CN: The CN community is a huge fan of your work and your new look! Can you please share a brief history of your hair?
MW: My hair story is anything but brief! I've always loved my hair. I remember when I was 8 or 9 years old, I would beg my mom to let me do it myself. And she did. I grew up caring for and styling my hair and actually wore it natural until I turned 16. Around that time, I had to get braces and I was absolutely miserable... truly in angst at the thought of it! My mom, seeing how upset I was, said, 'well let's do something special'. I got my braces on and right after the orthodontist appointment, I went straight to the hair salon and got my first perm. From there, I was pretty much back and forth between permed and natural until recently.
Are you still your own stylist?
I actually went to cosmetology school right out of high school... it was the one thing I always wanted to do. I feel that if I hadn't become an actress, I would definitely be a hairstylist. And that's so ironic because I played a hair stylist character on Soul Food for so many years. It's a huge part of who I am. It's sort of ingrained into my personality. I have a lot of experience with my own hair and knowing what works for me, so yeah, I primarily do my own hair.
Tell me about your most recent transition.
Last year, around this same time, I decided to grow my perm out. And it was really very simple for me because my hair was already short. That's the beauty of having short hair... I grew out the relaxer rather quickly, snipping pieces off here and there. I wasn't planning to wear it curly necessarily, but definitely chemical free. So in order to help me grow it out, I put a weave in it. Now I've worn weaves in the past, but I have a hard time wearing them [laughter]. I always feel like something is on my head! I think it's great that we have the ability to change our hair whenever we like, but there's something about wearing a weave for me, that feels very uncomfortable or unnatural. So I knew my time wearing it was very limited.
Once I decided I was at the point where I had enough new growth that I could comfortably cut it off and wear my natural hair, I took the weave out. Although my hair had grown considerably, I still wasn't satisfied with the look. Meaning, it was still in between- - too short to wear straight, but not long enough to wear the curly look I wanted. I was really at a lost for what to do. I was even tempted to pull out some clippers and buzz it all off and rock it bald, but I thought better of that and decided to cut it really short. I cut my own hair-- I cut it down and wore a really tight fro for a while. It grew on me and I thought... 'this also is me'. You know the song by India.Arie? I realized that no matter how I choose to wear my hair, I'm still me. I love that.
What do you love most about being natural?
The thing that I love about our hair is its versatility. I completely use that versatility to my advantage. I just try to have fun with it. People tell me different things... I'm very involved in social media and keep up with what people tweet about me, and some love my hair long, some love it short, some love it curly, and some people love my hair straight. I love my hair all different ways. Simply put, I love my hair. Because I love the versatility of it, I love it whether it's straight, long, curly... what have you. It's really just about what I'm feeling at the moment. And in this moment, I'm natural and totally happy. We have such a gift in that we can do all these different things with our hair. Our hair dances, our hair shrinks up, it's curly, it's straight and sleek. I think the one thing that I've done is embrace my hair in all of it's different states. Not just natural... not just permed... whatever I'm feeling at the moment.
Tell me about your hair today. What's your routine?
Today- and I emphasize today, because tomorrow I may wake up in a different mood and do something totally different- I only wash twice a week. On those days, I get in the shower, let the steam hit it, gently wash and condition, get out, and scrunch in some Fantasia IC Gel with Sparkelites, and apply a little Moroccan Oil. I let it dry naturally and go about my business. On days that I don't wash, I wake up, spritz with water to bring the squished and frizzy curls back to life, scrunch in the Fantasia Gel and Moroccan Oil, and that's it! Freedom. I love it because the theme of my life right now is freedom and the hair that I'm rocking at the moment represents that freedom for me.
How do you protect your hair at night?
I lay my head on the pillow and go to sleep! Like I said... Freedom! There's no preparation, no do rags, no bonnets. I just lay my head down and pass out. In the morning I just get up, spritz it, and walk out the door.
Do you plan to stay natural this time?
I'll be rocking it curly for a while. I'll be filming later this summer and will probably blow it out and flat iron it for the film. But I won't put any chemicals in it. That way I can always revert back to curly just by wetting it.
What new and exciting things are going in your career?
I'm about to start filming this summer with Russ Parr. He has a film called 35 & Ticking, it comes out in July and it's really funny and amazing. He's starting production on his latest film this summer, and I'll be working with him.
Last year, I completed an independent film with Chris Rock called 2 Days in New York. It's a sequel to a film we did called Two Days in Paris. I hadn't worn my hair natural in a while, but I rocked it in the film with Chris Rock. I'm not sure when it'll be released but keep your eyes open!
Any thing you want to share with the CN community? Words of encouragement?
Your website is beautiful Nikki. Thank you for providing this space to celebrate our versatility and beauty.
We are very versatile by nature. Our hair is just one aspect of that versatility. I think, again, to embrace yourself in every way that you come, is the key to embracing your beauty. I was actually a little worried about my recent photo shoot. I'm not sure if you've noticed this, but sometimes our natural hair just doesn't photograph well. You can't see the depth and the dimension. You can't see all the waves and coils. So I was a little bit skeptical, but I wanted to represent who I was at the moment and also represent that other side of us that is not rocking the weaves, or wearing the flat ironed hair. The side of us that is beautiful naturally. What's funny is that the editor asked me how I was going to wear my hair and he said that would be great... he was totally supportive. I'm so happy with the way it turned out and it showed that you don't have to be weaved up or pressed and dressed to be beautiful. I'm glad that the photo shoot demonstrated that well.
If someone is thinking of transitioning or Big Chopping, hopefully the pictures are inspiring. I know hesitancy can come into play because we aren't shown these images. We usually see straight, pressed hair, or flowing curls. I wanted to show myself, natural, rocking a little afro and still be considered beautiful. Our hair is unique to us! Who else out there has the ability to rock an afro!
I was in New York City last year... around the same time that I was still wearing the weave to transition back to natural. I remember riding down the street, looking at the women as they passed by, trying to get an idea for what I was going to do with my hair. I was amazed. Eighty percent of the women that I saw had someone else's hair on their head. It was kinda disturbing to me. I feel that if you're always wearing someone else's hair, are you not happy with your own? Why aren't you happy with your look? It's not about me championing the cause for natural hair, because trust me, I'll go and do what I want to do in a heart beat depending on what I'm feeling. But I do feel that if you're wearing weave much of the time, then the problem is much deeper, and you need to find the point at which you love yourself and embrace yourself first. If that still means you want to rock a weave, so be it. But you have to make sure you're embracing who you are and loving who you are.
It's about freedom. My hope is that you're not walking around in any state, be it natural, permed, or weaved, feeling like you have to do that to live up to some standard of beauty that someone else has set. It has to be about what makes you feel beautiful.