Saturday, December 31, 2011

Beautiful flower clips for Curly Hair

After my hair fiasco, my dear friend Isha sent me a wonderful collection of handmade flower pins and earrings that she makes and sells on Etsy. They come in many different colors and styles, and I've been matching each flower with my outfit of the day.

Get yours here:

Isha's Flower Garden

Monday, December 19, 2011

Will You Date My Hair?

Finding a good stylist is like trying to find a good boyfriend. You want someone who "gets" you, who knows what they're doing when they touch you, and someone who makes you feel beautiful instead of ruining what beauty you already have.

I have no trouble rejecting men. I can usually tell within five minutes of a date if I'm going to like the guy or not. There's that instant chemistry (or lack thereof) that speaks volumes. If he's an hour late, that's one strike against him. If he forgets his wallet, that's another. If he pressures me to get into his car I know to run the other way, and if he wants me to drive an hour to his house on the second date with no plan other than coming over, I know not to get behind the wheel.

What's funny is that this confidence and intuition doesn't translate when I'm on a salon chair. I can pour out my sob story about how a previous stylist refused to do my hair or cut off uneven chunks at random, but every time I get in a new salon chair I'm convinced that this stylist will know exactly what to do. And it's not that I don't do my research. I just seem to be destined to have horrible stylists. Maybe they should make therapy sessions for people who have codependent relationships with stylists and who always seem to "choose the wrong one."

Last Tuesday I went to a new stylist. This was an inevitable change as I'd moved from the Pacific Northwest back to California. I found her salon on Yelp as one that got high recommendations for working with natural black hair. My first faux pas was in not making sure I got the stylist recommended on the site, but instead booked an appointment with the one who answered the phone.

I got in her chair, chatted her up, and entrusted her with one of my most valuable and only painstakingly-replaceable assets. I went in for a highlight touch up at my roots and a simple cut. Four hours later all I'd received was the highlights. Though my previous highlights were only 6 or 7 small sections, this stylists kept going and going with what must have been close to thirty. My hair began to sizzle a little under the dryer, but I chalked this up to it being hotter than the one I'd been under at my previous salon, and fell asleep. After the normal 30 minutes under heat, I got my rinse, paid my money, and dashed out the door to work. Once I got to work I realized that the "copper" highlights were bright orange/pink. Once I got home I realized that I'd also been partially balded. Not only that but she'd charged me $20 more than what she quoted me over the phone and I came to regret my $15 tip.

To make a long story short, I called her and she discovered that she wasn't supposed to put me under the dryer. She offered me a partial refund and a reconstructor treatment and then cancelled my treatment half an hour before it was scheduled because she wanted more sleep. Later that afternoon we each pulled up in front of her salon and I felt like I was in the middle of a drug deal as she handed me the cash. Once she saw my hair she insisted it was copper ("copper is orange, just like your [bright] orange sweater") and proclaimed my hair healthy even though it had been entirely sapped of natural oils and lay as dead on my head as if I had put my finger in a light bulb. (Yes, for kinky curly haired girls, "dead" does not mean flaccid.)

I took my partial refund to a Regis which is the chain of my previous stylist in Washington. I had her on the phone at the new salon, and my stylist said to run away as fast as I could, which I wasn't surprised about as the woman took one look at my hair and didn't want to have anything to do with it. Not because of the color but because my hair is so thick and curly. My stylist's sentiment was reinforced when the woman behind the counter lost my hair band, searched the entire salon and couldn't find one, and then tried to give me a rubber band instead. In a salon.

I'm reading tragic mulatta literature for a graduate class and so I'm immersed in mulattas who do not feel like they fit in either white or black society (though by the end they often choose black). I'd like to say that this double-consciousness is long gone, only, through my discussions with other mixed-race women--and black women who have decided to go natural--we're finding that there is almost no one out there who is willing or able to touch our hair. I for one I have decided that I will give myself a haircut, and that the only other person I'll entrust with scissors is my Washington stylist when I next go up for a visit. She is the only white person who will cut my hair (yes, I've been turned away that many times!) and black stylists always fry it to pieces because that's they only way they know how to deal with their own hair.

After a period of being worried that I would have to chop off my mane and start all over, home care, a well-placed hair wrap and a little bit of patience looks like it will slowly bring my hair back to a normal state. As for my mentality, stylists will now have to meet me, woo me, and prove their worth before I'll hand myself over.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

How to talk to your mixed race friend, family member, or stranger

With America becoming increasingly diverse, there is a growing need for education about proper etiquette when approaching the topic of race with a mixed race contact. I myself have many white friends and family members who struggle to find appropriate and politically correct terminology when discussing race with me. I know their fumbling comes out of a genuine desire to bridge the racial gap and assert their acceptance of me and other mixed race individuals. Below is a crash course in what -- and what not -- to say.

1. Don't ask: "What are you?"

Many mixed race individuals including myself will be offended by this question. While the question itself comes from a place of natural curiosity, the way it is worded implies that the person in question is somehow subhuman or defined entirely by his or her race.

Instead ask: "What is your ethnicity / ethnic makeup," etc.

Many mixed race individuals (also including myself) love this question when worded this way. Are we being nit-picky? Maybe. But unless you're a minority yourself, you represent the majority and we represent the "Other." In general we love to celebrate our otherness with those who are genuinely interested and who show that they view us positively through the way they ask.

Caveat: Some mixed race individuals don't like this question at all, so the guideline above only works on a case by case basis.

2. Don't say: "You're beautiful because you're exotic."

Again, such a statement may make us feel subhuman and more like an animal in a zoo. We don't want to be beautiful because of the way we differ from whites. Rather, we want to be beautiful of our own accord, and we believe a white person can be just as good looking as we are. In fact, if we are part white ourselves, saying we're beautiful because we're exotic means that half of our ethnic makeup is not beautiful.

Instead say: "You're beautiful."

Who doesn't like to be told they're beautiful? This statement is sure to flatter the receiver and you can steer clear of race talk completely.

Caveat: Some mixed race individuals do love to be noticed for their exoticism, so again, I can't speak for everyone.

3. Don't say: "I'm color-blind" or "I don't see color."

Mixed race individuals don't like this statement because we can't relate. We see color every single day, there is no way around it. We notice the one black student in the class, or the one Asian student at the party. We notice the races of all the characters in every TV show or movie, of every person in every commercial, and in every magazine ad. We don't notice these things because we are obsessed with race. Rather, because of growing up as an "Other," there is no way for us not to notice the races of those around us.

Rather say: Nothing. There's really no PC equivalent to this statement. Just avoid it!

Even "I love every color of the rainbow" or "I appreciate everyone's differences" can be taken as an insult. Why? Because like it or not, every single human being has prejudice inside them, even us. We should all fight against it, of course, but not being at all affected by race isn't possible.

4. Don't say: "African-American." 

Once upon a time, African-American was politically correct. Much in the same way that homosexual was the PC term over gay. However, just as gays have taken back their original definer, so have blacks. African-American is now passe, because it's an irrelevant definition. After all, we don't call whites European-American, and many of us have ethnic roots in America that go all the way back to the 1600s.

Instead say: "black."

Remember the Black is Beautiful movement of the 60s? Well it's back.

Caveat: The plural of "black" is most often "black people," not "blacks." And especially not "the blacks." Again, this may be a nit-picky criteria, but no one wants to pull a Donald Trump and say "I have a great relationship with the blacks." We're not one unit, we are all individuals.

Mixies: What rules of etiquette do you have to contribute? Are there any here that you disagree with?

--Shannon Luders-Manuel

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Catalog Models with Natural Hair

I've noticed a pattern in my online shopping habits. If a black woman is wearing a particular item of clothing, it makes me pay more attention to it. And if she has natural hair, I get a warm fuzzy feeling inside my chest like I am not a freak of nature but a catalog-worthy beauty, wild mane and all.

Here are some examples of natural beauties rocking the pages of online catalogs.

Check out this Venus vixen. So chic!

I first noticed this model a couple years ago and wrote Gap a big thank you!

Light skinned and still able to embrace her literal roots for Nordstrom. Sweet!

Forever 21 has this fierce model on its front page, though I can't find her actually modeling anything.

Well, catalog world, it's a start! Do any of my readers have more naturally nappy model findings to share?

-- Shannon Luders-Manuel

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Should you get strabismus surgery?

I'm going to deviate from my normal topic for a moment and discuss my rare eye condition, as I know there are others out there like me who look for information about it on the internet. Here's my story, in completely lay terms:

I was born with Duane's syndrome (my right eye can't look to the right or to the left). I used an eye patch briefly when I was a kid and wore special glasses to help make the eye stronger.

I was born with both eyes able to look straight ahead when my head was faced straight ahead. As I got older, I had to turn my head increasingly to the left in order for my eyes to line up and work together. If I didn't turn my head, one eye would be focused on the object in front of me and the other would be off doing its own thing. For the most part I didn't notice it. It happened so gradually that it had just become second nature to me. But as you can see, over the years it had become pretty severe:

Looking "straight ahead"
I conversed this way, read this way, and even drove this way. A couple years ago I went to a top medical school and had surgery to correct the strabismus. It was a Children's Hospital, as strabismus affects mainly children, but the surgeons there will of course fix the problem at an age. I was put under general anesthesia and my pupils were sutured and pulled into a correct position.

While I am for the surgery and not against it, here's some information you'll want to know ahead of time to help make your decision and to make sure you have the best recovery possible:
  • Don't take any Ibuprofen for a week before the surgery as it acts as a blood thinner.
  • After the sutures are in place, you will be asked to wake up and wait for the anesthesia to wear off, and then the opthamologist adjusts the sutures as necessary.
  • As you're coming out of the anesthesia, it will take awhile to be able to open your eyes, and if they put a breathing tube down your throat, you may have a hard time talking at first.
  • If it's too painful to get the sutures adjusted while you're awake, it's possible for the anesthesiologist to put you back under for the surgeon to complete the procedure.
  • There will be a lot of post-op bleeding (bloody tears) that may take several days to go away.
  • Your eyes may feel sandpapery for several days.
  • If the sandpaper feeling doesn't go away after a couple of weeks, you may need to go in to get the exposed end of the suture trimmed, which is not painful.
While my recovery was more difficult than most, the outcome was definitely worth it. And while it is mostly a cosmetic procedure, insurance does cover it. Or at least it does in some cases... I can only speak for myself! Now that my eyes are aligned, I no longer need 10 and 12-strength prisms. I look invested in the person I'm talking to instead of annoyed or flippant, and I have become a better driver.

Hope this helps!

--Shannon Luders-Manuel


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Garnier Girls

Is it just me, or do the women of Garnier Fructis commercials have better hair before they "use the product"? Here is an example, not of one I've seen on TV, but of one I found on youtube:

We seem to have two parallel trends going on right now in fashion. One is a continuation of straight haired women being pressured to iron their hair even straighter, and the other is a comeback of big hair on the trendsetting platform of the runway. Granted, neither straight hair nor curly hair is better than the other. But in my opinion Garnier would be better off to show women with a lot more distressed hair in their "before" footage. Healthy hair, like a healthy body, should always be the goal no matter what form it comes in.

Women of the world: let's celebrate our curls!

--Shannon Luders-Manuel

Saturday, April 30, 2011

I Support Elizabeth Smart

The following article of mine was reprinted without my permission and I don't endorse or support the blogger's theories on Elizabeth Smart:

Who is more disturbed: Gerry McCann or Ed Smart?
Shannon Luders-Manuel

I'm posting my statement here because there is no way to contact the blogger or to post comments on her site. Elizabeth, I am so very sorry for what happened to you and that there are those who claim your abduction was all a propagandist scam. My article in no way supports that theory.

The original can be viewed on Vanderbilt's website, here:

AmeriQuests, Vol 7, No 1 (2010)

-- Shannon Luders-Manuel

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Big Hair Makes a Comeback on What Not to Wear

Tonight I sat down on the couch in my sweats and watched one of my favorite shows: What Not to Wear. They've had black women on the show before, but Amanda Rodriguez is one of the only clients I've seen with natural hair. I was nervous for her when it got time for her hair makeover. I was sure the stylist was going to cut off major length and iron her beautiful curls straight, especially since he usually irons even relatively straight hair. I relaxed a little when I saw Ted Gibson pop up on the screen -- the black stylist who has replaced the much loved Nick Arrojo. Normally I prefer Arrojo, but Gibson being black made me hopeful that he would let her keep her god-given curls.

Not only did Gibson honor my wish, but he actually made her hair bigger. Instead of killing her curls, he used a diffuser, advised her not to shampoo her hair every day, and to use leave-in conditioner. Teri LaFlesh, author of Curly Like Me, says it's best not to use a hair dryer at all (which I don't follow or I seem to have water dripping down my back) and to leave in actual conditioner and not leave-in conditioner (which I do follow and it's made a world of difference). But regardless of slight variations of upkeep and styling, his advice to Rodriguez, which was also advice to the millions of viewers, was a breath of forward thinking fresh air in a behind the times hair world, much like Urban Outfitters high rise jeans that actually look cute and get rid of the 21st century faux pas of female butt crack. But that's another story for another time.

While I haven't seen every episode of What Not to Wear, I have seen only one other where the stylist made a black woman's hair bigger than it already was. Granted, most of the few black clients who come on the show already have chemically straightened hair, so there is no curl left to work with. Even though I had seen that one previous episode, the one I saw tonight stood out to me more. Maybe because Rodriguez is my age, or has my body, or has my exact hair texture. Maybe it's because, like me, she's a compulsive smiler even when her pet dies. Whatever the reason, the fact that Ted Gibson celebrated her curls, is, for me, a step forward in mainstream culture accepting us curly-haired women just as we are.

After finishing the show, I broke the cardinal rule and went out to Walgreen's in everything What Not to Wear said not to wear. But hey, it was 1:00 a.m.

--Shannon Luders-Manuel

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The anti-anti-processed hair movement

Rachel Jessica Daniel
In grad school, my friend Rachel sported a magnificent afro. As each year went by the gravity defying circle atop her head grew at an excitingly alarming rate. She prided herself on her natural nappiness with fervor akin to the black is beautiful movement of the 70s. Because of this I was very surprised when Rachel decided to give up her natural fro and sport a long, sleek weave instead. On her facebook page, she stated that black women should not be defined by their hair. Since reading this statement I have come to ponder over her words and develop my own opinion as to the validity and strength behind her statement. My question to myself, and now to you the readers is: Is defining ourselves by natural hair just as restricting as our predecessors who defined theirs by their ability to make their hair behave?

I myself admit that I am guilty of judging black women who keep their hair in what I term to be the self-oppression mirrored to us by white society. I wonder how these women can perpetuate the notion that our hair must be sleek and shiny in order to fit into Caucasian society. I want these women to caste off the shackles of hair slavery and create new lives for themselves dictated by their own definition of what is beautiful. So when I read Rachel's words, I automatically felt that her new position had let me down. How could someone so dedicated to the cause just give up like that? How could she turn her back on us and call us women who define ourselves by our hair?

But do we, as biracial women, perhaps use our belief in the beauty of natural hair in a way that undermines our more fully black sisters with kinkier manes? Just as people come in all colors, so does hair come in all textures, and those of us who have one parent with straighter, sleeker hair are of course bound to have looser, spirally curls. And many of us biracial women--myself among them--are on the front lines of supporting mixed race marriages which, while natural, is a choice to step outside of the more socially acceptable mores of one's race.

And going one step further, perhaps claiming that only natural hair is beautiful is just as limiting and dangerous to black expression as saying that only weaves or chemical treatments are. After all, my decision to go natural coincided with a decision to adorn myself with a nose ring, painted fingernails, and makeup -- all anti-natural modes of self-representation. Sure, all those things are supposed to enhance natural beauty, but they in and of themselves are not natural. So why is altering one's hair any less socially acceptable?

Hearing my friend Rachel's words hasn't changed the way I want to do my hair, but it has challenged my quick judgments against other women for their own hair choices. Perhaps the freedom to go natural and the freedom to alter comes from the same place: namely, the freedom to make one's own choices. I have to admit that when I do get my wonderful curls ironed straight for a haircut, I'm blown away by how sleek and shiny my own hair looks and I revel in being able to do the things other girls do, like tuck my hair behind my ears or run my fingers through it without it frizzing up. I love my curls too much to straighten them permanently or add a weave, but now I won't beat myself up at getting a blow out every now and then. After all, those with naturally straight hair don't question their race loyalty when they take out the curling iron. Yes, Rachel, our hair does not define us. Our power comes from the knowledge that we can make our own hair choices, and create our own unique looks and be whoever we want to be.

--Shannon Luders-Manuel


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

From Pullman Porter Grandpa to Conductor Me

Thanks to Teri LaFlesh, author of Curly Like Me, my blog has gotten new followers and a tighter focus, namely, that wonderful thing called biracial hair and the beautiful women who sport it. Soon I will interview Teri, who was kind enough to feature my hair on her blog with a link to mine. Right now, however, I want to simply offer up a bit of firsthand advice based on her haircare system.

Because of Teri, I now braid my hair every night to keep the curls healthy and contained. No more dry combing and ruining my ends with tugs and pulls. On days when I don't go out, I often like to leave the braids in. And, lets face it, sometimes even when I do go out I like to leave them in, instead of running palmfuls of water and rubbing conditioner through my huge mane. This is especially true when my day only consists of picking up a prescription at the drug store or buying a carton of milk.

Since I most often make six braids -- three on each side of my head -- I can't just walk out of the house with my hair as is. No one wants to look like Medusa while they're standing in line at the store. A couple months ago I tried on a "conductor hat", almost as a joke, but realized right away how fabulous it looked on me. That $14 purchase is now one of the smartest I've made. I simply pull the hat over my head and viola!, Not only do I look put together, I look fabulously stylish. An excellent replacement for my ghetto-looking bandannas. (Hey, I'm not knocking the ghetto... I used to live in East Side San Jose!) I recommend such a look to all the biracial ladies out there. Who says we have to be tied down by our hair?

Target doesn't have this particular hat anymore, but here is a similar style:

Target Knit Cap

I know I'm not the first to realize the awesomeness of these hats, but if you're as slow to find fashion as I am, maybe this will help you along.

--Shannon Luders-Manuel