Tiana Tamara Townsell about America’s Next Natural Model
Tiana Tamara Townsell
Congratulations. How does it feel to be the first Miss Nappturality ever and what does it mean to you?
Thank you. This is such an honor. I appreciate the opportunity of being America’s First Natural Model; Miss Nappturality 2008. It is 2008 and we are just now celebrating our natural hair like never before and I am truly blessed to be a part of it. We need to be able to empower ourselves so that we will never ever lose ourselves in this society. We should never ever forget who we are; this is the beginning of one of our segments of empowerment. We have been forced to cover up our appearance and alter it since we came to this country and hopefully we will never lose our dignity and pride in ourselves again. This poem sums up who I am as Ms. Nappturality:
One who bears the eyes of tomorrow, yet sheds tears of the past
One who bears the soul of those lost in systems of oppression
For in her, those souls reclaim their heirs, Kings and Queens of all they survey
For she embodies the past, lives the present, and rises to the challenges of the future
For Ms. Nappturality transcends time!
~Dedicated to me by Kabbie Konteh
What do you think about the competition?
The competition was very tough. Ten weeks of challenges turned out to be more time and energy consuming then I had thought it was going to be when I first entered. Also, the other contestants always kept me on my toes and on top of my game because they were very intelligent and beautiful women. However, like other things worth having in life, it was hard but the rewards were spectacular and well worth it. This competition really helped us to empower ourselves and allowed us to empower each other. Unfortunately, there were more people who wanted to participate in the voting process but found the website a bit confusing. Maybe next time there could be some type of voice message system where they could call in and have another option besides voting online.
Yes there were some issues with the site and I will definitely take this to hart. What was the hardest challenge? The hardest challenge for me was the Homemade Hair Recipe. I did not have the skills of an average kitchen chemist so this one was a stretch for me. It was the first time that I had ever made a homemade hair recipe and I looked at the ingredients I already had, decided what I would make, and went from there. I knew a lot about the products I was working with, so my challenge was to figure out how to mix them to get the results that I wanted. However, I ended up effectively working with what I had and was ultimately successful.
The story about you when you went home crying because you were being teased with your fro only to find out that the kids really liked your hair is so heartwarming. How did this impact you? What would you do now if people made fun of your hair? Or if it already happened how did you respond?
That situation impacted me very much, at the time and I felt like maybe I was missing something. I loved my hair so I didn’t understand why my mother straightened it before and why my classmates were teasing me now. I felt really defeated. After seeing my year book and realizing that they did really like my hair, I was regretful, but I also was confused. If they liked it then why were they sticking things in it and “making fun” of me? I dismissed my regret and thought, “oh well, at least I don’t have to put up with that again”. After that, whenever they’d ask me to wear my hair in a fro, I’d just explain to them that I couldn’t anymore because my hair was permanently straightened. After a while, I just stopped thinking about my hair and processing it became routine.
No one has made fun of my hair since I decided to BC 3 years ago. Although, a lot of people still ask me if my hair is real and also ask if I am wearing a wig (especially when my hair is in a Natural). This used to bother me at first because it reminded me of my 8th grade year, but my mother really helped me put things in perspective by asking me how many women of the African Diaspora I see with a head full of healthy hair.
If people were to try and make fun of me, it wouldn’t even faze me. I understand the history behind our hair and the mental conditioning that we’ve been subjected to for centuries. Because of this knowledge, and my love affair with my natural hair, I would not be bothered. Furthermore, if it was the right time and atmosphere, I would use that opportunity to flip the script and have them question their own mindset.
I often read other stories of women feeling really hurt and are offended when a white person says something about their hair that isn’t necessarily meant to be hurtful. It makes me wonder; why do we respond this way? Are we too sensitive when it comes to our hair? If so, why do you think it is?
I don’t really know how to respond to this because I have never been in this situation. However, I do not think black women, in general, are too sensitive when it comes to their hair. For many years we have been told that this fundamental part of us was ugly. Before Nappturality I thought the word “nappy” was hurtful and negative because of the negative stigma that word has been given. Now I see how the word wasn’t inherently negative and that we can embrace it and other negative ideals and perpetuate positivity towards our hair in our communities.
Which one of the Miss Nappturality challenges did you enjoy most and why?
I really enjoyed the head wrap challenge the most because it presented a challenge that I met head on and ended up winning. I was really intimidated when I first received the scarf and realized we would be making a head wrap with it because I have no experience with head raps. I’ve always enjoyed them and looked at them as a fashion accessory but I never learned how to do one or took the intuitive to learn. The task was daunting and I had lost two challenges in a row so I knew I had to face this challenge with confidence. I used Nappturality to look up how to do a head wrap. I found a couple different tutorials but my scarf was too short to do the wraps, so I knew I was on my own and would have to make up one. Since I was intimidated by this challenge and have learned to meet my obstacles full force, I knew it was all or nothing at all. So I threw some of my dramatic flair into the mix and gave it a whirl.
Who helped you to taking those great pictures and who helped you to do your makeup and hair?
All of the concepts, designs (including the makeup), and hairstyles, were thought up by me, but I actually had a lot of help with the execution and I am really grateful to everyone who helped me during this competition. My mother took the pictures for the “Pillowcase Ad” (challenge 2), the “Head Wrap” (challenge 7), and “Hats” (challenge 8). A friend of mine, who is a spoken word artist and a local celebrity, Rajnii Eddens, took the pictures for the “Homemade Challenge” (challenge 3), and another friend of mine, a stock photographer, Inti St. Clair, took the pictures for Challenges 4, 5, 9, and 10. Lastly, I took a picture of myself for the “Afro Challenge” (challenge 6).
As for my makeup, I did my makeup for seven of the ten challenges. The makeup for the “Jewelry Challenge” (challenge 4) was done by my friend Tiffany, who is a makeup artist for MAC. For challenge 6, the “Afro Challenge”, I wasn’t wearing any makeup and for the “Evening out Challenge”, challenge 9, the makeup was done by Erin at MAC.
My mother braided my hair for the last challenge and for challenge 4 she and I collaborated. She braided the sides up and I did the twist-out foe hawk. I did my hair for all of the other challenges.
You are a model and an actress needless to say you will have to change your look often. Especially as a model where straight hair appears to be in demand. How will you handle this or what would you do if you need to play a woman with a perm?
TGFW, thank goodness for wigs. If the director is not willing to allow me to photograph or act with my hair in a natural style, I would gladly resort to wigs. In fact, I own a straight wig now for that purpose. I do not use heat in my natural hair because it can lead to severe damage thus, I have no problem wearing a straight wig, but it will be coming off as soon as the shoot is over or at the end of the filming day or play. Most models and actresses resort to wigs anyway, so I do not see this as a problem. Although, it is really important for me to stand apart for the traditional “Hollywood standards” and not get trapped like so many of our celebrities who have been changed from their natural selves to the typical European beauty standard. Therefore, if I do end up doing a movie where I have to wear a straight wig, everywhere else the public sees me, at promotional events, red carpet, walking down the street, etc. I will be wearing my natural hair. That also goes for ads as well. The public will always know me as a natural woman who is proud and teaching others to be proud with their natural appearances.
Did your homemade Alma-Almond Scalp Scrub help you to get rid of your flaky scalp?
Yes, my homemade Alma-Almond Scalp Scrub did help me get rid of my flaky scalp. I rinsed my hair a couple times and my scalp was left very hydrated.
Do you think it’s important to promote nappy hair?
It is absolutely important to promote nappy hair. This is one of the reasons I got my degree in marketing. For so long we of the African Diaspora have been marketed to hate ourselves. Anything that is a distinctive “black” characteristic has come under fire and that applies to hair as well. That is why I am dedicated to changing our mindset. When I went to school, I learned that same system so that I could use it to reverse the hatred and uplift our people in order to help assist us with returning back to our promise. I want to market the right messages and that means promoting nappy hair.
What do you say to people who say that natural hair is a political statement? No one has actually said this to me personally, but I know that some people believe this to be true. To them I say, natural hair is no more a political statement then the color of someone’s eyes. I think that some people outside of our Diaspora may feel it is a political statement because they do not have knowledge of our hair. We have done such an effective job of hiding our natural hair that many people, including ourselves, have no idea what our natural texture looks like. They may think back to the time of the 60s and 70s and think that we must have done something to our hair to get it into an Afro. They may think that our hair was manufactured when in reality that is how our hair naturally grows. Education is the key to solving this problem as well as many others.
If you could choose your own roll as an actress what movie would you like to play in, what roll would you like to play and who would you like to be your co-actors?
“8 Ball” staring Miss Nappturality 2008, Tiana Tamara Townsell, as Hairso Foxy. My character, Hairso Foxy would be a cross between Harriet Tubman and Foxy Brown. In “8 Ball”, I would go around freeing minds and fighting companies that target black people with chemicals and other unhealthy hair products. I would go after large corporations, turn over delivery trucks, kick perm boxes and texturizers out of people’s hands and teach people of the African Diaspora that they are beautiful and hansom without it. The significance of the movie title is that the number 8 represents change and flipped on its side it is an infinity sign, representing infinite change. My co-actors would be the top celebrities and singers now and they would be the people I am educating and saving so they could help change the world.
Who is your inspiration and why?
I have been blessed to have many inspirational people in my life. Many things inspire me in different ways. The Creator is my most influential inspiration. This world is so beautiful; I often look around and just admire the natural beauty of this Earth. I know that I am a child of the Creator and when I keep this in mind I know that I have no limits on this Earth. My only limit is myself and that is one of the most inspirational things a person can ever know; I am only bound by myself. Others cannot bind me, although they will try, this is bigger than them, it’s bigger than me. Other inspirations of mine are my parents, my family, taking risks, the past (my history), the future, Michelle and Barak Obama, and more. I take what I can from things that cross my path and use that as my inspiration.
Last word? I really want to thank all of the judges for believing in me and allowing me to be on a platform where I can bring awareness and help call our people back to self empowerment. This, I feel starts with loving ourselves and living, which also means being aware of the AIDS epidemic that is plaguing our black communities. Dr. Cornell West says, “If you want to lead the people, you have to love the people; if you want to save the people you have to serve the people,” I believe strongly in this and all of my efforts come from love and respect. Warren Ballentine says, “Push me and I’ll pull you” and these are also words I live by. If you push me, I will pull you at the same time, so at the end of the day I am not leading but we are side by side surrounded with new and better opportunities.
Favorite Book: “Never Underestimate the Power of Believing in Yourself”
Favorite Movie: Lean on Me
Favorite Song: “Drifting on a Memory” – Isley Brothers, “Tennessee” – Arrested Development
Favorite Artist: Marvin Gaye
Favorite Model: Naomi Campbell
Favorite Actor: Morgan Freeman, Eddie Murphy (in his younger years), Michael Clarke Duncan
Favorite Actress: Kimberly Elise, Angela Bassett, Raven Simone
Favorite Food: Indian food, Masresha’s Ethiopian Food, Mexican food