By Imani Mixon
My landlord does not know the square footage of my one-bedroom apartment and neither do I. Theoretically, I could take out my measuring tape, measure the length and width of each room and piecemeal a semi-accurate estimate of the dimensions of my space, but that sounds pointless. What matters more than the size of this space is all that it can hold. On a good day, if these walls could talk, they would say, “Damn, I’m happy we made it.” On a bad day, these walls wonder how many miles I’ve walked from one room to the next. From the living room to the kitchen to wash the dishes, to the bathroom every Sunday to wash my hair, from the bedroom to the living room to work, live, and play all in this teeny-tiny apartment.
Nowadays, I spend most of my time at home alone, glancing at the mirror, posing for a self-timed fit pic in the hallway, gazing at myself in the top corner on Facetime, or focusing on my own square on Zoom. I have gotten intimately familiar with my face and my image, the image I show the world. I’m just beginning to get acquainted with who I really am and who I really want to look like. Sometimes I wish that I entered March 23, 2020, fully manicured, pedicured, waxed, and braided, then I realize how delusional and unrealistic that is. No one knew all this was coming and I definitely didn’t intend on entering the most memorable and devastating year of my life in fuzzy straight back braids, but isn’t that always how it works? Are we ever fully prepared for our lives to be changed forever?
In the beginning, being locked down and shut in at home seemed like it could be a fun challenge, a way to get to know oneself—to try that fancy moisturizing face mask, make that intricate meal, or attempt that complicated DIY hairstyle. For a couple weeks, that’s exactly how I busied myself. I bought lounge-y clothes, a spatula designed specifically for flipping pancakes, a small set of weights, hair and nail gummy vitamins, and a couple packs of braiding hair. I was going to buy and improvise my way into a shiny, long, fluffy life. I don’t quite remember when reality sank in, but I know my heart and my gut sank with it. We are going to be in this for a while, this is nowhere near over.
When I looked up from all the online shopping, I noticed a feeling of lack and longing, to be perfect and outside again. Being at home, scrolling my timeline and being targeted by ads, I was bombarded with what society thought Black girl leisure and luxury should look like. Cottage core and crystals and cleanses and only the biggest, longest curls. I must admit, I fell for it. It took a while, but after fixating on creating fantasy Indoor Me, I wanted to dive into real life, Natural Me. I knew that my actual body, my actual appearance, this artifice that houses all of what’s in me was the easiest and most readily available site for exploration. I wanted to learn what beauty really meant and felt like to me, especially when no one was dictating it to me or expecting it from me.
As someone who has been wearing natural hair all my life and natural curls for almost a decade now, it may not seem like such a big leap, but in the beginning, all my natural styles prioritized length over health. That feeling of hair swinging below my mid-back during birthdays, girls trips, and other special occasions was a familiar yet fleeting comfort to me. The edges were to be soft and laid, curls bouncy and moisturized. Knotless box braids, a sleek, low, long ponytail, and intricate cornrow styles were signals for celebration, but all of a sudden there were very few things to celebrate, hair salons were shut down, and there was no way for me to master those styles on myself. I’d have to rely on my own hands and my own knowledge to style my hair.
I started doing my research and discovered that, contrary to popular belief, Black girls with hair like mine needed to wash more frequently than every two weeks. It was to be a weekly ritual. Fortunately, it was simpler than the five-step processes all natural girls are inundated with upon entry into this sacred sisterhood. Jennifer Rose, a New York-based stylist and owner of FROhaus, popped on my timeline often, debunking all the hair facts I thought I knew. My best friend Jess and I volleyed Jennifer’s 140-character sermons into each other’s DMs, often followed by the side-eye emoji. Looks like we got some work to do. Girl did you know we’ve been doing it all wrong?
During a bathroom deep clean, I purged my rolling beauty cart and threw out three bags of toxic, redundant, and useless items. I simplified—shampoo, conditioner (no leave-in!), wrapping foam and mousse, sometimes gel. I halved my washing and twisting time. I put on a podcast or playlist for the wash and a short Netflix show for the twist. A couple months into my weekly washes I discovered that my best hair day is about Day 3 of a twist out. My curls are big and huge and shiny, just like the magazines and commercials, except I can actually feel and change it when it’s my own.
It’s crazy how many games the mirror plays on us, how often we play in the mirror or on the screen. Lately I have taken more Zoom calls in post-wash, pre-twist-out twists than Old Me would ever have allowed. I am slowly introducing the Super Natural Me that I have cultivated over these months to the rest of my world. Sometimes I go on walks around the neighborhood without wearing a scrunchie, so I can experience nature’s fullness and she can experience mine too. I like to feel my curls unencumbered. Yes, they fall in my face and take up so much space, especially in non-Black surroundings. My curls stand out, they make people nervous. Like that one night, in the before times, when a white guy saw me walk into a room at a party and blurted out to me, “I love Luther Vandross.” Or those times when I can tell someone hasn’t been around people like me and they offer a polite yet misplaced compliment, “Your hair is so … cool.”
I am most at peace and in my zone when I am at home, tending to myself. Keeping my hair wrapped and covered, twisted and braided, and letting it fly. I am learning that nurturing myself does not have to be complicated, but it does have to be regular. How beautiful to be your own ritual.
Imani Mixon is a writer, producer, and long-form storyteller born and raised in Detroit. Her multimedia work centers on the experiences of Black women and independent artists.
Read “What is in a Name” by Imani Mixon in Three Fold issue no. one.
Imani Mixon | photo by Erin Bobbitt
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