I first heard about Rene Syler while attending a live taping of the Wendy Williams show on a cold windy day in December. As I waited in the line up outside of the Wendy Williams studio I saw a slender woman with BIG beautiful curly Afro step outside her limo taxi with a gorgeous but frantic smile. I knew that she had to be a guest on the Wendy Williams show but I wasn’t sure who she was. If I could I would have left the Wendy Williams show and try to speak to her face to face since I wasn’t really enjoying being a guest on the live taping (too much politics). FYI – I still HEART the Wendy Williams show, just won’t ever be a guest again.
As the show progressed I learned that Rene Syler is a journalist and has been a Media Mogul for years. She is now an author of Good Enough Mother which talks about the life of being a mother and everything under the sun. If I could have gotten the chance to interview her right there and then I sure would but instead I chose to contact her by e-mail. I am so HAPPY and HONORED to introduce to you Rene Syler one of my hair idols.
It is soooo inspiring to see women in powerful media roles are taking the NATURAL route and showing the world that there is a NEW STANDARD of BEAUTY.
Growing up did you have any hair issues, was your hair seen as unmanageable?
My earliest memory of my hair was washday. My sister and I had long, curly hair that we mostly wore in braids. So once a week, my mother would lay a towel over the kitchen counter and we would scramble up and lay our heads back in the sink for her to scrub the knots and playground dirt out of it and then braid it up for the following week. On the whole our hair was pretty manageable, save a few knots here and there.
Have you always worn your hair natural, if not when and why did you make that change?
No I have not always been natural, in fact, this is a relatively new journey for me. When I was 16 I begged my mother to put a relaxer in my hair and she did. I spent the next 30 years of my life relaxing it and then eventually adding color. Yes, that should make you shudder because my hair was dry and way over-processed. In late 2008 I got asthmatic bronchitis and ended up in the hospital. When I got out, I had a business meeting scheduled a few days later so I went RIGHT to the hairdresser for a touch-up in advance of that. Well, the unthinkable happened. The relaxer reacted badly with the medication already in my system and my hair fell out. It was awful! But it was also a turning point as it started me on my path to health, natural hair.
What is “GOOD HAIR” to you?
Let me just say, for the record, I HATE that term! It assumes that you have to have a certain type or grade or curl pattern in order to wear it natural. That is simply not true and frankly, an outdated way of thinking that harkens back to the despicable “paper bag” test. Good hair is any hair that grows and is healthy. Period.
Do you talk to your children about hair and what advise do you give them? Share what a Mother & Child Hair Combing experience is like?
Well my son wears his hair short but we did experiment with locs for a while. They looked great on him but he wasn’t fond of the upkeep. My daughter was really my inspiration for going natural. She’s got a head full of long, luscious, healthy, natural hair. I would tell her all the time to love and embrace what God gave her but I was not leading by example. Instead I was killing my own hair with heat and chemicals. The day she asked for a relaxer was another in a series of “light-bulb” moments about my hair. I learned so much in my own journey and have been able to pass along to Casey, especially about how to care and comb her hair. She has so much of it! So she detangles mostly in the shower, then, working in small sections, we apply product. I mostly just use my hands but grab the Denman brush for particularly knotted ends. I find the curl definition is much better when product is kept to a minimum and you use your fingers instead of a brush.
Do you think our hair assists with defining who we are as a person? What do you think Black Women and girls need to do in order to love and appreciate their Natural Hair?
Well, I think imagery plays an important part in all of our lives and to that end I would like to see more women with natural hair represented in all sorts of places, on TV (not just entertainment, but also news), in the boardroom, in law offices, in hospitals. I get frustrated when I hear people ask questions like “ Is natural hair professional?” like curly hair is only for weekend fun. It’s frustrating to know that no other group of people who have to worry about whether their hair pleases or upsets other people as much as African American women.
Okay now this is the good part and if more women knew this, I’m sure they’d be natural. My hair is embarrassingly easy! I never use shampoo on my hair. Most shampoos have sulfate, which is one of the main ingredients in dish washing soap. Its sole purpose is to remove oil. Curly hair needs moisture and so that was not working for me. I co-wash exclusively (conditioner has enough cleansing properties in it to get the hair and scalp clean) and when I started that a year ago, it’s like my curls thanked me. I do that about three times a week. Out of the shower (I have already finger detangled), I apply a little moisturizer, Shea butter, about a quarter size of conditioner (not leave-in but regular conditioner) and about the same amount of gel. Then I let it air dry or sit under the dryer. When I’m done, I use a loose blow dyer to add a little air and lift and then I’m out! At night, I sleep with a satin cap on (ALWAYS COVER YOUR HAIR AT BEDTIME!) or with a satin pillowcase. That keeps the hair from drying and breaking on the cotton pillowcase.
As your work continues to inspire many, what heartfelt message / advice would you like to give women who are not sure if Natural Hair is for them?
Well, I would say it’s important to do your research. There are TONS of websites dedicated solely to helping women embrace their natural hair/beauty. YouTube is another resource. The thing I would urge women is to be realistic; you’re not going to have hair flowing down to your butt by tomorrow morning and the truth is it may never get there. You need to identify a hair mentor, someone with a similar curl pattern and texture and then ask questions. Learn about their regimen and see if it works for you; if not make some minor tweaks until you hit upon your own.
What advice would you give to women in the corporate/ broadcasting world who would love to wear their Natural Hair but is more concerned about societal acceptance?
I’m a firm believer in being you. If you want to be natural for health or happiness and your job doesn’t accept you that way, it sounds like you might be in the wrong job. If you have to have the “right hair” for a position, you have to wonder where that stops. Maybe next you’ll have to be at the “right weight” and wear the “right clothes”. That sort of existence is exhausting and you end up spending time and energy on stuff that is not germane to the job you are doing. Be yourself and find a job that fits you, versus trying to do everything, including compromising your happiness, to fit into a job.
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