Last year Heather Burris made a decision to cut off her hair to show her daughter, Autumn, that true beauty and confidence emanates from within. Heather was inspired to share her personal story by writing her first book, Hair Like Me, to encourage young girls to love their natural hair and encourage more parents to lead by example by instilling confidence in their children at a young age.
Though, we’ve made major progress in the last few years with becoming more “diverse” and “inclusive”, it’s stories like these that matter most to remind children, especially black children who are often times underrepresented or misrepresented in media, the true meaning of beauty and representation. The more we share our real experiences and celebrate the unique beauty in each other the more we will truly empower another to love ourselves unapologetically.
Get to know Heather and learn more about her pivotal moment in her natural hair journey that empowered her to be a mirror for her daughter in her first publication, Hair Like Me.
When did you decide to embrace your natural hair?
I remember arriving to Howard University and meeting so many black girls who had beautiful hair, but didn't have a perm. That was so foreign to me. My friends convinced me that my hair could go natural too, so after I graduated I stopped getting a perm. That was 2003. Around that time, obviously there wasn't a YouTube yet right? No real social media besides MySpace and I think Facebook was about to start. I moved to Atlanta for graduate school and it felt like nobody was natural. Thankfully, I had a hair stylist who taught me how to do twist styles to grow out my perm. I never did a big chop. I just grew out my perm with twist styles and straightening. That was my life for 15 years. Until this moment with my daughter last year.
In 2018, Autumn, my then 4 y/o daughter, watched me straightening my hair and told me she wanted 'princess hair' like me. I tried to tell her, her hair was beautiful, but she just didn't want her curly 'fro. So I decided right then to stop straightening my hair, and a month or so later, I went for it and cut it all off.
What has been the most empowering and challenging moment(s) of your natural hair journey?
Definitely chopping it off was the most empowering moment of my natural hair journey. It was a feeling of momentary anxiety and then a rush of confidence that I didn't anticipate. I then realized how much confidence we, as women, put in our hair. It almost felt as liberating as delivering a baby. Like a weight was lifted and my smile was brighter, and my countenance was filled with joy. I felt more confident in myself and it felt like I wasn't hiding behind hair.
Since cutting it, there have been plenty of challenges lol. My hair was always long enough to wear ponytails or buns, or just wrap/pin curl it up, and shake it out and go. So needless to say, I was very lazy with styling. My hair now is short, but def long enough that it needs styling. I assumed I could rock wash n go's; only to learn that a natural, curly, wash n go doesn't exist for most women and hair textures. Most of us have to use a lot of product and spend time raking, fingering, twisting, separating. I don't think I have mastered my style yet. I have a way to go, but I have a lot of friends to share products and stories with so that's been helpful.
Why was it important to write this book, Hair Like Me?
It was important to me to write this book for a few reasons. First, I wanted to remind Autumn that her hair is beautiful, and that princess hair is all about the princess- not the hair. It can look different on anyone, but the beauty comes from within. She's at an age where this is a major thing in school- princess hair talk. And she needs to have the words of affirmation to throw back in these school girl conversations.
Second, I wrote it for the sake of media. I know that representation matters, and we need more imagery out there so girls can see themselves everywhere and feel like they belong, and they are accepted, and they get to define beauty standards. We can never have enough children's books with chocolate faces on the cover! Plus, so many women and girls can relate to this topic.
Lastly, I think it sends an important message to parents/grown-ups about modeling behavior because kids are always watching. To reinforce, and get them to replicate behaviors or concepts that we're saying to them, we have to try and practice what we preach. Some lessons are worth the sacrifice.
What are your thoughts on the natural hair movement and how it’s redefining beauty standards?
I support it 100%. Even when I was straightening, I was happy to not be using chemicals to achieve that look. It's healthier. It's beautiful. And now we have so many examples, tutorials, bloggers and vloggers, to show us how to achieve the styles we desire. Our hair has always given us the texture to be creative with our styles; now the world is recognizing it. Recently, when Miss USA became the 3rd black queen, and second to win this year with her naturally curly hair, I was thrilled for them, and for all of us. It was such a powerful statement of beauty redefined (for "them", not us).
What does your natural hair represent?
I think my natural hair represents freedom. Freedom to workout without worry, which is important for my health. Freedom to swim without worry! Freedom to sleep a lil’ longer most days of the week because I don't have to restyle my hair daily.
What advice do you have for women struggling to embrace their natural hair?
I think women who struggle to embrace their natural hair are hesitating for two reasons: either they have some vision of what their hair is supposed to look like, and they're not happy with their actual natural hair outcome, or they struggle with a lack of knowledge on the right products for their hair care. The latter issue just requires tutorials, time, patience and repetitive styling. The former issue may require some reimagination of why their desired result is really their desired result. I would ask this woman to reconsider the 'why' and who is she appealing to. I would encourage her to take it slow. If she's willing, learn to like her new hair in steps until she can fully embrace the style.
Grab your copy here to support Heather and show the world the power of natural beauty and diversity.