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I Took My Tracee Ellis Ross Extensions Out & Fell In Love With My Natural Hair

I almost let anxiety keep me from my safest space.

Her Voice

The older I get, I realize most of us aren't exploring new things; life is just reintroducing us to who we really are, to begin with. I loved to swim growing up. When I was six, my family stayed in a hotel for two months while our home closed in escrow, so naturally, I stayed in the pool. I was always scared, so my dad would throw me in and tell me to trust him - and eventually, I did. After that, every year on my birthday I had a hotel party.

Swimming was my favorite hobby until societal norms and body image issues got in the way of something that I loved as a child, being free.

As a teen, I fixated more on my insecurities and less on happiness, so I stopped swimming (and having birthday parties altogether). I had a little confidence in high school, none in college, and by the time junior came, I had gained 100 lbs. But the summer before graduation, I decided I had enough, and I wanted to be happy. So I ended a toxic relationship, got a therapist, and a personal trainer. About a month into our workouts, he randomly asked me, "Have you ever thought about swimming? It's a great workout."

He was right; according to experts, swimming weekly builds endurance, muscle strength, and cardiovascular fitness. It's a workout where nearly all of the muscles are used; and you also release the natural-feel good compound endorphins while swimming, which helps combat anxiety/depression. Still, I couldn't bring myself to tell him the thought of swimming at my campus gym made me uncomfortable. I thought people would make fun of me, so I never tried.

After graduation, I promised myself I'd join my local gym and start swimming again, but there was one thing in my way: my big Tracee Ellis Ross hair extensions.

I loved the show Girlfriends growing up, and I always wanted hair like Joan (I met Tracee after college, and I all I could manage to tell her mid-tears was you're the reason I have big hair!). Changing my hair post-break up made me feel like a new person, but every time I'd try and swim, it'd get matted, so I'd stop. I tried making a wig, but securing it was a struggle, and I got tired of feeling uncomfortable, so I took it out and rocked my curly 'fro.

After that, I fell in love with the water again. I don't even remember what day things shifted for me, but every time I got in, I came back out stronger. I owned every minute in the pool, confidently swimming in my lane no matter who swam better, or faster. My hairstylist warned me that chlorine would tear my hair up, but it grew instead.

Here are some things that I learned on my swim journey.

Do not, I repeat DO NOT use a swimming cap. Your edges will thank you later.

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Losing the cap puts less pressure on your edges. Also, I've never met a swimming cap that didn't let chlorine creep in. Ditch it, and put your hair in a loose high bun or braids instead.

Wet your hair, then apply oil to your ends pre-swim.

Filling your hair with fresh water provides a barrier, so the chlorinated water doesn't penetrate it as fast. Adding oil to your ends as a sealant protects it even more (I use almond oil, it stimulates hair growth).

Speak kindness over your body.

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I never wanted to swim because I was ashamed of how I looked. I thought my stretch marks were ugly, and I wanted to see results overnight. Taking the time to thank my body for stretching for me, instead of giving up, made me appreciate it in a way I never did before.

If your gym has a sauna, bring your deep conditioner and give yourself a treatment post-swim.

Adding this step to my regimen took swimming from being just another workout to a whole self-care experience. I even have a playlist, download Sauna Vibes on Apple Music, and thank me later.

Get OK with the possibility that your hairstyle might have to change.

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I missed my extensions at first, but now I wear a curly top knot Monday-Friday and experiment with fun ponytails on the weekends, so there's balance. I don't regret taking them out because I learned to think about what I needed first and my hair second. Rocking my natural hair gave me the courage to embrace my hair, and my blackness no matter where I was. Most days, when I swam, I never saw anyone who looked like me, so it forced me to take up space and not just at the pool, but in every aspect of my life.

I've gone from swimming as a girl with my dad, to hating my body as a teen, and now I don't go more than three days without swimming. It's helped with weight loss too - I'm officially 60 lbs down, and I've become the friend who's consistently asked: "Can you teach me how to swim?" and I always say yes. It's hard to think about what my life would be like without swimming, and to think - I almost let anxiety keep me from my safest space.

Featured image via Gifer

Black Women, We Deserve More

When the NYT posted an article this week about the recent marriage of a Black woman VP of a multi-billion-dollar company and a Black man who took her on a first date at the parking lot of a Popeyes, the reaction on social media was swift and polarizing. The two met on Hinge and had their parking lot rendezvous after he’d canceled their first two dates. When the groom posted a photo from their wedding on social media, he bragged about how he never had “pressure” to take her on “any fancy dates or expensive restaurants.”

It’s worth reading on your own to get the full breadth of all the foolery that transpired. But the Twitter discourse it inspired on what could lead a successful Black woman to accept lower than bare minimum in pursuit of a relationship and marriage, made me think of the years of messaging that Black women receive about how our standards are too high and what we have to “bring to the table” in order to be "worthy" of what society has deemed is the ultimate showing of our worth: a marriage to a man.

That's right, the first pandemic I lived through was not Covid, but the pandemic of the Black male relationship expert. I was young – thirteen to be exact – when Steve Harvey published his best-selling book Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man. Though he was still just a stand-up comedian, oversized suit hoarder, and man on his third marriage at the time, his relationship advice was taken as the gospel truth.

The 2000s were a particularly bleak time to be a single Black woman. Much of the messaging –created by men – that surrounded Black women at the time blamed their desire for a successful career and for a partner that matched their drive and ambition for the lack of romance in their life. Statistics about Black women’s marriageability were always wielded against Black women as evidence of our lack of desirability.

It’s no wonder then that a man that donned a box cut well into the 2000s was able to convince women across the nation to not have sex for the first three months of a relationship. Or that a slew of other Black men had their go at telling Black women that they’re not good enough and why their book, seminar, or show will be the thing that makes them worthy of a Good Man™.

This is how we end up marrying men who cancel twice before taking us on a “date” in the Popeyes parking lot, or husbands writing social media posts about how their Black wife is not “the most beautiful” or “the most intelligent” or the latest season of trauma dumping known as Black Love on OWN.

Now that I’ve reached my late twenties, many things about how Black women approach dating and relationships have changed and many things have remained the same. For many Black women, the idea of chronic singleness is not the threat that it used to be. Wanting romance doesn’t exist in a way that threatens to undermine the other relationships we have with our friends, family, and ourselves as it once did, or at least once was presented to us. There is a version of life many of us are embracing where a man not wanting us, is not the end of what could still be fruitful and vibrant life.

There are still Black women out there however who have yet to unlearn the toxic ideals that have been projected onto us about our worthiness in relation to our intimate lives. I see it all the time online. The absolute humiliation and disrespect some Black women are willing to stomach in the name of being partnered. The hoops that some Black women are willing to jump through just to receive whatever lies beneath the bare minimum.

It's worth remembering that there are different forces at play that gather to make Black women feast off the scraps we are given. A world saturated by colorism, fatphobia, anti-Blackness, ableism, and classism will always punish Black women who demand more for themselves. Dismantling these systems also means divesting from any and everything that makes us question our worth.

Because truth be told, Black women are more than worthy of having a love that is built on mutual respect and admiration. A love that is honey sweet and radiates a light that rivals the sun. A love that is a steadying calming force that doesn’t bring confusion or anxiety. Black women deserve a love that is worthy of the prize that we are.

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Featured image: Getty Images

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