A conversation with Alexa and Kara Smith, founder of the Site of Style
We asked each woman to write a note to her younger self to share with her what she wishes she knew.
Dear black girl,
Learn to love and care for you hair and not compare. It is unique and deserves attention and care.
For as long as I’ve known Kara, hair has always been a topic of conversation between us. Dealing with it, complaining about it, hating it, and loving it all at once. At the Hartt School, where we met during our undergrad, we lived amongst a sea of people with hair that looked and felt nothing like ours. We knew the power our hair possessed to set us apart from the straight-haired crowd, and when Kara took the plunge and did the ubiquitous “big chop” our sophomore year, what was revealed was a woman who was braver and more beautiful than she ever realized. Standing 5’9”, the 5 feet being mostly leg, Kara sticks out and for good reason. Today, nearly 5 years since her big chop, Kara’s natural 4C hair is flourishing.
As the founder and director of The Site of Style, Kara works to give other creatives of color a platform to showcase what they do, while also celebrating diversity through beauty, fashion, and lifestyle. Kara was kind enough to sit with us and talk about her natural hair journey, how she’s grown to love it, and the power of being a 4c girl in a 3a world.
How long have you been natural?
I've been natural since the beginning of 2013, my sophomore year of college, and I did "the big chop."
What brought you to this journey?
My hair was relaxed since I was 4, yes... 4 years old. My entire life I was often the only black friend in the group and wouldn't take care of my hair. I was influenced by others around me and quite honestly I did not accept or learn how to properly take care of the hair I had. Needless to say by the time I got to college my hair was damaged beyond repair, and I decided the first step to healthier hair would be to completely start over.
Did you always accept your 4c hair? If not, what was that journey like?
I didn't always accept my hair, and I am still learning to accept my hair. There is a lot of unlearning that needs to be done regarding kinkier 4B/4C hair. Although we may not be privy to it, we have ALL been conditioned to hold Eurocentric features at a higher regard. Straight, wavy, or defined curls have always been seen as "good hair" compared to kinkier hair. There's a lot of unpacking that we have to do as a society and that I still have to explore personally.
I think the biggest part of my journey has been learning not to compare myself to others, with my hair, or in any way. You cannot compare your journey to another's. Not every product, style, or method that works for someone else (even if they have the same texture a you) will work for you. YouTube is a great resource to learn how to take care of your hair. I believe YouTube has been instrumental in where I am currently because my mom, like so many of us, does not have the same hair texture that I do. Having the the most coily and kinky hair out of everyone in my immediate family is a major challenge but finding other resources is crucial.
When you went natural what was the reaction from your family and friends? Were they supportive?
When I first went natural both of my parents were fairly supportive, as were my friends. I did get the occasional stare from strangers, but it was an ok experience overall. Having less than an inch of hair was actually a confidence builder.
How do people in your daily life respond to your hair (coworkers--we all get crazy comments, people in public etc)?
Since I do have one of the most fragile hair types, my hair is usually twisted or in a protective style. When it's away I almost never get comments on it, which I suppose is good and bad. When I wear it out, most of the supportive comments I get come from other black women. Seeing other naturals and giving your support is a sisterhood. It is a bit disheartening that I don't get compliments from other people, or if I do they are mentioning that it's "crazy" or asking if they can touch it... I see other women with looser curls get called "goals" and it seems that that is the most desirable texture. Some days I have to remind myself that my hair is beautiful, unique, and cannot be tamed, just like me.
When you first started your natural hair journey, who did you look to for guidance?
When I first started my natural hair journey, I looked to the hair section of YouTube. Naptural85, or Whitney, was one of the first people I watched. Her hair is a bit looser than my own, but I learned the basics from watching her.
Are most of your peers natural?
A lot of my friends who do have textured hair are natural, but don't necessarily have the same hair texture that I do. Or they never had their hair relaxed so never really went natural.
I see. So tell us about your hair regimen!
What regimen??? [laughs] Currently I co wash my hair with the as I am co wash and deep condition with a mask. Currently by Shea moisture’s. Still trying to find the right one. I’ll then put my hair in medium/mini twists, moisturizing with Shea butter and adding/sealing with Jamaican black castor oil. I wear it out every once in a while and dabble in protective styles.
Why do you think it’s important for there to be natural hair representation in media?
I know firsthand that representation is everything. Almost everything (or everyone) I looked to when I was younger had wavy or straight hair and that was the only thing pushed as beautiful. That does serious damage to self esteem, things that are still being worked through now. There are a lot more women of color represented in media today, but I've found that there still aren't many who represent women like me, I can probably count them on one hand. So many of today's black role models still very much fit into the Eurocentric box - whether it's looser hair, lighter skin, light eyes, or thin noses. Not that there's anything wrong with these features, it's just women like myself with brown skin, dark eyes, kinky hair, and wide noses deserve to be seen and appreciated just as much.
What do you think about natural hair in media? Is there enough representation, is it accurate?
I personally don't think that there is enough representation of type 4 hair in media. Sure, it’s involved in some campaigns for hair brands but I feel it's mostly just sprinkled in here and there. So many brands are catering only to just wavy or curly hair. As far as entertainment goes, it's there but still has a long way to go.
What have you learned on your natural hair journey?
Through wearing my natural hair I learned, and am continuously learning, to be 100% comfortable with myself. I didn't experience my real hair texture until I was 19 years old, something that seems absolutely crazy upon reflection. I didn't know what to expect. Since then I've learned that I may not have what our society deems as "desirable" but that my hair can transform in so many ways and attain endless forms and that each strand grows uniquely towards the sun. As long as I see myself and my hair as desirable I'll be just fine.
What does natural hair mean to you?
Natural hair to me means freedom. It means not worrying about relaxer touch-ups and how to repair damage. It's me completely loving and accepting every part of myself.