Vlog | Black? Female? Where to shop for hair products & makeup in Rome

Staff at Astri s.r.l. Click image to visit their website

Staff at Astri s.r.l. Click image to visit their website.

When I first began living in Rome, I had brought with me enough supplies to last me for one whole year–that’s right. I stocked up! The thing was that…I didn’t return to the US until two years later. So, I had to figure out where to get hair and makeup products…and at a reasonable cost (a.k.a. cheap). 😉

I have to give a massive hug to my friend Alexandria Maloney for telling me where to go when I was desperately searching for products! 🙂

My Nappy Head…Re: Natural Hair Journey (Part 1 of 3)

This Cold Hard Floor: II, watercolour and ink painting by Diedré M. Blake, 2006

This Cold Hard Floor: II, watercolour and ink painting by Diedré M. Blake, 2006

25.10.13, 13:37–Boiling water.

Freshly done Kanekalon braids over my once-loc’ed short nappy hair.  Hair type 4C, I am told.  The nappiest of the nappy.

It’s a do-over:  my hair, this post that I have written a million times over and over again in my mind.

Apparently, I am reembarking on a natural hair journey that I didn’t even know I had started almost twenty years ago.  Back then, I only knew that I didn’t want chemicals being put my hair:  no more Wave Nouveau, Jheri Curls, or relaxers.

At the age of 18, I knew that I needed to take a different path from those around me.  I decided to grow my hair out to its natural state, and then to form loc’s.  I suppose, now-a-days, one would say that I “transitioned” over the course of three years from processed to natural hair.

Okay, perhaps it didn’t take three years for the chemicals to come out. However, I did begin braiding my hair to waist-length in 1996.  I finally stopped in mid-October 1999 when my natural hair had begun to loc’ (as I had wanted it to do) :).  Thus, it was until mid-October 2013 that I wore my loc’s.

RomeIt may seem odd to some to say that loc’s have a life/history of their own…but really, they do.  I understood this to be true in late November 2010.

At that time,  I decided (or felt compelled) to cut my loc’s for the first time, from waist-length to chin-length.  This was the day after Petie, my dog, died.  I didn’t regret it…and still don’t.  Why?

Because when you wear loc’s, you trap something very important within them:  memories.

My grief, my understood existence up until that point, all of it was symbolized by my hair.  With his death, who I was then or thereafter became an enormous question mark.

I staring into a mirror then didn’t help me to make sense of what I saw.  My grief was beyond recognizable thoughts or words.

All I could do then was cut and cut and cut and cut.  With the fall of each loc’, I felt that I would find the strength to create a new path.

By the time I was finished, I recognized something that I had not realized before:  I was free of a heavy burden that had been weighing upon me, i.e. my hair.  Three pounds (3lbs) of hair had been removed from my head.  I felt lighter, freer, even if I still remained in the depths of grief.

Fast-forward some two and a half months, and I find myself far from Boston.  I am now in Rome, beginning this blog, and trying to discover who I am to become.  My short loc’s are now a source of discomfort and comfort for me as they remind me of all that I had lost prior to my arrival in the Eternal City:  my marriage, my beloved Petie, my job, my sense of home, and even myself.  Yet still, those short loc’s spoke to me of the hope of starting anew.  And so I tried to do just that…

Masque, acrylic painting by Diedré M. Blake, 2000

Masque, acrylic painting by Diedré M. Blake, 2000

25.10.13, 13:44–Boiled Hair.

Strangely enough, even though I continued to cut my hair to cheek-length in the years following, I still wanted to continue presenting myself the way I always had before, i.e. when I had long loc’s.  I still wanted to wear my high head wraps, and I did–it wasn’t the same.

Somewhere subconsciously, I understood (although I fought against it) that it would never be the same until my hair grew to its previous length.  So, I stopped cutting my loc’s and decided to wait for them to grow.  That was one year ago.

Rewind to about two weeks ago, at about 4:00 in the morning, on a Thursday, I sat in silence in my room.  A comb in one hand and a pair of scissors in the other.  One the bed: a bottle of conditioner and a bottle of water.

I had decided to take out my loc’s.  I didn’t know if it could be done.

 Common knowledge is that if you want to “take out” your loc’s, you need to cut off your hair.  I wasn’t interested in that.

I wanted to keep as much of my hair as I could–doing a serious, shaved-headed “big chop” was not in the cards for me, but neither was waiting for my loc’s to grow out and loosen either.  Thus, I turned to YouTube–who knew it was this useful–and I searched for “undoing” and “taking out” loc’s.  Lo and behold, I found some very useful information.

Part 2:   Sexuality and Hair…

Ugly D…

Unmasked, self-portrait by Diedré M. Blake (October, 2010)

I am not a beautiful woman.  At least, this has been the feedback in one form or another that I have received since the start of the year. You may wonder why I would choose to write about such a topic.  Well, the reason is simple.

I am amazed by 1) the audacity of people to believe that they have the right to give feedback, whether positively or negatively perceived, on other people’s physical appearance, and 2) the ability of men (specifically in this case, Italian men) to reduce a woman’s worth to the rating that they believe they have the right to give her physical appearance.

I have decided to present this image on the right of myself, without make-up and with my face fully exposed as well as others in the posting in order to explore the issue of my physical appearance.  After all, if the point of this blog is self-exploration.  So then let’s have at it.  Indeed I have, time and again, written about my feelings and thoughts, so why not my physical self.

Some say “Ugly…” 

Yes, my nose is wide, and my lips are full, and my forehead is indeed a Tyra Banks four-finger, possibly five, high.  My eyes are almond-shaped and my left is smaller than my right eye.  My right eyebrow is seemingly permanently arched, because I am always arching it in response to something or another.  Of course, my features may have something to do with my mix of African and Asian ancestry.

I have scars…

I have a visible scar on my forehead on the right side.  I have scar marks by my left ear from when I had the chicken pox at age sixteen (a horrifying and mortifying experience, I can tell you ;)).  I have scars under my chin from having fallen as a child and also as a teenager from once when rollerblading.  I even have a small scar on my nose from when I was 18 and felt a need to be rebellious and got a nose ring, which didn’t end up being such a great idea in the end.  I decided to stick with tattoos thereafter.

Imperfect teeth…. oohh and facial hair 

Waiting, photography by April Rivers (Fall, 2010)

If I were to smile, you would see that my top two front teeth have small chips on either sides from when I had fallen during a field trip to the pirate city of Port Royal.  I am predisposed to facial hair and like most women I tweeze my eyebrows–no, they don’t just grow like that!  Thankfully I do not have a moustache like some women do–that would be extra work that I would rather not deal with.

Kinky, Nappy hair… Now short!

Until November 26, 2010, I had very long dred locs, which I had been growing since September 1999.  I cut my hair in mourning the loss of my dog, Petie, who died on Thanksgiving Day 2010.  Being without my hair has made me painfully aware of the existence of a “hair bias” in the world against women with short hair.  I do not believe I had ever really noticed it before.  My hair grew over the course of the past year, but I chose to cut it again on January 1, 2012 to the previous length in order to start the new year fresh.

Tattoos, cellulite, muscles, stretch marks, flat-chested, large thighs, and an ample derriere… I like saving the best for last! 

I am a person who believes in change and in letting go of the past and of that which not longer serves a purpose.  I am also a person who has undergone many changes, some self-imposed, some that have been imposed upon me.  Due to my genetics, age, health, my love for tattoos and changes in my lifestyle (see my c.v.), my body has changed and I have had to adjust  to these changes.  That’s life and I do not make excuses for the way that I have lived it.

The reality is that our bodies will all age.  What “beauty” others may perceive that we possess will change or be perceived as having “faded.”  It is no wonder that cosmetic companies, plastic surgeons, health clubs, diet programs make so much money.  They prey upon the insecurities that have been planted within the minds of women (and men) about their appearance and its relation to their worth as human beings…  Truly, given the onslaught of advertisements in a variety of forms of what one ought to look like, no one really needs to spend their time giving feedback to anyone else about their appearance (unless this person is actually an undercover agent for the ad company, or for the beauty industry, or any of the others already mentioned… then drumming up business by destroying self-esteem makes perfect sense).

D. for dichotomy

Self-portrait, August 2010, photography by Diedré M Blake

Thus, this body is the canvas upon which I paint everyday… because, in reality, I see dressing oneself as  a process of creating art.  After all, why bother going through the process of dressing if not to make it interesting for oneself?

I call myself “D.”  One of my professors says that I am a minimalist.  Perhaps, perhaps not.  “D, ” however, is a construction of myself.  It is an aspect of who I am and not my entirety, because it is only recently (in the last 8 years) I began calling myself “D.”  It has been an evolution (see pictures below).  One that has resulted on an image of myself that is to my liking and which I find most representative of who I am.  It is unfortunate that it is hard for some people to balance the seemingly dichotomous images of “D.” and “Diedré.”

Constructing D.

Self-portrait, Winter 2011, photography by Diedré M Blake

But who or what is “D?”  Simply “D” is my expression of happiness, whether felt or not.  I dress in bright colours to bring a smile to my face when I feel like doing anything but smiling.  I put on make-up to remind myself that even the bleakest of days can improve.  I wrap my hair in bold scarves, shape them in intricate fashions and wear them like a crown to remind myself to hold my head high with self-pride throughout the day.

Every article of clothing I choose, from my undergarments to my dress, or my skirt, my shirt, or my pants, is chosen with care and consideration for the body with which I have been blessed.  Some people have been endowed with an ample bosom, I was not.  This is why there are stores like Victoria’s Secret and things like the miracle bra and the wonder bra, etc.  Some people have been granted rock hard and narrow legs and can wear freely the short skirts and shorts that are craze of modern fashion, I was not.  This is why I wear vintage clothing from the 1930s to the 1980s.  Some people have small feet, I do not.  I wear an Italian 39, US 9.5.  Thus, it is typically harder to find shoes in my size and also in the styles of my liking (typically vintage-styled).  Constructing “D.” is an act of self-love and care, and an expression of joy as well as celebration of my body.

Learning to love and laugh at myself and life in general…

The journey of my life has been the process of learning to love myself through learning how to accept myself in all aspects, from physically to emotionally to psychologically.  I believe each day that I take a step closer to achieving this.  At the very least, at this point I am quite happy with who and how I am, imperfections and all.  So, for those people out there who find me either ugly or beautiful (some have even said “spooky”), truly there is no need to offer me feedback as I am quite aware of what I look like and of who and how I am.  If you do choose to give me feedback, please think about from where within you and your own “stuff” your feedback is coming, and consider well if your judgement is wise and your feedback constructive enough to share.

Images from starting from top left to bottom right, ages 16 to 33.

“My idea of the perfect woman is… A) she’s gotta be hot!…”

(from the documentary “America the Beautiful”)

— Please, visit the link.  Unfortunately, I could not embed the video…

and please notice the man making this comment!

Until next time!

Best,

D.