Mora and I first met over a year ago while working together at a restaurant in New York. Educated, talented, funny, and amazing hair to boot, Mora has always been extremely genuine and true to to herself. She also always had a ton on her plate -- between working at a women’s shelter as a social worker, finishing up another semester as an adjunct at Hunter College, working part time as a freelance writer, running her own blog, and writing her first book (which is set to be published October of this year!!)--Mora didn’t have a whole lot of time to deal with her natural hair. With unique and fun protective styles as her go-to for the past year and change, Mora’s natural hair has been flourishing. We sat down to talk to her about her big chop inspiration, why she turns to protective styles, and why natural hair is a representation of our most authentic selves.
We asked each woman to write a note to her younger self to share with her what she wishes she knew.
Dear Black Girl,
In two decades, everyone is gonna wish they had interesting and versatile hair like yours. Don't let Mom use the 'Just for Me' perm kits. Tell her to show you how to take care of your hair. Embrace the fact that your hair is unique, even if it's different than your peers. You're beautiful inside and out, and don't put so much emphasis on your hair. It's only part of what makes you, you.
How long have you been natural?
I've been natural since 2012. So for about 6 years now.
What brought you to this journey?
I was about to graduate from grad school and I just didn’t have extra money to be spending on hair. Hair can get very expensive and I was tired of trying to figure out what to do with it. I feel like I was only so pressed and stressed about it because of what society told me my hair should look like -- like my hair should be straight. At that point, I didn’t even wanna get perms anymore and I knew it wasn’t good for my hair and I had a lot of damage, so I decided to do it after graduation.
Did you always accept your 4c hair?
No, I hated my hair for a long time. It was like I didn’t really know what to do with it and no one was going natural when I was in college. There was nowhere to go to do your hair, there wasn’t any point of reference. Where I went to college, it was a force to try and get your hair braided, let alone go natural. I just learned to cover up my hair with some type of style so I didn’t have to deal with it, but I got tired of having to do that.
What was that like, learning to love your hair?
It wasn’t that bad. The initial chop was probably the most stressful, just because I had never cut my hair short, so I really didn’t know how it was gonna be received. It was received really well by my friends! But it was funny because I definitely got different responses from the opposite sex, which I found to be both funny and problematic. There’s a weird association in our society about long hair equating to femininity and I thought it was odd that all of a sudden, because my hair is short, I’m automatically deemed “unfeminine.” Or even a lesbian, like...what? I was like, it’s just hair. Guys would be like “oh my god, what happened to your hair?,” and I’d be like, “what happened to my hair??? I just decided to cut it.” I definitely wasn’t approached as much by men of color when my hair was short. And I got hit on by a lot more women [laughs].
How do people in your daily life respond to your hair (coworkers--we all get crazy comments, people in public etc)?
All my friends thought my hair was great and kind of edgy. Apparently I have a really good head shape. My friends were the most accepting of it, for sure. My protective styles now are always fun and interesting and a good conversation piece. My homegirl is a natural hair blogger and she does my hair a lot, and really well, so I generally get a lot of compliments on my hair. I’ve only ever had one experience where someone tried to touch my hair and it was at the restaurant we worked at. It was some customer. It happened within the first two months of me working there and I was like, “you know what, I’m not gonna get fired today, but that was a violation.”
When you first started your natural hair journey, who did you look to for guidance?
I feel like I didn’t think about it that much, honestly. Like I had researched exactly what I wanted my hair to look like. My inspo was Grace Jones, and that was because my best friend is very into fashion, and he suggested that I shave the sides. Also, I had already been using a lot of Shea Moisture products, so I was kind of hip to some natural products. But I also had a really good natural hairstylist who also put me on to a lot of natural products. I didn’t really look for guidance per se, I really just knew what I wanted.
Are most of your peers natural?
Here in the city, a lot of my friends are mixed so their hair textures are very different. But in my core group of friends, most of my friends are natural. Like one of my homegirls is growing out locs, another one of my homegirls is doing a lot of protective styles but hasn’t had a perm in years! Right now, I’m focusing on growth, which is why I’m doing so many protective styles.
What’s your regimen like?
My hair has been growing so much faster because I’ve been doing so many protective styles. But I do crochet braids instead of regular ones, because they’re better for your hair in general. I’ve been doing protective styles for over a year now. I keep them in for 2 and a half months. I do a dry shampoo every two weeks, and I moisturize every other day. When I take them out, I let my hair breathe for a day or two, and I shampoo it. I’m experimenting with different shampoos right now, too. My body tends to get used to things, so they start not to work as well, so I change it up every few months. I’ve been researching new shampoos for my specific curl pattern. My goal is to keep doing the protective styles until my next birthday (in February), and see how much length I have, then decide if I wanna go back to being short. I also do protective styles because being natural is a lot of work. So sometimes it’s easier to not have to worry about it for a couple of months.
Why do you think it’s important for there to be natural hair representation in media?
We’ve been told for so long that our hair is ugly, or difficult, or unattractive. More recently, we’ve seen so many celebrities that are natural. And it’s refreshing to see celebrities who look like me, be natural and showing how versatile our hair is. In reality, our hair is really interesting, because you can literally do anything to it and it’ll always look good. Take someone like Issa Rae, her hair isn’t even that long, maybe six inches long naturally. And she’s able to do literally any style and look amazing! But this isn’t new! Even the fact that braids are now like “cool,” I’m just like...I’ve been doing braids since I was 8...but now it’s just trendy. Our hair has always been beautiful, we’ve just been listening to society tell us for so long that it’s not. Now it’s our time to really educate those who don’t understand and be like “we’re out here, our hair is actually amazing, and most of you are trying to emulate our styles to begin with!” Like Kim Kardashian with her “boxer braids???” Cut it out.
What do you think about natural hair in media? Is there enough representation, is it accurate?
I feel like there’s enough! We really have a lot of Black queens who are out here, pushing the envelope with their hair. Like the girl who plays Joelle in Dear White People, her hair is always fire. Yvonne Orji from Insecure, and Issa Rae. Sanaa Lathan recently shaved her head and she looks amazing. You know, Angela Bassett, Lupita...who came out of the gate with the short cut! I’ve been very pleased with the representation. I think we’re going in the right direction.
What have you learned on your natural hair journey?
I realized I don’t wanna date anyone who cannot appreciate my natural hair. There are a lot of ass***** who -- you know I once had a guy tell me that he’d only date a girl with long hair. I was like you know what you’re dismissed, because a lot of the time, those who are the most critical, are the ones who look like us. It made me more comfortable at work, and I’m lucky because I’m a social worker, so people don’t really say much about my hair. Even if I worked in corporate America, I would wear my hair this way. No one gets to dictate how I wear my hair, especially since my white counterparts never have to worry about that. It’s definitely encouraged younger generations to appreciate their hair, like my little sister who’s never had a perm in her life and knows how to take care of her hair better than I did at her age. It’s showing younger generations that you don’t need to put a bunch of stuff in your hair or change it in order for it to look beautiful. Like that’s a myth.
What would you tell your younger self?
I would’ve stopped perming my hair way earlier. I wish I’d gone natural in college. I went through so much trying to upkeep and it probably would’ve made my life so much easier to grow out my perm and live my best life. It was hard though, especially with going to a predominantly white high school and college, you don’t have enough representation in your real life of people who like their hair. It was hard for me to feel proud of it. Like my cousin went into her freshman year of college with an afro, and I was like “see...I wish I was that comfortable.” I feel like I did my hair a disservice by trying to compete with my peers instead of just being like...I don’t wanna worry about this.
What does natural hair mean to you?
The term “natural” embodies so much. It’s like the purest form of you, the hair that you grew up in before anyone told you that you had to do something about it, it’s what grew out of your head. Also, just being organic in that way and returning to that. For me, it was wanting to return to my natural roots and not have anyone question why I was doing it. It’s authentic -- that’s what it truly means to me. And people get confused especially with protective styles because they don’t think you’re truly “natural,” but it’s like, yes I am because there aren’t any chemicals in my hair. There’s nothing in it that’s changing the texture. Being natural is being authentic and knowing that no matter what you do to your hair, it’s beautiful.