In the late '80s, there were so few people wearing their hair natural. Growing up then, I was fortunate to have a role model in my mom, but I wasn't looking to her for what's cool. I don't care if your mom is Diana Ross or not! Natural hair just wasn't what I considered "in." It wasn't what I thought looked sexy or what was going to get boys to like me.
I had curly hair that was everywhere—defying gravity, looking electric and stunning—but I thought I was supposed to have easy-breezy hair. We would go to the salon every Saturday, and I would get a wet set with big rollers, sit under the dryer, and then wait in line to get blown out. For the rest of the week, I would sleep in sponge rollers and wake up with a crick in my neck. Or sometimes my mom would reroll my hair or put an iron right on the stove and do my edges. By Thursday or Friday, my hair would be in a ponytail so tight, I swear to God it gave me a headache.
By the time I was in 10th grade, my hair was beaten to a pulp. All those things I tried to do to make it look bouncy had the complete reverse effect. I used too much heat and lost my curl pattern. So I started to collect information and learned how to protect that unique pattern that gives my hair its magic and its life.
When I started working on Girlfriends, in my late 20s, I had an arsenal of tools and products to do my own hair. On set, there was no one who could do it! In the early 2000s, most hair professionals—if they were people of color—only knew how to use heat. They didn't know how to support natural curls. For the first two seasons of the show, I woke up early, showered with the right products, and let my hair air-dry for three hours. That was all Tracee hair. No one else touched it.
I didn't realize it then, but there were so many women on the same journey. In 2008, I wrote my first brand pitch, but it took me 10 years to launch my line, Pattern. The decision makers of the beauty world just didn't understand the magnitude, importance, beauty, and breadth of the curl community. I'm not saying everyone should go curly. But treat your hair with love, and develop and blossom in your own sense of selfhood; that's the most important journey. Embracing your beauty is a form of activism.
This article appears in the February 2020 issue of Marie Claire.