Lupita Nyong’o has undoubtedly been one of the pioneers of the rising popularity of natural hair on the red carpet. But as she tells Allure in its March issue, her own journey to choosing to wear her hair in its natural state was a very different one from the almost instantaneous success she enjoyed after being cast in her Oscar-winning role in 12 Years a Slave.
As a tween in Kenya, Nyong’o was teased and felt “really unpretty” in comparison with her classmates—who almost all wore their hair relaxed. Her mother wanted her to wait until near adulthood to relax her hair but eventually acquiesced to her daughter’s pleas. Nyong’o explains:
She took me to the salon in the middle of the school day, and I got my hair relaxed. I felt so much better because it was easier to tame. All the girls in my class had their hair relaxed. Very few had natural kink, so I felt a lot more acceptable.
I had my hair relaxed for most of my teenage years, and that was a whole other world. The upkeep of relaxed hair is a commitment. It took styling it once a week and then having it retouched once a month. I remember doing crazy things, like sleeping with my head above the headboard so that my curls wouldn’t get messed up for the next day. I’d have these terrible neck aches because I was determined to keep my hair as pristine as possible. And it was super expensive.
In fact, Nyongo’s conversion back to natural hair began in response to a joke from her father while she was asking him for money to support her relaxer habit: “Why don’t you just cut it all off?” he said. She did, having her head shaved completely bald, a choice that she told Allure was “liberating.”
But the choice wasn’t a cure-all; Nyong’o struggled with managing her texture for years, especially after moving to the northeastern United States for college and graduate school:
Moving to the U.S. was very difficult because I didn’t have the same kind of support system. [Braiding] services were not readily available in Amherst, Massachusetts. For a long time I would braid my hair in Kenya and then spend months with the braids in when I got to the States so that I didn’t have to worry about my hair. Also, my hair did something very different in freezing weather, which I didn’t know how to handle. My hair needs moisture. It needs warmth. All of a sudden I was in this very cold environment, and my hair was bristly and dry and really hard to manage.
And while it was Nyong’o’s work with famed stylist Ted Gibson that got many inspired about the versatility of natural hair, it was her current stylist, Vernon François, who helped her learn how to manage and care for her natural texture, thanks in large part to his eponymous line of products/ (François also provided some insight and tips on how he created the looks for Nyong’o’s Allure cover shoot.)
One thing I’ve learned was the acronym LOC, and that’s basically the rule for how to treat my hair: liquid, oil, and then cream. It’s the idea that you wet your hair first, then you add oil so that it can trap the moisture in, then you put a moisturizer or a cream over it.
Nyong’o says that this is the longest her hair has been in a decade. And while we’re guessing that a few extras were added to create the cloudlike coifs she rocks in Allure’s March issue, we’re liking the look on her. We can’t wait to see where her natural-hair journey might take her next.