Interview with Mireille



Name:  Mireille Liong

Occupation: Author/Web Publisher
Location: Brooklyn, NY
Hair Type: 4a,b
Hair Style: Twistout
Fav. Hairstyle: AFRO
Natural since: 2000
Motif to go natural:
O, I so longed for happy healthy hair.
Method of going-natural:
transitioned with tucked-in braids, bantus, extensions and weaves.
Difficulties of going-natural:
Pro's of being natural:
Healthy hair, FREEDOM and for the first time my hair loves me back.

This interview was taken by Dee for where I was honored to Napptural of the month.

Interview with Mireille Liong-A-Kong, Author of Going Natural, How to Fall in Love with Nappy Hair

Tell us a little bit about where you live. What are your experiences like?
A couple of years ago I moved from Holland, the Netherlands (Europe) to Brooklyn and a whole new world of black culture opened up for me. It’s a great experience, I’ve learned a lot and I think Afro Americans have a lot to be proud of, historically and culturally.
I am probably the only natural on the block but I had many compliments from my neighbors when I wore Bantu’s this summer. I could tell they really liked the hairstyle. When I wore Twists another day a man in the neighborhood commented, “You’re fine even though you’re nappy”. I didn’t even know this man. I was just passing by and laughed away his ignorance because he caught me off guard and I just did not know what to say. Next time I might say “you are not fine even though you’re nappy!” Anyway, that pretty much describes how different natural hair is still perceived, my neighborhood is not that different.

How is the attitude of Black women towards their hair in your country?
I was probably naïve because I wasn’t aware that we had such deep issues with black hair until after my book came out. I mean I never learned to believe that my nappy hair was bad. My mother loved our hair, she combed our hair, me and my sister’s, every morning with a very soft hand. Never complained.
The responses I received via my web site and especially at the happy-hair-day-lecture I organized in Suriname, made me realize that our issues ran deeper than I thought. Reading “Hair Story” taught me that our hair issues are not that different from colored women in the US and maybe even all over the world. One difference is that in Suriname mothers don’t start relaxing their kids’ hair until after the child had her first period.

Nevertheless, I think the negative attitude towards nappy hair is changing because ethnic hairstyles are in fashion. The music and video clips have impact on teens, but I am not sure how much awareness they really create. I am afraid that it might be over as soon as the hairstyles are out of fashion. Just like after the Afro in the 60’s. After the height of the black movement, the majority of women started to relax their hair. And if you think about it, this movement and the Afro were politically initiated, to create awareness. So, I am not sure if a lot’s going to change soon and permanently. I do think it helps.

Do many women wear their hair without straightening it?
In Suriname more than in Holland. The last time I visited Suriname it was striking to see so many beautiful different natural hairstyles. It is probably 50/50 and the fact that permed hair is expensive to maintain may have something to do with it. It is inevitable though, that the fashion of ethnic hairstyles have a positive impact on how women in Suriname and Holland are wearing their hair. I did a little research in Holland before my book came out and 90% wore relaxers and weaves. Braids are also popular but mainly as a temporary hairstyle to take a break from the chemicals. I did notice that younger kids, early teens are wearing more naturals the last time I visited Holland, so I hope it is also changing for the better.

Tell us about your ambitions in writing and educating.
My first lecture not only made me realize how much pain and negativity are still associated with our hair type, but also how little we know about our own hair. That’s why I think there is still a lot to do. Another thing that motivated me was when I read a hair research paper and it said that African hair was difficult. I was mad. I mean I don’t mind if we or other races, I don’t care who, see our hair as difficult, but I do have a problem when scientists define our hair as difficult. It is presumptuous because they expect our hair to behave like straight hair. This is a huge mistake and not only is it bad research it leads to bad conclusions. It is like me doing research or a paper on white hair and start by saying "Well this type of hair is very difficult because it is thin and lacks volume and texture, so this hair type hardly keeps a cornrow or a braid." How crazy is that?

So I think it’s time for some good objective research. It is always good to have scientific proof of what you believe and I think it will have a positive impact on the way we perceive hair. Our hair routines and believes are based on “fixing” our hair and that needs to be changed profoundly. I feel like I am only at the beginning of what I would like to see differently and it is too much for me alone. That is one of the reasons I am so very happy with Nappturality. This web site is creating so much awareness and offers great support to women who want to go natural.

How long have you been wearing your hair naturally?
Since 2000, but I went natural before in 1998. The only thing I knew then is that I never wanted to relax again, I only wanted healthy hair. I braided my hair for a year but when I went to redo my hair, the braider just wasn’t there. I panicked, cause I had taken the braids out, washed my hair, combed it out and made some funny looking braids. I mean, I don’t care if my hair isn’t what most people would consider “neat” but even I knew that I could not go to work like that. The parting was a mess. Although I could braid my hair I had no idea how to make my hair look representative.

Desperate as I was I called in sick the next morning and went to a salon to straighten my hair again and that hurt. I never forget that feeling because it hurt so, so bad. I mean even now I know that that was the moment, I realized that I needed to know how to take care of my own nappy hair because I did not want a relaxer on my head ever again. I have to thank the braider that stood me up because it changed my life. I think that is where my real journey began. Everybody loved my straightened hair but I was looking at them strangely. Cause I really did not like it.

What event would you say most affected your attitude towards nappturality?
You are not going to believe this but a boyfriend who once said that I had issues changed my whole attitude. I was in this notorious cycle of braiding, to grow some healthy naps only have them breaking down my scalp again by the chemicals. I thought that I was doing something wrong, that I did not take care well enough of my hair and that that was the reason I was suffering from breakage. But he said you have an issue. I was very sure that I did not hate my hair and had no issues.

When he said that to me, I did not even know what one thing had to do with the other and his remark got me angry. Funny thing is, I even started locing his hair, I talked him into locing it, so what was he talking about? I don’t think I had issues with my hair but I did believe that I had to straighten my hair for a corporate look or a representative hairstyle. Years later when my hair was breaking again after growing a healthy head of naps, I remembered his remark and I literally thought by myself “ I don’t have issues do I?” Why do I keep doing this? This is clearly not good for me, I tried every thing and my hair keeps breaking. Can I stop relaxing? That statement is what affected me and made me consider going natural.

Have you encountered any negativity about your hair?
To be honest not really. I think I am very blessed, friends and family take me the way I am. I was close with my brother and he is always supportive no matter what I do. So is my dad, although he had to get used to my hairstyles sometimes but to be honest my hair was a big mess occasionally. The thing is, I love “messy” naps and then a nonjudgmental brother is priceless. I think he even enjoyed my messy hair, I couldn’t call them hairstyles, at times.

Where have you received the most support for going natural?
This is one thing I had to do on my own. I only discovered nappturality 2 years after I went natural. At that time in 2000 I lived in Amsterdam the Netherlands and I would not know where to go to for support. I used books, magazines, I don’t know how I did it, but I think because it happened this way, I got the most out of it. I was so convinced, so tired of unhealthy, limp hair that no matter what people would say to me, it would not change my mind. I did not expect them to like my hairstyles but I was so very happy with my healthy nappy hair, that I could care less about what they thought. I may have been a little weird too, because there were a lot of things I did not understand.

I do remember a person asking me once, “why don’t you straighten your hair”, and I thought by myself “how many women do you know with healthy looking relaxed hair that is not breaking” so how can you even ask me this question. I think it was like I was from another planet because to me the real question was why do so many women still relax their hair?

If you could change anything about your napptural experience, what would it be?
I don’t think I would like to change anything. The journey goes on, I am still learning and it’s all good.

What are your favorite hairstyles?
Oooh, that’s very difficult. I love the versatility of Twists but they take too long do now. I love the voluminous Twist out, but not the maintenance, I love the Bantu’s for their simplicity but my hair is a little too long, sleeping on them feels a little bumpy. I am very low maintenance so I do extension braids at least once a year. I love locs and sisterlocks but they are definitely too high maintenance for me. I think the huge afro is my favorite style. A big healthy fro is so impressive. It shows the pure and natural beauty of naps.

Where do you get your inspiration from to create new styles?
Everywhere, I mean if I look at your album Dee I love the things you do with your hair. You and the albums of WOW on this web site are inspirational. The styles in Suriname were also amazingly inspiring because they are a mix of American black hairstyles with a Caribbean flavor. Although I like to keep my hair simple I love to look at hairstyles, I save or bookmark them just in case I need a fancy hairstyle one day.

What is your current hair regimen? Hmm, nothing fancy really. As I said, I go for low maintenance styles, so I try to keep a style for at least 2 weeks. Then I do a Honey-Oil treatment (also from nappturality). Afterwards I use a natural shampoo, no harsh chemicals. I try to spray my hair daily and oil my scalp sometimes with a homemade oil with Surinamese ingredients.

Your final thoughts?
Thank you so much for this honor. Nappturality is a great platform for women of color not just for hair but in general and I am more than flattered that I was chosen as nappturality of the month. As an IT consultant myself, I know how much it takes to have a site like this up and running so I appreciate it even more. Keep on doing what you’re doing and thanks again.


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