Image 1: Anxiously Awaiting
After realizing that I would be in America’s Next Natural Model 2013 I was ecstatic but also as I thought about the time commitment anxiety slowly set in. I was in Vermont, which to find photographers willing to help was going to be scarce, my mother who was neater and could of help with hairstyling was miles away, my boyfriend who is the biggest supporter of my natural hair journey and who would do anything he could to help if needed help me take pictures had left college for clinical. Finally to top it off being vice president for the Black Student Union had a great deal of responsibilities coming up because Black History Month and our signature Fashion Show would occur during the same weeks of the challenges. Slowly I began to think, “What did I get myself into? Should I have waited until I had graduated? Will I honestly be able to handle this at the moment?”
Image 2: Positively Priceless
Within that week my nerves began to settle and I realized like anything else I wanted to do in life, I could do this. I could manage my other responsibilities and put time in for America’s Next Natural Hair Model competition. I told my executive board, and some close friends. They had all supported me and was proud because I am known for being quitte a “Hair Guru” or as my boyfriend likes to call me “Hair Diva”. I shoved all my negative thoughts about the competition out of my mind and began to feel blessed that I chosen to represent natural hair through media/ pictures beautiful way to enlighten communities about natural hair.
Image 3: Awkwardly Amiable
As the first rounds of the competition flew by, I realized that even though I could take great pictures on my own I was really actually camera shy once the photographer got started. The critiques from the judges told me to loosen up, bring out my personality and not be afraid to look into the camera and show true emotion! I admit the first couple of challenges I was feeling a little awkward behind the camera but I began to tell myself to not think about the pictures just for the competition but to just let go and have fun with it instead of stressing out. Thus my confidence during the shoots as well as my creativity grew and as a result produced some amazing shots with photographers.
Image 4: Refreshingly Relieved
Once I started to get the hang of organizing my responsibilities pertaining to school as well as the competition and having my friends and executive board help support me throughout these challenges, I began to feel relieved and self assured. Sure I admit every round I crossed my fingers with a little bit of worry, but I was honestly proud of each round that I completed because I always donated time to plan accordingly the desired “feel” of the shoot. Thinking to myself “I can DO THIS!” before I entered every shoot to help me bring my best.
Image 5: Optimistically Overjoyed
I have to admit it is the last round and I am overwhelmed with different emotions, relieved that I can relax and not hunt down a photographer for next week, and go dashing after my class to their studio but I am also a little sad to have it end. Througout this competition, it really pushed me to learn how to organize myself to make sure to accomplish my responsibilities while also bringing my best to every round. I also learned to loosen up and bring the confidence I have in day to day life to other things such as this competition that I am passionate about. One thing that I loved about this competition was having the opportunity to represent different themes for each round, pertaining to culture, history, or the sponsorship items. Behind each and every round was a deeper meaning and mission to showcase viewers. For example; the bridal hairstyles showcased that you don’t need to straighten your hair to look beautiful for your big day but there are plenty of styles for natural hair, or even the black history month challenge, which I learned about different aspects of black culture regarding people and events that is under represented in the textbooks.
The hardest part of this competition for me was being in Vermont as well as organizing being on Black Student Union. During the same time of the competition it also was around the time of Black History Month, so besides school work, I was jumping from planning and implementing events, as well as setting up and hosting a fashion show, this I believe for anyone would be strenuous because of the amount of juggling of activities I had to do but I am proud to say I accomplished them all. J
Also many people may think how could location play a big factor in this challenge but since I was in Vermont during the time, access to resources regarding photographers, makeup artists, hair stylist etc are very limited, in extremely distant locations, as well as it being extremely cold limited most of my shoots to indoors.
Despite, people believing that I had a team working with me throughout this competition besides the positive support many people gave me it was truly me and the photographer at the shoots. Brainstorming and implementing multiple hair styles during the shoots, youtubing makeup tutorials, and wardrobe were all in the end done by me.
Despite, this I did have friends who helped and supported me in little ways but were actually biggest of help to actually make it to each round. Some of my friends took a pictures of me for one shoot, one helped me with makeup regarding the accessory challenge, while others provided items to use and a dress for the Jamaican mango and lime challenge. While I had the most wonderful friends drive me close to hours away (even sometimes out of Burlington!) to get to a photographer’s location. Lastly the outstanding photographers who donated their time and equipment to helping me with these shoots.
In the end this photo shows I look back over my shoulder but also am walking forward to represent acknowledging who I was but also continuing forward to becoming a stronger more resilient person in the future.
Soul Seed Tees:
Photographer: Steven Mercure
After, receiving the shirts from SoulSeed Tees, I carefully looked at each and every one of the shirts designs, words, and tried to invest in truly figuring out deeper meaning for each shirt. In the “Statue of Liberation” there is a person with an afro that looks similar to the Stature of Liberty, holding up the Black Power Fist. The raised fist actually came from ancient Assyria, representing resistance to violence. It later came to be used by the Black Panther Party for black nationalism but as I researched further it was also used by the Women’s Movement/Women’s Liberation. The usage of the Stature of Liberty does not only just represent freedom but as the first is lit like the touch represents enlightenment. Combining all these meanings I began to realize how far black women have come and how far we still have to go regarding our rights, equality, debunking stereotypes, and other social justice issues that come into our day to day lives. Black women have already began defying firsts such as Michelle Obama being the first black First lady, Kerry Washington to play the lead in a prime time drama in 38 years, there are more naturals being showcased in commercials, movies and television shows. In my pictures I wear my fro proudly but I look up and don’t have an expression of anger or rage but hope because I believe that one day black women, even with these baby steps, will keep pushing forward for true liberation.
The next tshirt shows Harriet Tubman with the words “The Original Ride or Die Chick” printed on it. After escaping slavery, Harriet Tubman rescued slaves through the Underground railroad as well as safe houses. Even though, Harriet Tubman escaped the fate of being a slave she went back to save others putting not only her freedom but her life on the line. The words “Ride or Die” mean to stick it through something tough through the good or bad or to go through with something even if you die trying. Harriet Tubman was truly courageous and exemplifies how women should be when trying to reach their goal. Her bravery and courage are admirable but also her intelligence to actually accomplish her mission of saving other slaves but keeping safe is commendable. For this shoot I decided to do a retro victory roll to the front with a back puff. The retro styled victory roll at the front with a puff at the back, which shows a bit of attitude and defiance.
For the next tshirt “For Colored Girls” (which is my favorite) is colorful and written on it is “I found God in myself & I loved her. I loved her fiercely” by Ntozake Shange. Btozake Shange or Paulette L. Williams. was an American playwright, poet, and black feminist who addressed social issues regarding race and feminism in her pieces. When reading this quote, I try to imagine that Ntzozake Shange was trying to tell others about the self love and acceptance she began to feel for herself and thus becoming not only enlightened by it but becoming a better person. I believe that everyone goes through a journey of figuring out who they are and fighting with self acceptance. As a senior in college I know I made that journey at the end of high school and finally looked inside myself and loved and accepted me for who I really was, for my flaws and all. Through this self acceptance you make your life better as well as your relationship with the world around you. For this shoot, I decided to put a hair bow to represent my creative personality, as well as the versatily I love and enjoyed once I became natural.
The next shirt “100% Natural” shirt resonated with me especially the line “My hair is not a preference it’s my natural state, I love & respect it because the Most High makes no mistakes” especially since just recently Hairstylist Derek J stated that “Natural Hair is Not for everyone” and continues on to state that some people look like “they came from the color purple”. This statement baffles me not just because I am currently natural, I believe people should have a choice to what hair style (perm, curly etc) but his statement negatively portrays Natural hair as just being an accessory and can only be worn by few. People with natural hair are born with it just like straight, wavy, and various hair types and thus that statement is invalid since people with other hai rtypes can have a styling issue as well since I’ve seen many women, even through this competition with different textures showcasing various hairstyles beautifully. Natural hair perfect the way it is and is just as beautiful as other hair types. For this shoot I wanted to emphasize the natural aspect and try to emulate a plant, tree, or flower, to show that natural hair grown from our heads naturally and is “100% Organic”.
The last shirt definition of a Black woman was my favorite. Being in Vermont, and in not a state that is culturally or ethnically diverse, my identity of a person of color especially a black female is always danced around with uncertainty or even fear. The first encounter of really thinking about the identity of black women in the outside world occurred to me my freshman year of college. My friend was video chatting with a friend and he introduced me. I said hello and gave a wave and a smile and my friend turned back to the video camera and stated “Hey see I told you, not all black girls are ugly”. I was silenced by that and immediately left the room not sure what to say or do. Media, various racist studies, and the type of society that we live in, tries to break down what a black woman is whether it is through complexion hair or just being a black woman. Black women are portrayed as being the most undesirable type of woman there is (despite the fact that a lot of our features are preferred). As I truly took in the definition I realized that despite the negatives there will always be positives and “A beautiful, powerful, resilient female of African descent with skin kissed by the sun” is what I am and what I will always be proud to be.
Photographer: Corey, Hendrickson http://www.coreyhendrickson.com/portfolio/thumbs/
This challenge was sponsored by Soul Seed Tees where you can get the beautiful shirts.