Over the years, Black women have rocked many hairstyles. For some Black women in the ’80s, a look wasn’t complete without a perfectly coiled afro that could only be achieved with sheen spray and a hair pick.
The ’90s gave us Nia Long and Halle Berry and, with them, the iconic pixie cut. And young girls everywhere aspired to have Brandy’s signature microbraids because who didn’t want to be Moesha?
But, while Black hair has always been versatile and beautiful in every state, it has not always been treated as such, particularly natural hair. Cosmetologist, natural hair expert, and innovator Debra Hare-Bey wants to change that.
Hare-Bey sat down with BLACK ENTERPRISE to discuss her experience as a celebrity hairstylist, the upcoming international “I Love Braids” celebration, and why so many people are intimidated by unapologetic natural-haired Black women in the workplace. She also spoke about her natural hair care business, Oh My Heavenly Hair.
Hare-Bey started her career as a celebrity hairstylist, working for the likes of Erika Alexander from the hit television show Living Single. She was also motivated by her passion for the craft.
“The level of respect and love I have for my industry, the opportunity to create excellent hair care, specifically natural hair and braids. Being able to work with high-profile celebs, their looks matter,” she says.
Hare-Bey illuminated how celebrities often have to take risks and be willing to change their look, but in a way that they still feel confident in themselves.
“Being able to have everyone experience the opportunity to present in a way that makes them feel good. To be able to make them feel full joy in their natural hair. Being able to wear braids that are culturally important and historically important,” she continued.
She also spoke about how employers wrongfully view natural hair as intimidating. Our natural hair is not unattractive or unprofessional, a fact we have known for years. But, Hare-Bey suggests, that people want us to hide under wigs and relaxers to undermine our identity and remove our autonomy, a concept she vehemently rejects.
“This idea that we can’t wear our hair to work because it’s not professional or the standard of beauty…When you walk into an office with the God-given texture, it says ‘I don’t want to look like you.’”
In the 1990s, Hare-Bey was one of four hairstylists that helped usher in natural hair licenses in New York, now a standard in the state. The veteran stylist emphasized the importance of knowing how to properly care for and manage natural hair, a feat many new hairstylists have yet to master.
“There is a certain expectation that you know what you are doing, but we are at an alarming rate of hair loss because stylists are not trained properly to identify issues, to take care of situations, or to have solutions for damaged hair,” Hare-Bey says.
Her commitment to ensuring that natural hair is healthy and appreciated isn’t just because it’s her job. It’s her life’s work.
Eventually, Hare-Bey launched Oh My Heavenly Hair. Its name stems from the almost divine connection Hare-Bey has with hair. “Hair is important to me, that it is only majestic,”
Hare-Bey is also a founding member of the Natural Hairstyle and Braid Coalition, which aims to improve the art and science of the natural hair care industry.
Hare-Bey’s dedication is nothing short of admirable. She demonstrates the pure love that goes into caring for natural hair. It is this dedication that led her to create International I Love Braids Day. International I Love Braids Day was established in 2016 and born out of a desire to showcase Black beauty.
“I’m always thinking about braids. I am always thinking about how to elevate my industry. The world has a different image of who we are,” Hare-Bey said.
On July 29, 2023 in Brooklyn, New York, the seventh annual I Love Braids Celebration will occur from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. This year’s theme is legendary singer and activist Nina Simone. Hare-Bey shared that Simone was chosen as this year’s theme because she encouraged young Black women to love themselves in ways others didn’t. Simone used her raw talent as a pianist and vocalist to shine a light on inequality, and she did so unabashedly.
The free celebration will start with a children’s parade where Black children of all ages wearing all kinds of hairstyles will flood the street in a display of self-love and pride.
Kids aren’t the only ones who get to have fun, though. There are several events to look forward to for all demographics, including a full makeover for one lucky bride-to-be in partnership with World Bride Magazine. One outdoor booth will create the world’s longest braid, where passerbys can join and add a section to the braid, which will then be pinned with a statement about why braids are beautiful.
There will also be a pop-up tent featuring celebrated authors, including Tameka Ellington, who wrote Black Hair in a White World. Parents can learn different ways to style their child’s natural hair as well. Another booth called the Bubble Zone will be a space for people to blow bubbles and write self-affirmative statements about why their Black is beautiful.
The inside of the event will tackle a more serious subject: women’s health. This year’s health booth will discuss Black wellness, including how to spot certain diseases and the link between relaxers and cancer.
In the days leading up to the event, Hare-Bey hopes to facilitate a social media takeover, using the hashtag #ILOVEBRAIDSDAY2023. Each tag will accompany a photograph of a braided hairstyle. The move is every bit symbolic as it is impactful.
“We were not always attached to things that were received in a good light. It’s oftentimes steeped in making you feel bad about yourself. You have to hide it. So why not create a day where we can celebrate it in its purity?” says Hare-Bey.
Hare-Bey offered a few parting words for younger hairstylists hoping to make it in the industry.
“When you are younger, you really want to do everything. But what I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older is you can’t do it by yourself.”
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