When I spoke to Monique, she was recouping in her apartment in Kingston, Jamaica. I called her there from New York, on an early Thursday morning. Listen in on our conversation …
S.H.: Yep! You can hear me?
MONIQUE: Yes. I can hear you perfectly.
S.H.: Let’s start out talking hair… How long have you been natural?
MONIQUE: I’ve been natural most of my life. In 10th grade I got a relaxer, not out of pressure or the need to get a relaxer. Actually, I didn’t really consider it an option. But before I started 10th grade, I went to the hairdresser. I was going to get canerows– like I always do–and mommy said, “Oh, you want to get your hair relaxed?” And that’s how that happened. [laughs]
S.H.: When did you transition?
MONIQUE: When I went to college. Right about sophomore year, I decided I wanted locs. So, I chopped it all off. I didn’t want to grow it out because I didn’t like the “awkward phase.” So, I kept it low for probably a year-and-a-half. I had loc extensions at some point too. That was fun for a while. Then, I didn’t know what to do with my hair! The sides wouldn’t grow, but the top would grow. I’d always look like I had a mohawk. So, I decided to relax it again for another year.
I had a cute little pixie cut but I found it hard to maintain. The back was short and I couldn’t curl around the back. And I wanted to swim; but when I went to swim, I would mess up my hair. Or if I went to the gym, I would mess up my hair. I was like, “Man, my hair is restricting me!” [laughs] I had to do something about it. I got excited and I said, “Guys, I’m gonna transition for 10 months!” Then after a month and a half, I did the big chop! [laughs]
S.H.: Trust me. I understand! So, how do you maintain your hair now?
MONIQUE: I do it myself because I don’t trust other people in my hair. When I was younger, I remember clumps and clumps of hair being taken out. Hairdressers would say: “Yea, it’s ‘cause your hair is thick!” I’d think, no, it’s not true because when I comb my hair clumps do not come out. Now, I really don’t let anyone in my hair because even salons that say they’re natural hair salons still don’t know how to take care of natural hair.
S.H.: Do you follow a regimen or use specific products?
MONIQUE: Usually I wash once a week. I’m very, very low maintenance. I decided from the get-go I wasn’t going to be a product junkie. [laughs] So I wash once a week, deep condition, and detangle. Some nights I twist my hair if I want to do a twist out. Of course, I use my satin bonnet and I spritz with water and glycerin during the week. If necessary, I reapply some shea butter.
S.H.: You’ve transitioned a couple of times. Any of those times, did going natural ever affect your confidence?
MONIQUE: Well, most of my friends are natural–whether they have locs or they’re free natural. So, they were all excited about it. But at the time, I had a boyfriend and he seemed very hesitant about it from the start. So, if I did have any issues about my hair, it was in relation to what he would think about my hair.
I remember when I cut it the first time, he said: “So, umm … what you gonna do with it?” And I said, “What you mean? I’m going to wear it like this! This is my hair.” It would come up from time to time that I need to “do something” with my hair. And I kept wondering: What you mean “something?” This is what it does. This is how it grows. But I understood what he meant. So there were times, I’d wonder: Hmm, am I doing the right thing?
S.H.: How did you work through that issue with your boyfriend?
MONIQUE: I wrote a blog post about accepting my hair and why it’s important to me. He read it and after that he understood what I was doing and why I was doing it. Then, he decided that he was going to grow out his hair as well.
S.H.: Oh wow. And he did? He actually followed through?
MONIQUE: Yes. He grew his hair as well.
S.H.: So, embracing your natural hair wasn’t really an issue then?
MONIQUE: No it wasn’t. I knew what I would look like. So it wasn’t that scary. After watching YouTube videos, I was confident that I would be able to style it. Now, I knew what to do with it. Before, I had no idea because I wasn’t used to combing my own hair. I went to the hairdresser. And when I did try to comb my own hair, it was always a disaster. [laughs]
S.H.: Do you have a “go-to” style now?
MONIQUE: It’s a protective style. I just do flat-twists at the front, two down the back and I join them. I don’t know if that’s a style… It’s cute!
S.H.: You have two blogs that tie-in these ideas about hair, personal identity and style. I especially like YourLifeByDesign. You talk a lot about ways we can “design” our lives in ways that are true to us–inside and out. Can you tell me more about it?
MONIQUE: Well, M*RKologie and YourLifeByDesign are a group of things that come together. I describe it as a net. I’m a graphic designer and I love design. But my true dream is to be a style coach –which combines fashion and life coaching. Style coaching is about bringing out your confidence through clothing, but also how to work on your self-esteem.
What I find, especially in Jamaica, is everything that a girl does is in relation to what’s going to get her a good husband or what would look good to guys. I think that’s why young girls don’t pursue their dreams or have been in relationship after relationship; because they’re not taught to value themselves enough and to build their self-esteem. And it upsets me.
If you’re doing things because you like to do it, then more power to you. But if you’re doing it seeking certain types of attention, then that’s where the problem lies.
S.H.: I guess, it’s more about knowing yourself, and doing things for yourself rather than someone else. It makes sense.
MONIQUE: Yes. So through my style coaching, I want to form an organization that will address these issues. I think there is so much power in embracing our femininity.
S.H.: So how would you describe the natural hair scene in Jamaica and how that plays into fashion?
MONIQUE: More people are embracing natural hair, especially in the past two years since I went natural. A few natural hair lines have come out with products. I’ve seen natural hair salons pop up out of nowhere. There’s even a support group called Curly Centric here in Kingston. It’s similar to the States where it seems like there’s a revival. Everyone is like: natural is cool.
Keep up with Monique: