Tell me about yourself!
Hey curlfriends! My name is Brittany Middlebrooks, and I am the reigning Miss Illinois United States 2014! I’m a native Chicagoan who loves to thrift, eat Dorito’s, and experiment with my natural hair. Recently I graduated from DePaul University with my B.A. in public relations & advertisement and a minor in hospitality business operations. Whoop!

I believe that over a period of time within the pageant industry, an image of the “winner” has been created. I’m sure you have a picture of her in your mind right now, and I once did as well. She is the contestant in the white dress with the big teased up hair, and wants world peace. However I’m proud to say that beauty queens are more than that, we are young entrepreneurs, emerging philanthropists, college graduates, and advocates of various social causes.

Yet, despite having broken so many barriers in the imagery of what the winner looks like, I still hear hair related questions such as “Can natural hair win a pageant?” or even, “Can short hair win a pageant?” My answer to these questions is absolutely! No, we don’t see many short or naturally curly hairstyles on the national pageant stages, because I believe that many contestants consider long and full hair to be the most glamorous (Plus we love a good hair whip on stage!). However I think there is something special about a woman who can rock a short cut such as Miss Pennsylvania Teen USA 2014 or their natural coils like Miss Virginia United States 2014 with confidence!

Were you a transitioner or a Big Chopper? What was your journey like?
I have actually been natural since birth, due to the disapproval of my dad who didn’t want me to relax my hair or alter its natural texture. He made a promise to his mother prior to her passing that he would not chemically alter the natural curl of my hair or my twin sister’s. I didn’t always wear my hair in its natural curly state, so it was surprising discovering just how much time I needed to invest in learning my curls. It was an insightful journey that I wouldn’t change for anything.

Had you always embraced your texture?
I wish I could say that I always had curl crushes and embraced every bend and wave of each hair strand, but that wasn’t always the case. I wore my hair abundantly in protective braid styles as a child, which I felt didn’t offer me much versatility in my styling options. Many girls in my grade school and middle school had relaxers and wore their hair straight, which made me a target of taunting because my hair looked different. So it’s really interesting and refreshing to now see girls who questioned me about not having a relaxer, now transitioning to being natural as well.

How did family and friends react to your decision to go natural? What was your response to them? 
When I expressed that I was going to start wearing my hair in its natural state there was a slight concern. All of the women in my family had relaxers including my beautiful mother, so they had never been on a natural hair journey. However, they have always supported all of my endeavors and this was no different. In fact, they were curious to see what type of styles I could pull together. My hair received some abuse during my high school years. I had to work to keep it straight with heating tools especially from those humid journeys home from school (we all know that humidity is a curly girls kryptonite!) so that was my AHA moment, and I expressed to my family that I was reclaiming my hair’s health.

Describe your hair (fine or coarse, thin or thick, highly porous, low, etc.)
I have thick hair that can make any stylist cry because they realize that we’ll be together for a while and they might miss Scandal. My hair pattern is a wavy defined “S”. In addition, my curls love to soak up moisture. I didn’t choose the shrinkage life, the shrinkage life chose me!

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done to your hair? 
I’m not someone who jumps at the chance to put my hair in multiple stylists’ hands and in fact I predominately do my own hair, but upon winning the title of Miss Illinois United States 2014, it has slowly become a part of my life to have many stylists journey through my hair without a first date (consultation). Yet all of them have been amazing at their craft and I am fortunate that they care about the health of my natural hair. They even compliment me on how healthily I have maintained my natural hair!

What’s your biggest hair related regret?
I hate that I didn’t always nurture my hair like I know I should have. My hair used to be subjected to harsh shampoos, daily heat tool use, and sooo many tight ponytails from my competitive cheerleading days.

What’s your current hair routine? How often do you wash, condition, and style? Favorite products! Deets!
It takes so much work to achieve beauty queen hair! Unfortunately, that also means my hair could potentially take the abuse from the looks that I want to achieve. When I entered pageantry at 19 years old, I was welcomed into the wonderful world of sew ins. I’ve discovered that some women are reluctant to say they wear weave, but I’ll tell anyone, “Girl this isn’t all mine!” Many don’t understand why I get sew ins in the first place, because I have long and full natural hair. This is a way for me to safely style my hair often without worrying about drying out my natural hair. Currently, I get partial sew ins to blend with my natural hair to limit manipulation. I wash my extensions every two weeks utilizing Shea Moisture products. My favorite is their African Black Soap line. I take about a month break from my sew ins because I love and miss wearing my natural curls and waves. I never exceed more than two months per install.

When my hair is in its natural curly state I co wash once a week with As I am coconut co wash conditioner, which I found is great for detangling. I try to co wash once a week because I want to alleviate product build up from my braid outs. Curls unleashed by ORS has a curl defining crème that gives me life! On wash day I pre poo on dry hair with a cholesterol and wash with Shea Moisture African Black Soap cleansing shampoo and conditioner. I use Trader Joe’s coconut oil to seal in the moisture.

What’s your favorite hairstyle? Where do you get hairstyle inspiration?
I love a great braid-out because they are time effective, and can be styled into numerous other hairstyles. I also love wearing my big curly natural bun with my crown! My inspiration comes from the streets, Instagram, and my favorite curly blogs.

Who is your curl crush?
Solange Knowles and Youtubers: Mahogany Curls & SunKissedAlba

How do you maintain your hair at night?
When my hair is in its natural state, I pineapple and then cover it with a satin scarf. When my hair is straight, I repeat the same process with a ponytail.

How do you maintain healthy length?
I think the best way to attain membership to the Long Hair Don’t Care Club, is to simply pay attention to your hair’s needs. When I was younger, I would hate to have to trim my hair, but I’ve learned that there is a beauty in trimming off those dead ends. Sing “Let it Go” from Disney’s Frozen if you have to, but let go of those dead ends girl!

What’s the best thing about being natural?
Being able to walk in the rain like a boss and not care if my hair gets wet! I also really enjoy being a member of a very uplifting and embracive community. Black women have gone through so many evolutions when it has come to our hair, and I get an amazing feeling seeing the love, support, and acceptance that naturals show each other.

Where can folks find you on the web?
Instagram- @brittanyxjanae
Twitter- @brittanyjanae_