Interview by Carolina Meurkens, Photography by Carrie Brautigam @subwayratofficial
In a society that values whiteness and one’s ability to approximate it, hair can be a battleground. In Hair Stories, we wrestle with what it means to love yourself through your relationship with hair and others’ perception of it. Through interviews with our editors, contributors and community members, we journey through what beauty means in different cultures and the narratives woven into our locs. Where do our hair preferences and grievances come from? What does our hair tell us about our family history, our culture, our people? In this series, we interview and photograph women from different diasporas, to get the root of their hair story. We ask them; what does your hair symbolize to you?
For this installation of Hair Stories, Mixed Mag is featuring our Creative Director and Co-founder Joana Meurkens. From processing anti-blackness in Brazilian culture to being exoticized amongst her white peers, Joana opens up about her hair journey.
I am of Afro-Brazilian and German descent and a born and raised New Yorker. On the Brazilian side, there is absolutely such a thing as good and bad hair. I grew up watching my cousins do everything in their power to fight their natural curls, and put their hair through the ringer with all kinds of chemicals to achieve sleek straight hair. I think a part of that was a mix of clear anti-blackness and obsession with early 2000’s fashion. I remember being little and my cousins wouldn’t go to the beach because they didn’t want to mess up their hair. It truly blew my mind because it was 100 degrees and all I wanted to do was take a refreshing dip with my older cousins. I was a pretty rowdy child who could give less of a shit about what I looked like, so I rocked a frizzy ponytail forever, and my hair thanks me for it now.
I was always pretty comfortable with my hair. As a kid and preteen, I lived in a frizzy ponytail and absolutely HATED when my mother would sit me down to wash and untangle my hair. I would always wear my hair natural and just go with the flow. It wasn’t until middle school when I became very aware that my hair didn’t fit the mold of the white kids at my school. I grew up in New York City but on the Upper East Side, so pretty much everyone around me was white. I remember kids had the audacity to touch my hair and tug at it as if it was a prize to be won. That was a clear awakening for me that I was simply not like everyone else. I had a bunch of white girls talk about how jealous they were of my hair in the most backhanded way… it truly blew my little eleven year old mind. They would constantly label me as the “ethnic” friend as a way to pat themselves on the back for being “inclusive”, or honestly just a very stupid joke.
My haircare journey is pretty simple. There are a few products I use religiously (shoutout leave in conditioner you are THAT bitch), but I switch around and experiment with different brands. I love it when my mom brings home a new leave-in conditioner for me to try from the Brazilian beauty store because I just know that stuff is going to hit different and smell absolutely amazing while doing so.
I will never leave the house without wetting my hair though. Maybe it has something to do with showers being very relaxing and ritualistic for me, but I truly feel my best with air dried hair. Now I have faced some harsh New York winters and my hair HAS frozen on my way to school/work, but hey, we all must sacrifice something for our vanity. My hair has always looked the same; relative shoulder length dark brown curls, and I feel so tied to it. It is such a deep part of who I am that I struggle with changing the look. I have fantasies of dying it or going to a Halle Berry pixie cut, but I never do it. I don’t even like the occasional blow dry because it makes me feel like a completely different person. And sometimes that’s fun! But it never lasts long. My natural hair makes me feel free, and like I can do whatever I want to do whenever I want to do it.
As a light skin Black woman, there are absolute privileges that come with my hair type. In my family, my hair was always celebrated and I was never forced in school to change it for any activities or shows I did. I have never faced systemic discrimination, but I have felt sexualized and tokenized because of my hair type.
I’m excited to experiment more with my hair, and take the next step into discovering who I am through my hair.