If I could name one common reason why a lot of us struggle with going completely natural, it's because we don't want to deal with the almost inevitable hair shrinkage. Because the shrinkage struggle that's out in these streets is oh so very real (there's a shrinkage challenge compilation video here and a few other women who talk about their own shrinkage journeys here, here and here).
So, what exactly is the root cause of this thorn in our hair's side? It's interesting because when our hair gets wet, it absorbs moisture that can "trigger" our strands to go into their natural curl pattern. On many levels, this is a good thing, because when our hair reverts to its natural state, that's a sign that it is healthy. On the flip side, because moisture is also something that helps to weigh our hair down and keep our cuticles somewhat stretched out, when the moisture leaves, it can be hard to elongate our strands so that our curl patterns can appear looser and our hair can ultimately appear longer too.
At the end of the day, what all of this basically means is, that combating shrinkage is all about coming up with ways to stretch out our stands without damaging them in the process. While minimizing shrinkage requires some major TLC, there are things that you can do that are pretty great at giving you the results that you're looking for. Here are 10 tips for how to reduce natural hair shrinkage.
1. Deep Condition Your Locks
One of the main things that a lot of Black people don't realize about shrinkage is, aside from your natural curl pattern, since it can be more difficult for our natural oils to make it all the way down our hair shaft, dry hair also plays a direct role into why we can experience so much shrinkage. The remedy? One of them is deep conditioning your hair on every wash day. Why is this an important step? Well, conditioning your hair provides some extra "weight" to your strands that I was talking about, so that it's able to stay stretched out for a longer period of time. Think of it like a sponge — when a sponge is full of water, it is easier to stretch out than when it is dry. So, if deep conditioning has never really been your thing, now you've got a really solid reason to incorporate it into your hair regimen.
2. Braid It Up
Something that I figured out works better for me is to blow out my hair on wash days and then keep it cornrowed on the days when I choose to not wear it out. Both methods stretch out my hair (so there are fewer tangles and knots). Plus, the braiding is what prevents me from putting excessive heat on my tresses.
That's why I simply could not do an article like this and not mention that braiding is a top-tier way to keep shrinkage from getting on your very last nerve. Even if you'd prefer not to apply any heat, you can plait your hair while it's wet, let it air dry, and then take your braids down. You'll still see a good amount of stretching by going that route too. While we're here, two other heatless methods that significantly reduce shrinkage include banding (video here) and threading (video here). Check 'em out when you get a chance.
3. Roller Set Your Locks
Another way to reduce shrinkage that can also give your hair a lot of movement is roller setting it. This method makes it easier to stretch your hair while it's wet (preferably damp). Then, you can let it air dry or sit underneath a hooded dryer. Once your tresses are completely dry, your hair will remain stretched out for longer. As a bonus, if you use a leave-in conditioner before rolling it up, you can end up with a lot of bounce to your hair as well.
Basically what you'll need to pull this off is a leave-in, a light oil (like sweet almond or grapeseed) and some rollers that won't damage your hair (and yet can give you some pretty bangin' results) like Perm Rods, Flexi Rods and Curlformers. A video that I liked that offered up some cool tips and concluded with some dope results is right here.
4. Break Your Hair Caste
If you're someone who likes to rock and wash 'n go, I'm thinking that you already know that one way to give your hair a lot of curl definition is to apply some non-alcohol gel to it while it's wet (Aloe vera gel is cool too). And what if, once your hair is dry, your curls are a little "tighter" than you would like them to be? No worries. All you need to do is break your hair's caste. What that basically means is you need to loosen up the gel, so that your curls can become looser and appear to have less shrinkage.
Caste-breaking isn't hard to do. You just need to put a little bit of oil in your hands (jojoba, liquified coconut oil or avocado oil is great for this) and then gently apply it to your hair, softly tugging at the curls until they feel less hard from the gel. Again, it's a wonderful way to elongate your look and also bring movement to your hair, thanks to less gel and more oil being in it.
5. Play Around with Some Bentonite Clay
Speaking of wash 'n gos, personally, I'm a fan of bentonite clay for all kinds of reasons (for instance, it's a great skin detoxifier if you sprinkle some of it into your bath and soak). When it comes to your hair specifically, if you want more defined curls and softer hair, apply some of it to your hair right after washing it. Put it on saturated hair, leave it on for about 10 minutes and rinse it thoroughly (preferably in the shower because bentonite clay can get messy). Then deep condition your hair (don't forget this step because clay has a tendency to make hair hard). No matter what your hair type is, you should end up being pleasantly surprised (check out some how-to videos here, here and here).
6. Try Some Silicone
Something that a lot of people don't know is sometimes, when it comes to styling natural hair, the ingredients in our favorite products can cause the shrinkage. Stuff like glycerin, glycol, hydrolyzed wheat protein or even honey can make your curls tighter because they are humectants that can draw moisture from the hair and cause your hair to draw back towards your scalp.
An ingredient that won't do this is silicone. It's cool because it's a non-toxic chemical that actually works as a sealant to protect your hair from outer moisture (the kind of moisture that can cause your hair to get tighter than you may want it to be). And since it literally weighs your hair down, silicone can help to keep shrinkage from occurring while reducing frizz and keeping your locks shiny. As far as silicone-based products that you should look into, Naturally Curly has a list that you can check out right here.
7. Or a Little Bit of Beeswax
Maybe you do or maybe you don't know that one ingredient that a lot of people use when they decide to lock their hair is beeswax. Although it literally has a waxy texture to it, beeswax is actually good for natural hair on a few levels. It moisturizes. It seals in the moisture. And it's an awesome way to straighten hair without applying any damage. The main thing to keep in mind with this particular anti-shrinkage tip is less is more. That said, you might want to apply it, along with a little bit of oil when you're braiding/banding/threading your hair or to lay down your edges after styling your hair. Otherwise, your hair could turn out to be stickier than you planned.
8. Pull at Your Roots
One of the greatest hacks for combating shrinkage is using a pick to lightly lift up your roots after you've finished doing any of the techniques that I've just mentioned. This approach can keep you from frizzing out your curl pattern while still giving your hair an inch or two of height and volume.
9. Blow It Out
Out of all of the tips that I've shared for how to deal with natural hair shrinkage, I'm thinking that this one is probably the most obvious one because you can always pull out a blow dryer and blow your hair straight (well, as straight as possible without using a flat iron). Again, the reason why I like this approach is because it provides a lot of stretch, so that I don't have to constantly pull and tug on my hair in order to style it. It also cuts down on fairy knots significantly.
The keys to this point is to select a dryer that does as little heat damage as possible, that you let your hair dry at least 50-60 percent before applying any heat to it, that you do not go above a medium setting (otherwise, you could end up frying your tresses) and that you definitely put on a thermal heat protectant (cream is usually best, coverage-wise) before you begin the process. Then, once you're done, don't forget to stretch out your hair with cornrows or plaits so that you don't have to use heat again until your next wash day. By the way, Byrdie did an article on some top dryers for natural hair. You can check it out by going here.
10. Pull It into a Pineapple (at Night)
Some stylists will say that another way to stretch your hair is to pull it up into a ponytail (if it's long enough). That's true yet you need to be careful that you don't pull your "tail" so tight that it creates tension that leads to breakage or that you get so consumed with your edges and nape (by constantly applying gel and or always brushing it) that you weaken certain parts of your hair. However, when it comes to your bedtime routine, if your hair is long enough, I definitely recommend putting it up in a loose pineapple (you can learn how to do it here and here). It's another way to reduce shrinkage while you rest and to prevent a lot of detangling, so that it's easier and quicker to style your hair the following morning. It's an anti-shrinkage method that is easy, low-maintenance and (so long as your scarf stays on, chile) can keep your hair looking just the way you want it. Enjoy!
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After being a regular contributor for about four years and being (eh hem) MIA in 2022, Shellie is back penning for the platform (did you miss her? LOL).
In some ways, nothing has changed and in others, everything has. For now, she'll just say that she's working on the 20th anniversary edition of her first book, she's in school to take life coaching to another level and she's putting together a platform that supports and encourages Black men because she loves them from head to toe.
Other than that, she still works with couples, she's still a doula, she's still not on social media and her email contact (firstname.lastname@example.org) still hasn't changed (neither has her request to contact her ONLY for personal reasons; pitch to the platform if you have story ideas).
Life is a funny thing but if you stay calm, moments can come full circle and this is one of them. No doubt about it.
Amber Riley Is In Her Element
Amber Riley has the type of laugh that sticks with you long after the raspy, rhythmic sounds have ceased. It punctuates her sentences sometimes, whether she’s giving a chuckle to denote the serious nature of something she just said or throwing her head back in rip-roarious laughter after a joke. She laughs as if she understands the fragility of each minute. She chooses laughter often with the understanding that future joy is not guaranteed.
Credit: Ally Green
The sound of her laughter is rivaled only by her singing voice, an emblem of the past and the future resilience of Black women stretched over a few octaves. On Fox’s Glee, her character Mercedes Jones was portrayed, perhaps unfairly, as the vocal duel to Rachel Berry (Lea Michele), offering rough, full-throated belts behind her co-star’s smooth, pristine vocals. Riley’s always been more than the singer who could deliver a finishing note, though.
Portraying Effie White, she displayed the dynamic emotions of a song such as “And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going” in Dreamgirls on London’s West End without buckling under the historic weight of her predecessors. With her instrument, John Mayer’s “Gravity” became a religious experience, a belted hymnal full of growls and churchy riffs. In her voice, Nicole Scherzinger once said she heard “the power of God.”
Credit: Ally Green
Riley’s voice has been a staple throughout pop culture for nearly 15 years now. Her tone has become so distinguishable that most viewers of Fox’s The Masked Singer recognized the multihyphenate even before it was revealed that she was Harp, the competition-winning, gold-masked figure with an actual harp strapped to her back.
Still, it wasn’t until recently that Riley began to feel like she’d found her voice. This sounds unbelievable. But she’s not referring to the one she uses on stage. She’s referencing the voice that speaks to who she is at her core. “Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind,” the 37-year-old says. “It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women. I got so comfortable in [doing so], and I really want other people, especially Black women, to get more comfortable in that space.”
“Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind. It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women."
If you ask Riley’s manager, Myisha Brooks, she’ll tell you the foundation of who the multihyphenate is hasn’t changed much since she was a kid growing up in Compton. “She is who she is from when I met her back when she was singing in the front of the church to back when she landed major roles in film and TV,” Brooks says. Time has allowed Riley to grow more comfortable, giving fans a more intimate glimpse into her life, including her mental health journey and the ins and outs of show business.
The actress/singer has been in therapy since 2019, although she suffered from depression and anxiety way before that. In a recent interview with Jason Lee, she recalls having suicidal ideation as a kid. By the time she started seeing a psychologist and taking antidepressants in her thirties, her body had become jittery, a physical reminder of the trauma stacked high inside her. “I was shaking in [my therapist’s] office,” she tells xoNecole. “My fight or flight was on such a high level. I was constantly in survival mode. My heart was beating fast all the time. All I did was sweat.”
There wasn’t just childhood trauma to account for. After auditioning for American Idol and being turned away by producers, Riley began working for Ikea and nearly missed her Glee audition because her car broke down on the highway while en route. Thankfully, Riley had been cast to play Mercedes Jones. American Idol had temporarily convinced her she wasn’t cut out for the entertainment industry, but this was validation that she was right where she belonged. Glee launched in 2009 with the promise of becoming Riley’s big break.
In some ways, it was. The show introduced Riley to millions of fans and catapulted her into major Hollywood circles. But in other ways, it became a reminder of the types of roles Black women, especially those who are plus-sized, are relegated to. Behind the scenes, Riley says she fought for her character "to have a voice" but eventually realized her efforts were useless. "It finally got to a point where I was like, this is not my moment. I'm not who they're choosing, and this is just going to have to be a job for me for now," she says. "And, that's okay because it pays my bills, I still get to be on television, I'm doing more than any other Black plus-sized women that I'm seeing right now on screen."
The actress can recognize now that she was navigating issues associated with trauma and low self-esteem at the time. She now knows that she's long had anxiety and depression and can recognize the ways in which she was triggered by how the cult-like following of the show conflicted with her individual, isolated experiences behind the scenes. But she was in her early '20s back then. She didn't yet have the language or the tools to process how she was feeling.
Riley says she eventually sought out medical intervention. "When you're in Hollywood, and you go to a doctor, they give you pills," she says, sharing a part of her story that she'd never revealed publicly before now. "[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that's not fixing my problem. If anything, it's making it worse."
“[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that’s not fixing my problem. If anything it’s making it worse.”
Credit: Ally Green
At one point, while in her dressing room on set, she rested her arm on a curling iron without realizing it. It wasn't until her makeup artist alerted her that she even realized her skin was burning. Once she noticed, she says she was "so zonked out on pills" that she barely reacted. Speaking today, she holds up her arm and motions towards a scar that remains from the incident. She sought help for her reliance on the pills, but it would still be years before she finally attended therapy.
This stress was only compounded by the trauma of growing up in poverty and the realities of being a "contract worker." "Imagine going from literally one week having to borrow a car to get to set to the next week being on a private jet to New York City," she says. After Glee ended, so did the rides on private planes. The fury of opportunities she expected to follow her appearance on the show failed to materialize. She wasn't even 30 yet, and she was already forced to consider if she'd hit her career peak.
. . .
We’re only four minutes into our Zoom call before Riley delivers her new adage to me. “My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway,” she says.
On this Thursday afternoon in April, the LA-based entertainer is seated inside her closet/dressing room wearing a cerulean blue tank top with matching shorts and eating hot wings. This current phase of healing hinges on balance. It’s about having discipline and consistency, but not at the risk of inflexibility. She was planning to head to the gym, for instance, but she’s still tired from the “exhausting” day before. Instead, she’s spent her day receiving a massage, eating some chicken wings, and planning to spend quality time with friends. “I’m not going to beat myself up for it. I’m not going to talk down to myself. I’m going to eat my chicken wings, and then tomorrow I’m [back] in the gym,” she says.
“My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway."
This is the balance with which she's been approaching much of her life these days. It's why she's worried less about whether or not people see her as someone who is humble. She'd rather be respected. "I think you should be a person that's easy to work with, but in the moments where I have to ruffle feathers and make waves, I'm not shying away from that anymore. You can do it in love, you don't have to be nasty about it, but I had to finally be comfortable with the fact that setting boundaries around my life – in whatever aspect, whether that's personal or business – people are not going to like it. Some people are not going to have nice things to say about you, and you gotta be okay with it," she says.
When Amber talks about the constant humbling of Black women in Hollywood, I think of the entertainers before her who have suffered from this. The brilliant, consistent, overqualified Black women who have spoken of having to fight for opportunities and fair pay. Aretha Franklin. Viola Davis. Tracee Ellis Ross. There's a long list of stars whose success hasn't mirrored their experiences behind the scenes.
Credit: Ally Green
If Black women outside of Hollywood are struggling to decrease the pay gap, so, too, are their wealthier, more famous peers.
Riley says there’s been progress in recent years, but only in small ways and for a limited group of people. “This business is exhausting. The goalpost is constantly moving, and sometimes it’s unfair,” she says. But, I have to say it’s the love that keeps you going.”
“There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman,” she continues. “We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
"There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman. We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
Last year, Riley starred alongside Raven Goodwin in the Lifetime thriller Single Black Female (a modern, diversified take on 1992’s Single White Female). It was more than a leading role for the actress, it also served as proof that someone who looks like her can front a successful project without it hinging on her identity. It showcased that the characters she portrays don’t “have to be about being a big girl. It can just be a regular story.”
Riley sees her work in music as an extension of her efforts to push past the rigid stereotypes in entertainment. Take her appearance on The Masked Singer, for instance. Riley said she decided to perform Mayer’s “Gravity” after being told she couldn’t sing it years earlier. “I wanted to do ‘Gravity’ on Glee. [I] was told no, because that’s not a song that Mercedes would do,” she says. “That was a full circle moment for me, doing that on that show and to hear what it is they had to say.”
As Scherzinger praised the “anointed” performance, a masked Riley began to cry, her chest heaving as she stood on stage, her eyes shielded from view. “You have to understand, I have really big names – casting directors, producers, show creators – that constantly tell me ‘I’m such a big fan. Your talent is unmatched.’ Hire me, then,” she says, reflecting on the moment.
Recently, she’s been in the studio working on original music, the follow-up to her independently-released debut EP, 2020’s Riley. The sequel to songs such as the anthemic “Big Girl Energy” and the reflective ballad “A Moment” on Riley, this new project hones in on the singer’s R&B roots with sensual grooves such as the tentatively titled “All Night.” “You said I wasn’t shit, turns out that I’m the shit. Then you called me a bitch, turns out that I’m that bitch. You said no one would want me, well you should call your homies,” she sings on the tentatively titled “Lately,” a cut about reflecting on a past relationship. From the forthcoming project, xoNecole received five potential tracks. Fans likely already know the strengths and contours of Riley’s vocals, but these new songs are her strongest, most confident offerings as an artist.
“I am so much more comfortable as a writer, and I know who I am as an artist now. I’m evolving as a human being, in general, so I’m way more vulnerable in my music. I’m way more willing to talk about whatever is on my mind. I don’t stop myself from saying what it is I want to say,” she says.
Credit: Ally Green
“Every era and alliteration of Amber, the baseline is ‘Big Girl Energy.’ That’s the name of her company,” her manager Brooks says, referencing the imprint through which Riley releases her music after getting out of a label deal several years ago. “It’s just what she stands for. She’s not just talking about size, it’s in all things. Whether it’s putting your big girl pants on and having to face a boardroom full of executives or sell yourself in front of a casting agent. It’s her trying to achieve the things she wants to do in life.”
Riley says she has big dreams beyond releasing this new music, too. She’d love to star in a rom-com with Winston Duke. She hasn't starred in a biopic yet, but she’d revel in the opportunity to portray Rosetta Tharpe on screen. She’s determined that her previous setbacks won’t stop her from dreaming big.
“I think one of my superpowers is resilience because, at the end of the day, I’m going to kick, scream, cry, cuss, be mad and disappointed, but I’m going to get up and risk having to deal with it all again. It’s worth it for the happy moments,” she says.
If Riley seems more comfortable and confident professionally, it’s because of the work she’s been doing in her personal life.
She’d previously spoken to xoNecole about becoming engaged to a man she discovered in a post on the site, but she called things off last year. For Valentine’s Day, she revealed her new boyfriend publicly. “I decided to post him on Valentine’s Day, partially because I was in the dog house. I got in trouble with him,” she says, half-joking before turning serious. “The breakup was never going to stop me from finding love. Or at least trying. I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness, and you enjoy it and work through it.”
Credit: Ally Green
"I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness and you enjoy it and work through it.”
With her ex, Riley was pretty outspoken about her relationship, even appearing in content for Netflix with him. This time around is different. She’s not hiding her boyfriend of eight months, but she’s more protective of him, especially because he’s a father and isn’t interested in becoming a public figure.
She’s traveling more, too. It’s a deliberate effort on her part to enjoy her money and reject the trauma she’s developed after experiencing poverty in her childhood. “I live in constant fear of being broke. I don’t think you ever don’t remember that trauma or move past that. Now I travel and I’m like, listen, if it goes, it goes. I’m not saying [to] be reckless, but I deserve to enjoy my hard work.”
After everything she’s been through, she certainly deserves to finally let loose a bit. “I have to have a life to live,” she says. “I’ve got to have a life worth fighting for.”
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Queen Latifah On Her Journey To Self-Acceptance: 'I've Been Trying To Maintain My Freedom To Be Me'
Actress and rapper Dana "Queen Latifah" Owens is defying societal standards by refusing to be confined in a box regarding her personal and professional life.
Owens, who has been a part of the entertainment industry for over three decades, is widely recognized for her empowering songs and the variety of acting roles she has obtained throughout her career, among other things. The list includes Living Single, Set It Off, Chicago --with which she earned an Oscar nomination-- Just Wright, Girls Trip, and most recently, The Equalizer series on CBS.
Owens is also very tight-lipped about her personal life. However, in 2021, The Last Holiday actress showed appreciation to Eboni Nichols, who is reportedly her partner, and their son Rebel after receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award.Since then, Owens has revealed why she doesn't want to be defined as anything but herself and how she maintains her sense of freedom. In a resurfaced video from theGrio Awards, Owens opened up about those topics when she accepted the Television Icon Award for her past contributions
In a clip uploaded on theGrio's Instagram account last week, Owens explained that she often had to fight to be herself because "the world" kept trying to put her in a box based on what society thought a woman should be.
"My whole life, I feel like I've been trying to maintain my freedom to be me. And the world is trying to put these things on me to stop me from being who I am," she said.
Further into the speech, Owens explained that although many would have their own opinion about her from what the media spews out, she would continue to be herself by wearing "beautiful gowns and dresses," playing in the dirt, participating in basketball games with men and loving who she loves because that's what makes her happy.
The Beauty Shop star also added that despite her celebrity status, she would continue to show respect for others because that's who she is as a person and how she was raised.
"So I wear these beautiful gowns and dresses because I want to because that's part of me. I play in the dirt. I play basketball with the boys because that's me,” she stated. "I love who I love because that's me. I love all of you who have supported me. I give you your respect. I don't have to be above you because that's me. I know me."
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