Recently I had the opportunity to sit down with actress and singer extraordinaire, Raven-Symoné. Best known for her roles as Olivia Kendall on ‘The Cosby Show’, and Raven Baxter on the hit Disney sitcom, ‘That’s So Raven’, she is all grown up and doing the dang thing. Talented, smart, and beautiful, Raven is a role model for young and old alike. Over the years, she has rocked braids, ponytails, lace fronts, and weaves. She’s worn her hair curly, short, long, red, blond, and black. But did you know that underneath her Hollywood hair, she is a fellow natural? She shares her hair story, and her reasons for keeping her natural hair hidden away.
CN: Tell us your Hair Story!
RS: My hair story… wow… it’s long and complicated. I’ll do my best to make it interesting!
Back in the day, it would take my mother an hour and thirty minutes just to brush it out. Ridiculous! I’ll never forget my first relaxer… the entire process took 4 hours. It was April 11th, and I was around 11 or 12. I had been telling my mom that the tears would stop; the long styling sessions would cease, if she’d just let me get a perm. She finally caved. And so on April 11th, I went to the shop and let the stylist detangle my hair. Nearly two hours later, she began to apply the relaxer. She didn’t use a super duper relaxer- – it was just enough so that it would only take me 30 minutes to brush it out. I don’t think she left it on for even two minutes.
The relaxer days were short lived; my mother stopped them as soon as they started. Growing up, my parents didn’t really let me do too much to my hair. The first major thing different I was allowed to do, was get braids. We found someone with healing hands, and she would do silky twists and the like. But when I went to school with my natural hair, I would always do those buns where you’d put a sock at the root, and cover your hair over it…yeah, old school. I used to do that everyday.
You know what’s funny? That’s how my hair is done today![Laughter]
Now that I’ve cut my hair shorter again, all I can think is, man, I miss my sock! You know? ‘Cause you can always go to that, it’s fancy, it’s not fancy. It’s the best thing!
So during that time, I’d always wear the sock to school, but when I’d work, I’d get braids again because it was just easier. This was around the time of ‘Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper’. Then I started with the ponytails, but I couldn’t keep them up because I didn’t like pressing my hair. The heat was harsh and my edges are very thin naturally. I couldn’t risk losing my edges! For some reason, my grandma, my mother, pretty much that whole side of the family, as they age, their hair gets softer. This has happened to me too. The older I get, my hair is like cotton, but curly. It’s like super soft, I don’t know where the coarseness went.
Anyway, next I did ‘Dr. Dolittle 2’. That was my first full head weave. I was around 14 years old. My parents, my dad specifically, wanted my natural hair to be perfect, and told me that we needed to figure out a way to save it with me working every day. So from then on I always wore weaves because I wanted to avoid the heat and over styling… to protect my real hair.
Fast forward a bit…
I remember JLo came out with this beautiful honey brown hair. And I wanted it so bad! I wanted that hair so bad. [Laughter] So of course, I dyed my hair. Why? Because I was now old enough, and I could do it. Needless to say, all of my hair fell out. It’s not supposed to be bleached! So I cut it off and my boyfriend at the time told me I looked like Justin Timberlake. Old school JT. I liked it though! So I continued to wear weaves, and weaves, and weaves, and my hair grew again. It was super easy to grow out, as long as I did my hair mayonnaise treatments, and used lots of different African oils and things of that nature.
So just to clarify, when was your last relaxer?
My last full head relaxer was when I was 13, my mom stopped them soon after I started getting them. It was almost immediate. And then I shaved one side of my hair off… I had the Cassie look before Cassie had the look. So you know how you want your baby hairs to lay down? We’d just put a little bit (relaxer) on the side… just a little… it wasn’t the whole head. But I was officially done with relaxers by the time I was 14. That’s when I started with the weaves.
So you’re one of the natural hair vanguards. You were rocking it before it was in!
Yes, but no one ever sees me. It’s not “cool”. It’s not as accepted in Hollywood. I don’t feel like the person that people see on TV when I rock my natural hair. And it’s not that I don’t love it, I so love it! I wear it out a lot. It’s really mine, mine, and mine alone.
When I first got off of ‘That’s so Raven’ I was like, OMG, I’m free, I don’t have to wear any weaves! So I cut all of my hair off and dyed it orange, purple… every color. I wore my curls much of the time. Then, it was back to work, so my hair was back to black and back under the weaves. It’s sad, but for now, that’s how it is.
As a working actress, a mainstream actress, I can only imagine the pressures you must experience to keep your hair long and straight.
Have you always liked your natural hair? If not, how did you come to embrace it?
I always loved my natural hair texture. I have the curliest, curliest hair, and when I find that right conditioner, it is on and popping. I didn’t love it of course when it took an hour and a half to brush it out, but I’ve since learned how to work with it, instead of against it.
I have been to so many auditions with my curly hair, and people don’t recognize me. It blows my mind. And my manager is like, ‘you can’t do that, that’s not what people see!’ And that’s fine, because I do it for myself anyway. I wore it natural for a couple of my own concerts because I love it, I really do. I’ve been on red carpets with my natural hair too, and I’ve been called a poodle because people didn’t understand curly hair.
But pretty much, when I don’t have to work, I’m always wearing my natural hair. Always! I’m always applying my oil stimulant, because since it does get put up, it gets very dry. I’m a big DIY girl. I’m my own hair stylist. I try to learn to do everything myself just in case. ‘Cause I’d rather mess up my own hair than let someone else mess it up… don’t want to have to cuss anybody out.
Well, it’s beautiful. I’ve seen some of the pictures. It looks so shiny, healthy and soft!
Thank you. It is quite soft, I must say so myself! [Laughter] the only problem is when I go to sleep. Even the satin pillows don’t help me. The back always seems to flatten out and I’m left with curls only up front. I hate putting water on it every morning, so I really try my best to either not go to sleep at all, or sleep sitting up like a grandma!
I recently cut my hair off again. I had another bad weave for a show. I cut it off, but it’s super cute… it’s old school JT length again. And I don’t have a problem with it. I’m understanding. I have the Organic Root Stimulator Hair Mayonnaise, and a super fantastic Olive Oil Conditioner and some other things. I also like Doo Gro. I have totally become my grandma and oil my scalp. My boyfriend is like, ‘I can’t even touch your hair because it’s so greasy!’ I say, ‘well it’s growing, so don’t touch it! Let it do what it do!’
You’ve mentioned some of your favorite hair oils and treatments, what are your other must have products?
Mane and Tail shampoo and conditioner. A must, must, must have- and I can’t find it anymore, so it’s a super must now- a product called Afrodisiac. It was co-created with Sade. That stuff smells so good! They have an entire line, but that’s only for special occasions because I don’t have that much left. And then I have the Organic Root Stimulator Hair Mayonaise, the reconstructive kind. I wear that one like it’s a leave-in conditioner. I also have my Doo Gro and extra virgin oils. Those are for when I’m feeling real super salonish in my house. [Laughter]
So from start to finish, on a curly day, what’s your process?
Process for curly hair would be to get up, assess for the ability to salvage it…I check the shape, see if it’s dry, see if it’s grown [Laughter]. If I need to re-wet it, I go for my conditioner, grabbing whichever one is under my sink at that time. If I feel like going hardcore, I’ll use a product to hold the curl. I look at the day and see if I have to be in front of people that know I have curly hair, ‘cause if I do, then I go for the Paul Mitchell Foaming Pomade and add some water. But if I’m not really in front of anybody, I just leave some conditioner in it, and put a headband on, or not put a headband on. Sometimes I’ll just wear a cute little clip that is so for little four year old girls, but I wear it anyway.
Very, very simple routine. Do you ever wear twist or braid-outs?
I do my own cornrows if I just want to chill out. I may do some flat twists up front, if the front is being mean to me. But I don’t really have time for all of that. I just want to get in and get out. Which is why I like my short hair even though I’m trying to grow it out. I love my short hair because you can just get up and go. It’s crazy how fast it’s growing though. I swear I got like 6 inches in 3 months…[Laughter] no, for real, it was like almost 2 inches in 3 months, but still, this no heat thing is working!
What’s the best thing about being curly?
Your bathroom doesn’t smell like burnt hair. You can wear it down whenever you want to without worrying about the humidity. You can put it up in a frohawk! You can whip your hair back and forth!
What would you say to naturals that may be interested in wearing weaves or wigs to protect and grow out their natural hair?
I’ll tell you this, and I learned it the hard way. Too much of anything is bad. So you can definitely wear a weave, take care of it, oil your scalp, but take it out. Don’t keep it in for long periods, because you will be angry. Your hair will fall out just as if you didn’t have a weave- – as if you were applying heat all the time, and over styling. And that’s the misconception I think. People believe it’s just okay to leave it in. No! If it starts to smell, take it out. If it doesn’t start to smell, take it out. Also, weaves aren’t for everyone. You have to get the right kind, and make sure you get the right person to put it in. It’s a lot of work to keep up. It’s not an easy answer or a magic pill. Do your research.
Any inspirational words of advice for the CN community?
Go hard! Find what you like to do, make money from it, and don’t bite off more than you can chew. Finally, know where your limitations are.
Tell us about your current and upcoming projects.
I have a show, thank goodness, on ABC Family called the ‘Great State of Georgia’. That will hopefully be airing very soon. Stay on the lookout!