand Twist as described above and when the twists are completely dry, carefully undo the them. You may gently massage along your scalp to obscure the partings. Be careful not to disturb the coiled/curled alignment along the length and ends of the sections. Remember, in the days after your twist-out, your hair also will naturally fill in and become fuller.

To complete your style, you may desire fullness in some or in all areas of your hair. If you opt to separate your twists even further for more volume, take care to handle them very gently. Pulling and separating carelessly will cause the multi-strand coil assemblies to come apart and take on an undefined, frizzy look.

Remember: The more you manipulate your twists, the fuller your hair will get, so separate or finger fluff where you want volume or height. Fluff just a little or not at all where you want closer-to-the-head, flatter areas. Once hair has been fluffed, it won't return to the original flattened alignment until you re-wet and re-style your hair.

Big Beautiful Afro: Braid or twist barely damp or dry hair. You may want to curl the ends with perm or flex rods for a curlier look. When you remove rods, braids and/or twists, fluff and arrange by hand. You may also gently use a pick to lift the areas near your scalp for shaping.

Ponypuff: Smooth back your hairline, sides and nape areas, and secure with a thin elastic headband. If you want a super smooth perimeter, dampen hair and apply the As I Am Smoothing Gel. The Ponypuff can be done on hair which has been styled via Twist-outs, Knot-Outs, Wash n’ Go and Big Beautiful Afro techniques.

Sleek Wash n’ Go: Cleanse and condition. Apply Leave-In Conditioner liberally and apply As I Am Curling Jelly to soaking wet hair section-by-section, from root to tip. Rake with fingers and allow your defined curls to air dry. Please do not even touch it while wet! This will cause your hair to frizz and lose some of its beautiful definition. It may take a long time to dry but it will look good every step of the way. This, of course, works better when it’s warm outside and you don’t have to worry about exposure to frigidly cold temperatures.

NC: Any words of encouragement for all the women out there who are thinking of going natural?

Joy: Be patient. This is a journey. It takes time to learn what to do for your hair and to get used to a new look. Listen to your hair. For years and years, many of us have fought with our hair, trying to get it to do what it was never meant to do. If it feels and looks dry, give it moisture, which does not necessarily mean oil. If it does not want to hang down and flow, let it be full, free and fabulous all about your head. If it simply doesn’t like a particular product, try another application method or find another product that your hair will love.

Do what you need to do to get where you want to go. Growing out your natural texture is not for the faint of heart. Do what you have to do! If after your latest styling session, your hair looks terrible to you (perhaps you just haven’t got the hang of it all yet), wear a pretty head wrap or a graceful pulled back puff or bun with nice earrings and pretty make up. If you need to temporarily wear braided extensions or “somebody else’s” hair, do it until your hair gets adequate care and you get the styling techniques down. Go to a knowledgeable and skilled girlfriend or natural hair shop to get a head start. And finally, surround yourself with positive people who have a more expanded view of beauty. There are plenty of people who will never like anything but straight hair, but increasingly there are more examples than ever of women who are undeniably breathtaking, with confident, serene demeanors, who fiercely display their natural tresses for the whole world to see.

Seek guidance and support. Ask people you know whose natural hair you admire. Visit natural hair sites and blogs. View YouTube videos of experienced naturalists. Visit the As I Am website, and send your questions to me. We all want to help others experience the ”Joy” of natural hair.

Speak beautiful affirmations to yourself and to your hair. I am beautiful As I Am, I am what I was created to be As I Am. I am Confident As I Am. I am free As I Am. My hair curls in perfect little spirals. I may not have gotten it right today, but there is a tomorrow.