Black, Latina and Fabulously Natural; How Loving my Hair Taught Me to Love the Rest of Me

“You are Beautiful.”

It was my daily morning mirror ritual. Having just chopped off the last of my chemically relaxed hair, I was struggling to come to terms. It was 2001, and “natural” wasn’t exactly a “thing”. I endured daily comments on my hair from “good-natured” friends wondering when I was going to “fix” it, to not-so-good- natured coworkers who went so far as to bring a stylist to our work site to give me a “consultation”. It was far from a popular move, and I realized early on that I would have to be my own encouragement if I was going to commit to this change.

“You Are Beautiful.”

I’d look in the mirror and I’d say it to my hair while applying the mountain of products it took back then to get some curl-definition (humectants? Whazzat?). Some days I believed it, some days I didn’t. Some days I just said it because it was a habit. But every day, as I oiled, spritzed, finger-combed and attempted to tame my unruly hair (first-year new growth, hello!), I said aloud I was doing these things because I loved my hair just the way it was and it was beautiful. And then it happened.

I didn’t have to say it aloud anymore.

As soon as I looked at my hair in the mirror, “you are beautiful” popped in my head. When someone asked me how I expected to get a man, it popped in my head. When someone asked me when I was going to “do something about it”, it popped in my head.  My hair became less of an identifying characteristic about me and just became a part of my total package. And soon after, people stopped asking me questions about it.

Now fast-forward twelve years, and I was stuck in a bit of a rut.

A few unexpected life-events had taken their toll on my body. I was recently single, recently looking for work, and re-entering the “pool” for the first time in a long time. I was also 25 lbs heavier than I was used to, and despite starting a fitness plan I could not get the weight to budge. Well-meaning “friends” asked me when I was going to “fix it”, family asked me how I expected to “catch a man” if I didn’t look like myself, and my confidence was at an all-time low. I have a background in pageants, so while I was aware looks weren’t the end-all-be-all (only 20-40% of pageant scores are beauty-based) I knew they were important, and my perceived lack of them was a major hit on my self-esteem. I stopped taking pictures. I shied away from events. I went on dates expecting the worst. My real friends were worried about me.

Lucky for me, summer was approaching. My naturalistas know that pressing your hair is pointless when the heat comes so I usually switch to wash-and-go styles. I was working some product through my hair and marveling at the return of my curls when a familiar thought popped in my head;

“You are Beautiful”.

I had no idea how I had ignored the answer staring me right in the face for so long.

When I originally cut my hair, it was for me. It was a decision I made for myself. Whenever I got run-down or discouraged, I took comfort in the knowledge that I was doing this for my well-being. No one had a say in how I felt about my hair and how I took care of it. Everything I did to my hair was for my hair, applied lovingly, and treated carefully. My view of my hair- my confidence in its appearance- was a habit carefully cultivated and routinely maintained.

It was then I decided that I would have to be my own encouragement if I was going to commit to this change.

It began with a daily affirmation that I was fine just the way I was. Whoever agreed with me was going to agree, and whoever wasn’t well, that’s their issue. I’m the only person living in this body. It’s the only one I have. I can’t hate it forever. Some days I believed it, some days I didn’t. But every day, as I made my meals and fit in a workout, I told myself I was doing these things because I loved myself just the way it was and I was beautiful. And then it happened.

I started to believe it.

I stopped hiding and began to wear more flattering clothing at whatever size I was. Little by little, I went out more. I committed myself to a summer of fun and documented it. I went to the beach and wore a bikini. I even took a picture of it and posted it on my facebook page! And while my body eventually responded to my workouts, I had gained something much more valuable.

Now, while I’d love to wrap this up neatly and declare all my problems solved, the reality isn’t even close. It was the beginning of a long journey of daily work. Do I beat myself up sometimes? Yep. Do I look in the mirror and see lumps and bumps I’d like to go away? Everyday. But I can definitely say I have more good days than bad days. I can say instead of groaning about working out ‘just so I could get other people to like me’ I smile at the care I’m giving myself. I can say that what I am doing is for me and me alone. I can say I am less focused on the result than I am about the daily journey. I marvel at my body’s newfound strength and what it can do. I’m enjoying ‘me’ more.

What about you? Did your hair journey teach you anything about yourself?

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Misadventures of a Single Black Latina-An Open letter to the Bitter Brians

Happy hour found us where most happy hours do- at the bar, laughing off stories of Cuffing Season Casualties and holiday party blunders. I noticed him through the corner of my eye and signaled to my friend.

‘Hey, remember that dude that asked me out the other week? He’s over there!’

“Oh yeeeaaahh….What ever happened to him?”

‘We went out once, he never called back, and I never pressed it. Oh look, he’s coming over!’

Apparently he was more than a little miffed that I had never called (despite the phone working both ways) because he walks right up…and proceeds to stand between us, back turned to me, in an attempt to engage my friend in conversation.

**blink, blink** ¿Que?

Ladies and gentlemen, what you have is a Bitter Brian.

He’s the guy that tells you he’s in “short supply”. The gentleman that tweets about “feminazis” and how they’ve ruined the “traditional” Black Woman. The dude who can’t stop complaining about both “Independent Women” AND “gold-diggers”. The man who got picked on in high school, got a few degrees, a house and a car, and now wants every woman to pay for it. The gem that scoffs at chivalry, but wants a wife that cooks and can tend a house.

This splash of water is for your face.

Listen, I get it. You’ve worked hard to accomplish what you have in life, and you want to be admired, desired- whatever it is you feel you deserve-just as much as you feel the average athlete/thug/dealer/alpha male/whatever you weren’t in grade school is. But what you don’t understand is-that was never what was attractive in the first place. Let me explain.

MYTH #1: Degrees+Career+”Success” is all I Need to Score!

I cannot TELL you how many times I have heard the phrase “go to any third-world country and I’d be treated like a king!! Y’all just don’t know what you have!!”

Miss me, please.

Love, attraction, compatibility, those all happen to all BE “first-world privileges”. If we were in a third-world country you would also likely have to get married to a woman you neither loved nor were attracted to in order to further your family’s social standing. Now, if that’s what you want, go ahead. But if you want the freedom to pick your mate based on frivolous things like, say…attraction or compatibility, than you are going to have to deal with your potential mate not picking you. Dems are the rules. Otherwise, just admit you do not like the fact that the women you pick aren’t picking you back. That is neither a third nor first world problem…it’s just your problem.

MYTH #2: Women Didn’t Want Me When I was a (broke/struggling/nerdy/student/ cos-player) so they Gotta Pay!

I have the wonderfully unique perspective that can only come from growing up both a late bloomer and an ugly duckling, and I’m here to tell you…you’re full of sh!t.

I sat alone at that lunch table for YEARS. “Women” weren’t ignoring you. The POPULAR women that EVERYONE wanted were. Every guy wanted the same twelve girls in high school and college. If you were in demand, wouldn’t YOU pick from the cream of the social crop? Of course she’d pick the athlete-teenagers are superficial a$$holes! YOU were JUST as superficial, because you only wanted the hottest, most popular girls and then you turned around and got mad they were “judging a book by its cover”.  You can’t be superficial and expect the object of your superficial interest to be deep. It’s not my responsibility as an adult to make you feel better about it…it’s just your problem.

MYTH #3: Women want to be the ‘Man’ in a Relationship, That’s why we got all These Problems!!

Super-quick, rattle off a list of famous women you find desirable in the “wife” category. Very likely you included names like Salma Hayek, FLOTUS, Beyonce, or even Kim Kardashian. You DO realize they all have their own self-made empires, correct? That they had BEFORE they met their respective husbands or husbands-to-be…right?

The economy has made it so woman can’t afford to wait for a husband to begin their lives. They have to go out and make it on their own, whether they want to or not. This independence is born from necessity, not some inherent need to take over all roles in the household. Trust me, when a woman finds a man worth deferring to…she will defer. The fact that women have run over you in your relationships is…you guessed it… just your problem.

Listen, I know you may think women want the “thug” or “athlete”, “rapper” or [insert some type of guy that you happen not to be] but the truth of the matter is the personality and mindset was what bred the results in all areas, and the women are attracted to their charisma. It is their charisma that got them their social status, their careers and yes, their women. Plucking random superficial accomplishments from the sky isn’t going to turn you into “that” guy-but developing your own personality will. Own whatever you are-someone loves the thick and nerdy and is waiting for you to stop acting like Jay’s apprentice. Take a sales course, or an improv course and work on being more quick-witted if you believe that is the ticket. Cultivate your hobbies-the ones that get you out of the house, please-and you’ll very soon bump into women that can’t get enough of it.  I’m not telling you this as a popular girl; I’m telling you this as an ugly duckling. Once I started looking like the girls the guys in college chased after I thought that was my ticket-only to find that once they got to know me a bit, they quickly moved on to a princess that knew her worth and expected them to pay for it in gold. That was the type of woman they wanted, and just because I looked the part didn’t mean I could successfully play it. I could have easily become a Bitter Betty, but it’s so much easier to just stay in my lane and play the hand I was dealt. There is nothing wrong with improving yourself and becoming the best “you” possible-but in the end, you can only be “you”. And it’s enough. I promise.

Zoe Saldana is Black. And Latina. Deal.

For as long as I can remember, the term “latino” did not include my face.

Not that I blame anyone. My own people packaged and sold a “Hispanic look” to the outside public and I just wasn’t a part of it.

While the “All-American” standard of beauty usually insinuated women of a lighter hue, Americans of color have found ways to break through. Vanessa Williams and Carole Gist challenged perceptions on the most basic of levels- beauty competitions-to be the first Black Miss America and Miss USA respectively, paving the way for others to follow. Ground was gained inch by painful inch as Americans of color continue to work to redefine what “American beauty” looks like. Sadly, for many of us Latinas of a darker hue, we remain invisible.

Turn on to Univision or any other Latin-based channel at any given time and try to find a Black face. If you do, she is likely a maid or a servant. Our magazines still lean towards a more Eurocentric “look”, our cross-over entertainers are mostly White and mysteriously most supermodels and beauty queens from countries largely known for their mixed ethnic cultures appear European (Giselle, anyone?). With our own people completely erasing the thought that Latinos of any value would look anything other than direct descendants of Spaniards it is no question why America chooses to believe and promote the same ideal.

Conversely, most Latinos in Hollywood who appear “too dark to type” choose to blend in and accept the parts that fit their ‘look’, and I don’t blame them. You should never have to carry the weight of an entire race or ethnicity on your shoulders wherever you go, especially if it means your job or livelihood. Gina Torres mused in Latina Magazine; “..there are so many of us out there. And part of it is, we’re undercover. They don’t know, and if we stood and said, ‘that’s it I’m not going do any roles that are not Latina,’ we would not work.”

That is until recently.

While many before her have alluded to their ethnicity, not since Daphne Rubin-Vega and Lauren Velez has a popular actor been so vocal about accepting the many shades of latinidad.

“When I go to the D.R., the press in Santo Domingo always asks, “¿Qué te consideras, dominicana o americana?” (What do you consider yourself, Dominican or American?) I don’t understand it, and it’s the same people asking the same question. So I say, time and time again, “Yo soy una mujer negra.” (“I am a black woman.”) [They go,] “Oh, no, tú eres trigueñita.” (“Oh no, you are ‘dark skinned’”) I’m like, “No! Let’s get it straight, yo soy una mujer negra.” (“I am a black woman).”

In a culture where there are only two shades, “normal” (mostly Sofia Vergara’s shade) and “dark” (anything from Eva Longoria’s olive tone on down- yes, EVA LONGORIA), tan, chocolate and mahogany Latinas are all but non-existent in the conversation. Since she began her acting career with Center Stage, Saldana has been vocal, outspoken and downright militant about being accepted as “Latina”, and representing it on film. I was not surprised at the backlash from the Latin media.

I was, however, quite shocked by the African American backlash.

“Oh, so she too good to be Black?”

“So, she’s confused? She looks like a sista to me.”

“She gonna pick a color now?”

“What could she possibly understand about being Black in America?”

I could not understand how they couldn’t see what we have in common. How we more than understand what it is like to not be considered “beautiful”…or not be considered at all. That we know all too well what being invisible feels like. How Zoe has more than enough to draw from to understand her role as Nina Simone. How standing up and declaring “I am Latina, I have the right to be acknowledged and represented as such and you will deal” meant the world to women who looked like me.

Maybe they just didn’t know that for every person who signed their name on that change.org petition to have someone else play Nina, at least 100 petitioned for someone who “actually ‘looks’ Colombian (read: White)” to play the part in Colombiana. Maybe they didn’t know how long it took for a Latin magazine outside of the US to feature her on the cover. Maybe they don’t know there are some covers she will never get on.

All I know is I’m proud of her. I know for every questionable sound bite about “not seeing color” and being “strong” there are equal gems in her interviews. I know because of her and others like her, I can point to a face on my TV that looks like me playing a strong, nuanced role and not a maid or a harlot. I know that the next time someone says, “how are you Hispanic?” I can say, “you know, like Zoe” and be understood.

Zoe is Black. And Latina. And so am I.

And you will deal.

Emily Yoffe Thinks you Shouldn’t Binge-Drink. Neither Do I; My Story On Assault and Alcohol

This piece is in response to the backlash over THIS article by Emily Yoffe of Slate’s “Dear Prudence” column. Read, with an open mind, and see if you agree.

It was my first week of college.

I should probably preface this with a bit of history that would make me sound less, um…stupid and more naive.

I grew up a sheltered child in a Pentecostal family. I went to a tiny private school for primary education, and my summers were a combination of theme-parks, church camp and volunteer work. High school bore little difference; I graduated top three out of a whopping class of 100 and spent my summers in laboratories. I was a bookworm through and through, and my social troubles I have long-since documented here. By the time I walked into the halls of my 5000-strong university campus-just two weeks into my eighteenth birthday- it was clear I was out of my league. I had never even kissed a boy, let alone spent time alone with one.

It was the first get-together of the school year. I nervously asked my new roommate if I knew anyone who was going to be hanging out with us off-campus while I threw on some makeup. “Of course not,” she scoffed. “We don’t hang with freshmen. Welcome to the big leagues!” I took a deep breath and forced a smile.

Upon arrival we were greeted by the party’s “host”, who offered up the ubiquitous solo cups of alcohol for consumption. “No beer here, honey!” was yelled as the evening’s festivities were courtesy of hard liquor. I, introduced as the ‘new kid’, got my solo cup exchanged for a 32-oz tumbler of vodka punch.

They cheered my first-ever gulp of alcohol. At 5’2 and 105lbs, it took about ten minutes before I felt the first tingle take effect. I snuck off and poured a bit down the sink so they’d think I drank more than I did, but by then I was already fuzzy. My roommate sat me on a couch and left to go hang with her friends. A few minutes in I was joined on the couch.

“So you’re new, huh?”

I believe I nodded. I really can’t tell you what I did. But I remember he was sweet, and funny. I found myself feeling less nervous, as at least I had one new friend at the party. “It’s loud in here!” he shouted. “Wanna go over there and talk?”

“Over there” was the first available bedroom. “Don’t worry, the door’s open,” he laughed. He was really nice, so I sat on the edge of the bed and we continued our conversation for a few minutes. He touched my knee. I was already flushed. He laughed about the loud music again…and walked over to lock the door. I couldn’t feel my fingers, but I held on to my punch.

The next two minutes were a blur-but not for the reasons you think. The host mercifully was walking by the exact moment my ‘friend’ was fumbling with the lock-and burst through the door. “Oh, no. Not at my party folks!” was his literal reaction-and my only crystal-clear memory that evening. He told my ‘friend’ to leave-and practically dragged me by my ear back to the couch. “SIT,” he ordered-and he left me to my embarrassment. While I was initially annoyed that he interrupted what I thought an innocent conversation, time and water brought the reality of what had almost happened. I was ashamed. I was scared. I was disoriented. I had never felt dumber. I wanted to go home that second. I didn’t know how. My roommate still hadn’t returned.

I received another lifeboat and made it home safely that evening, although I can’t tell you anything else, as I have never been able to recall the rest. My roommate didn’t turn up until that morning, where they had a pretty good laugh at my first hangover. It was clear I had a world of lessons to catch up with, and I can only thank the universe my first wasn’t my worst. As the year progressed I quickly learned there was a specific group of people who never had your best interests at heart, and wait for a moment when you no longer have your wits about you. While I can’t say it was my last drink, it was the last time I ever got she-needs-some-help-to-get-home-drunk on campus. I changed who I partied with, and set my own limits. When I was done, I was done.

That was my first brush with the effects of binge-drinking, but it wasn’t my last. By the end of that year I had been assaulted by a sloppy-drunk dorm-mate (our dorms were co-ed), helped pull two classmates from a burning car in a drunk-driving accident, and lost another classmate to an alcohol-assisted suicide.

I have been sexually assaulted over the course of my lifetime. To suggest victims have anything to do with their assault is heinous. The only common denominator in rape is rapists, period. But it would be irresponsible to exclude sexual assault in a general and much-needed conversation about the negative, dangerous and deadly effects of drinking far beyond your mental capacity in college. College is fun, and most people are able to look back (well, the lucky ones who didn’t have it documented via Instagram), laugh and thank the heavens that they lived to tell the tale. But it is also where you learn responsibility, boundaries, and how to navigate this earth as an adult. Part of being an adult is learning your limits. There is nothing wrong with a frank conversation about dangerous behaviors and the risks they may pose. A conversation is long overdue, and it’s about time we started somewhere.

34 on 34 (The Birthday Post Pt. 2)

As you may have guessed from my last post, it happens to be (around) my birthday week. I figured it would be fun to share a few things I’ve learned on this here fifth anniversary of my 29th birthday (hush. Just go with it).

**PS- If you want a guy’s take on this? Take a peek at Until I Get Married.**
1. The quickest way to my heart is through the correct pronunciation of my name.

As you may have guessed from reading my last post on dating, I have a problem with people glazing over my culture and not bothering to learn. I normally Bloombito my name for work purposes, so getting it pronounced correctly means you’ve gotten past my ‘company face’ and made it to the real me. Plus, nothing sounds sweeter than your name when…uh, moving right along..

2. The key to all authentic cooking boils down to ONE spice.

Every culture has one go-to spice that flavors almost every dish. Learn what it is, and keep it in your pantry. If it’s saffron (Spanish), cilantro (Mexican), basil (Italian & Thai), turmeric (Chinese) or recao (Puerto Rican), you’ll always be ready to impress. It’s a good look if you happen to invite over a foodie as well.

3. I don’t care what “experts” say. Everyone should do one cleanse in their lifetime.

There’s nothing natural about Popeye’s chicken, so I have trouble believing the body is “naturally equipped” to handle cleaning that gunk out all by itself. The best way to start off a new habit is by hitting the reset button (especially on your taste buds), so research a good whole-food plan (no liquids!) and stick to it for those few days. I am proud to be able to say I have cut out added sugars entirely after they helped me lose the taste for it.

4. Variety may be the spice of life, but monotony makes you a hell of a lot more productive.
Spend 24 hours with a successful person (especially a creative one) and you will be surprised by how regimented their day really is. Having certain things go the same way every day allows your mind the freedom of chaotic thought, where great ideas are born. Do your best to develop either a morning or evening routine, and stick to it. With that said…

5. You don’t have to be a fitness model, but break a regular sweat.

Exercise has always been the key to my comeback. I’m definitely not model-thin, but if I look back to any productive time in my life regular exercise had something to do with it. I sleep better, I breathe better and I work better after I’ve gotten some blood pumping.

6. Live alone for at least two years.

I was attached for the better part of a decade. Before that I lived with family and roommates. By the time I moved on my own I slept on a sofa for four months because I had no clue what my taste in furniture was. You are going to need some time to find out how you like your eggs (Runaway Bride reference, for the under-30 set). In that vein..

7. I don’t love eggs.

It took me 34 years to say that.

8. But there is nothing bad about brunch.

You have breakfast choices. You have lunch choices. Some spots you even have dinner choices. And there’s booze! And enough time to sleep it off! What’s not to love? I will never understand brunch slander.

9. However cereal is the devil.

I’m certain this opinion will change when I have children. But over-sugared, over-processed goop that only fills you for a half hour and now costs like six bucks a box (I live in NY)? NOT my idea of a good morning. But you know what is?

10. Sex.

I said it. Testosterone peaks for women first thing in the morning. If you are not a morning person…become one.

11. There really is a lid for every pot.

I was involved in pageantry for quite a few years. You know who unquestionably ended up married the fastest after the pageant years were over? The quirky girls who everyone though the pageant organizers must have stolen money from, “because they sure aren’t contenders”. For every quirk you have there is a person that can’t get enough of it. Just be you. It’s a lot easier.

12. But don’t think you can’t improve.

There is such a thing as being a perfect work in progress. You can love yourself at each stage without falling into complacency. But while you’re improving..

13. Stop waiting for sh*t to be perfect to start living life.

I’ve missed dates, rescheduled vacations and accumulated three trunks worth of clothing waiting to be the “right” size before I took part. I still shake my head. Do what’s right for you now and you’ll notice more “right” comes along.

14. Love really only works when two people show up.

You can’t convince someone to love you. You cannot train someone to love you. You can’t wait for someone to love you. Stop wasting all those years you could be spending with someone who loves you back. Equally. Reciprocal love is worth it.

15. But never forget to put your oxygen mask on first.

Love begins with you. Love yourself. Take care of yourself. Heal yourself. The best gift you can give your future love is a whole person.

16. And do what you have to do to get there.

I have no shame in admitting that I have had help in healing- and you shouldn’t either. You wouldn’t nurse yourself back from a broken leg, so how do you think you can fix everything in your head by yourself? Therapy works. Try it.

17. Little things matter.

Every man I’ve been serious with has gotten a handwritten letter from me at some point. So it shocked me to learn almost none of my peers have ever received a love letter! The most impactful expressions of love are often the smallest. Pay attention and find something small that only your mate would understand. You will be remembered for a lifetime.

18. Men want solutions. Women want a sounding board.

This is how we process problems. This is how our mates can help us feel valued when we come to them regarding those problems. You are never going to get the other to understand why. Just do it.

19. If “dating” is hard, stop.

Just please don’t complain you’re not dating. Some people enjoy the chase (I’m not one of them). Find a way to meet people that works for you. People have come up with novel ways to do everything, why are you still trying to date the “old” way?

20. Just remember it’s not that serious.

A date is a fun event in which two people get to learn more about each other. That’s it. If it’s more complicated than that for you, do what you have to do to un-complicate it.

21. Take time to enjoy what is.

Yes, we all have goals. But if you are always looking forward, you’ll miss the beauty of the journey. Or worse, the people that stayed with you for the ride.

22. Practice being present, even if it hurts.

For the rest of your life, make sure you show up. Be present and accounted for.

23. Take time to feel.

You cannot “numb” yourself through a situation. Pretending it doesn’t hurt won’t make the hurt disappear. Allow it to come out, process it, and let it flow away with the tide.

24. Then let it go.

The most powerful quote I’ve ever recited was “my childhood my not have been perfect, but it’s over”.  Learn the lesson (even if the lesson is, ‘sh*t happens’), then go forth.

25. Just because it didn’t last doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth it.

I don’t know who invented the school of thought that you must hate everyone that leaves your life and the memories they left but it is ridiculous. It is completely possible to remember (and even rejoice) the good someone brought into your life while fully understanding why they are not there anymore. Your time was only wasted if you weren’t true to yourself.

26. Boundaries.

Just read this post.

27. Fashion is how the world defines you. Style is how you define yourself.

Who cares if it’s in season? If it looks good on you, it’s appropriate.

28. Create a signature.

Whether it’s a scent, a style or a flower (seriously, I have a friend who accessorizes with a flower, every outfit) claim something uniquely you. At the very least, you’ll be easy to find at a party.

29. Family is your first lesson in human relations-make sure to learn it.

My family taught me the importance of understanding that love is daily work. Also, you may not like the person you love every day. And of course, those pesky boundaries.

30. But at some point you have to stop blaming them for the lessons you did not get.

I am now at the point where I have been an adult for the exact amount of time I have been a child. Let that simmer.

31. Faking it only works for so long.

So find someone you can trust yourself to be vulnerable around. Just make sure you give as much as you take.

32. The most attractive trait about you to the opposite sex will always be confidence.

Whatever you are at the moment, own it. When it changes, own that, too.

33. This too shall pass.

Exactly ten years ago I had lost my job, my fiancée, my living situation, my grandfather and my father. My mother had a serious health scare, and I had to hold it together and move forward. If you’ve made it this far, keep going.

34. My best days are ahead of me, not behind me.

FIN