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"Straightening My Hair was a Literal Rejection of Myself"

2015-10-12 17:17:16

"Straightening My Hair was a Literal Rejection of Myself"

Meet Maya Smart, Texas-based author, bibliophile, and our naturally curly hair crush: "Success is built incrementally, stringing together many days of good habits."

We will be attending the Texas Women's Conference Thursday, October 15th and we had the pleasure of interviewing one of the speakers, Maya Smart. Smart is a natural-haired, Austin, Texas-based writer and literacy ambassador who shares book reviews, interviews and musings at MayaSmart.com and BookRiot.com. If you'd like to attend the Conference, purchase your ticket and visit TXConferenceForWomen.org. We hope to see you there!

What (or who) inspired you to go natural?

I love my kinky hair and am committed to living naturally ever after. I have been natural since 2005. During college in Boston, I was still wasting time and money on straightened hairstyles that couldn’t hold up to the rigors of exercise or brutal northeast weather.

I was beginning to see more black women wearing their hair in twists, braids and other natural styles, and I began to circle around the idea of going natural. I felt deeply that chemically straightening my hair was a literal rejection of myself--my heritage, my beauty, my sense of self-worth. But inertia kept me flat-ironing and relaxing my hair for a few more years.

 

This year, I mixed things up by shaving off most of my hair--a friend called it “punk professional.” I call it freedom.

By the time I moved to Chicago for grad school, natural hair was everywhere and I was ready for a big chop. I started a cycle of cutting my hair into a little ‘fro and then growing it into a huge afro puff. Earlier this year, I mixed things up by shaving off most of my hair and leaving just one side long. A friend called it “punk professional.” I call it freedom.

You have a blog dedicated to encouraging and motivating women. Where do you see yourself in business in 5-10 years?

In 10 years, I see myself leading a bookish lifestyle brand that sells stationery, gift items and apparel that engage people in the fight to educate the world.  Proceeds will benefit programs and initiatives that bolster early literacy and school (and life) success. My writing will continue to reflect my mission to inform and inspire.  

You are a book lover. Any good reads lately?

For my fellow book lovers, I recommend “Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America” by Ayana Byrd and Lori Tharps. Here’s an excerpt from my review: 

Every American has something to learn from “Hair Story,” which spans from the elaborate hairstyles of the 15th century Wolof, Mende, Mandingo and Yoruba to the fades, weaves, locs and twist-outs of today. And the lesson is that the hair we grow and the styles we wear it in say something significant about who we are, where we’ve come from and where we hope to go.

Its studied exploration of prickly hair politics is astute and revelatory, delivering deep insight to novices and enthusiasts alike. Even as a longtime student of black history and culture, I found new detail and understanding on each page.

My personal takeaway was that rather than judging others’ choices in hairstyles—natural or not—we need to bring a spirit of openness and inquiry to the looks instead. That is, we need to earn our opinions on hair in the same way that we should earn our opinions on politics or religion, through careful study, contemplation and more than a little compassion.

I also like “Thank God I’m Natural: The Ultimate Guide to Caring for and Maintaining Natural Hair” by Chris-Tia Donaldson, a dynamic young entrepreneur, who’s turned her passion for healthy haircare into a thriving business.  Her products are exceptional.  I love the Honey Miracle Hair Mask and the Argan Replenishing Hair and Body Serum. 

What does your motto, "read well, live well" mean to you?

Books are transformative.

Reading the right thing at the right time can literally change the trajectory of your life. What you read can give you the advice, insight or inspiration you need to choose a new path for yourself--plus the courage and confidence to walk it. So whenever I talk about the quality of your reading and the quality of your life, I’m not referring to the literary merits or critical acclaim of the books. I’m talking about their power to improve your life.

It’s really personal.

A transformative book for one person might be a self-help tome that deconstructs the sources of shame, weakness, and vulnerability. Another person might be better served by a fantasy novel with a strong female protagonist who dominates her opposition. Someone else may gain the most from the autobiography of a compelling historical figure.

And while one book can certainly change your life, it’s more likely that many together will. That the cumulation of insight over many books and authors will change your perspective in ways that enlarge your life and amplify your impact. My goal with MayaSmart.com is to present potentially life-changing reads to world-changing women.

Consequently, my collection of reviews is as quirky as I am. You’ll find chick lit, memoir, how-to, race theory. Whatever’s resonating with me that week.

 

Why does every woman need to read a good book?

We live in a soundbite world. We need books. Our world is too complex to be understood without books. Watching the news, reading tweets and listening to your friends, neighbors and family just isn’t going to give you all that you need. We live in a soundbite world, but books are your best bet for getting a more nuanced grasp on the issues that affect us everyday. Books demand a great deal of time and attention, but the return on investment is tremendous.

Want to start a nonprofit, be a better parent, live in harmony with nature? Books can help. They won’t have all the answers, but they’ll get you much farther than a magazine article or Facebook post will.

What is one piece of advice you would give to someone who needs a little motivation in her personal life or career?

Make sure your habits match your expectations. So often people say they want something but do very little on a daily basis to get there. You can’t win without working at it--everyday. Success is built incrementally, stringing together many days of good habits. 

For example, earlier I said that in 10 years I want to lead a bookish lifestyle brand that sells stationery, gift items and apparel, donating the proceeds to literacy initiatives.

I have a number of daily habits that support that goal. I reach out to book lovers daily in person and on social media. These are the folks who will buy my products after the brand launches. I research literacy organizations, conduct site visits and volunteer to understand the literacy landscape and discover the initiatives worth supporting. And, of course, I’m reading everyday. The life stories of industry pioneers, manufacturing guides, and social enterprise tomes I devour all inform my actions and bolster my odds of success.

Read on!

How can we follow you online?

Like me on Facebook (mayasmartreports), and subscribe to my newsletter here.

Devri Velázquez

Devri Velázquez

In addition to being a content editor for NaturallyCurly, Devri is a passionate poet, feminist, habitual thrifter, coffee lover, and music nerd. While flexing her muscle of radical self-expression, she conquers a rare autoimmune disease called Takayasu's Vasculitis.

WEBSITE: Devri Velazquez
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