Lupita Nyong’o talks at length about her ‘African kinky hair’ in her Allure cover story

Lupita Nyong’o first became famous in 2013, during the promotional tour for 12 Years a Slave. Throughout the year, she carefully chose her clothing and her styling. Many will remember that throughout 2013 and into early 2014, Lupita also had really, really short hair. Half her head was practically buzzed. Her style story became all about her face, and the whole thing reminded me of Audrey Hepburn winning for Roman Holiday with her little pixie cut – like, with a face like Audrey or Lupita, you don’t need hair. Anyway, I just took that trip down memory lane because Lupita exists in the zeitgeist with short hair, that’s how we always remember her. I’m actually taken aback slightly when I see recent photos of her, and I see how long her hair is now.

Lupita is promoting Black Panther – which has been called a “showcase for natural hair” – on the March cover of Allure. Allure devoted this issue to hair, specially black women’s hair and all of the conversations and lack of conversations around black hair. It’s a super-long piece, which you can read here. Some highlights:

Her teen years: “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. When I was about 18 or 19, I didn’t have a job or anything, so it was really my parents paying for my hair. So I was once asking for some more money to get my hair done and my dad joked, “Why don’t you just cut it all off?” And a few months later, I thought to myself, Why don’t I? I went into the hair salon, and I said, “Let’s cut it off.” It was almost a dare to myself: Can I live without hair? He shaved it right off. It was so scary but so liberating because I went completely bald.

She currently growing it out:
“My hair is the longest it’s been in over a decade. A lot of that is because I have an amazing hairstylist in Vernon François. He’s been so helpful, helping me learn how to maintain my natural hair texture. Also giving me regimens that are streamlined because part of the challenge is all the steps. You go on YouTube, and there are just so many different ways of upkeep of one’s natural hair. It’s honey and rosemary water and avocado-paste conditioning and whatnot. I’ve tried it all. Now I love my hair. I love it because I’ve also been able to really embrace the stuff it can do.”

On dreadlocks: “Well, I think America is definitely the dominant popular culture. I remember my aunties were locking their hair when I was growing up. One of my aunties started locking her hair when I was younger than 10, and everyone was so scandalized by it.

How she takes care of her hair now: “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. And also shea butter, natural shea butter — no perfumes, no bleaches — which doesn’t smell great at all, but it does wonders to my hair.

The terminology around black hair: “Well, I’m not an authority on this. But the term “African-American hair” is inaccurate because I’m not African-American. And I think the term “African-American” is often used as a racial term when it’s a cultural group that does not encompass every single person of African descent. So there’s that. So when you say “African-American,” you’re not actually addressing what you think you’re addressing. That’s a national identification, and it cannot be about the hair. I like the term “kinky.” Some people don’t like that term, but when I think about my hair, I think of it as African kinky hair. But I’m not really in deep with the politics of it all and the language choice. I speak just from my own experience or my own preference. Curly hair differs so much.

[From Allure]

She also talks a lot about the years when she braided her hair, and having to go home to Kenya to have her hair properly braided and then returning to America for school, which sounds like a massive pain in the ass. She also talks about how her hair needs humidity, that if she’s in a cold, dry climate, her hair completely changes textures (I didn’t realize that could happen). Basically, I find this whole interview really fascinating, and I’m really happy that Allure devoted an issue to this subject and let Lupita talk about her hair in the cover interview. It’s a rare thing for a mass-market, mainstream women’s magazine to give that kind of space to a subject that is virtually ignored.

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Photos courtesy of Allure.

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21 Responses to “Lupita Nyong’o talks at length about her ‘African kinky hair’ in her Allure cover story”

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  1. Josephine says:

    Stunning. I especially like the second pic because you can see more of her gorgeous skin and her shoulders. But both are gorgeous pics.

  2. SlightlyAnonny says:

    I went to Senegal a while back and bought some raw shea butter, let me tell you, to say it stinks is an understatement. I make hair butters and lotions and I have to use it sparingly, strain it, and then drench it in essential oils and fragrance oils and you can STILL smell it. But it really is great for your hair.

  3. Astrid says:

    Wow, that’s some cool hair. As someone with flat thin brown hair, I’ve always wanted something big and outrageous!

  4. Jayna says:

    Both photos are really great. She has a beautiful face and gorgeous skin. I like seeing her grow her hair out.

  5. Veronica Shields says:

    I think she is honestly one of the most visually arresting celebrities to hit Hollywood in awhile. Just beautiful.

    I get her about the cold/dry weather, though. It’s pretty common for anybody with curly or wavy hair. I’m Caucasian with naturally wavy hair, and winter is definitely the time where I have to cut down on how often I wash it and use a little oil here and there to keep the ends from splitting. Humid weather isn’t much better, though – my hair gets VERY frizzy.

  6. Nicole says:

    Black women are taking back their hair. The natural hair movement is empowering in a lot of ways and I’m glad to see so many wearing their “kinky” hair without shame.
    We have a long way to go though. There are still jobs and schools that view our hair as unkempt.
    I love that she dropped LOC in there. That’s the method I use as well

  7. Indiana Joanna says:

    Everything about her is regal. I love the second photo, it’s simply gorgeous.

  8. Aerohead21 says:

    It sounds like they tried to have this conversation as unbiased as possible. Let’s be honest: white Americans and those who are not of the ethnic groups they are discussing can be completely unaware of how dumb they sound when they aren’t trying to be dumb or insensitive at all. That’s why people feel like they are being all encompassing when they say African American…sorry, that’s not the entire population of black people. It’s like saying all Asians are Chinese American. Or calling Native Americans American Indians (when the reason they were termed that way is because of the confusion between India and getting lost here). They aren’t Indian at all. It can be quite difficult to be sensitive and requires a lot of humility and a desire to listen/learn. I have spent much of my adult life as a white person trying to NOT be biased and it’s extremely difficult with the way things are in our society.

  9. JeanGray says:

    Lupita is divine. Her skin looks so luxurious. She’s a very stunning woman.

    And ditto on humidity. I’m a mixed race Latina and my natural hair shows it. It’s like 3 different textures so I usually blow it out in the winter because it’s easier to maintain (though I’m still on the -No silicone- , organic shampoo/conditioner group) becaue of the lack of humidity up here in the North East. But once spring/summer comes, I go natural and notice on humid days my hair has more bounce and spring and coils up so much easier than on drier days. I also had to stop using coconut oil because it dried my hair and I hear it has something to do with protein levels, so now I use Jojoba which is amazing on my tresses.

  10. OriginalLala says:

    I LOVE her hair – I’m a curly girl and I hear her about weather and curls. I visited Santa Fe a few years ago and my hair was so flat and limp from the dry air.

  11. Eden75 says:

    Her hair is fabulous! Love it!

    I totally hear her about climate change. Where I live can go through all the ranges, but it usually is very dry in the winter and average in the summer. As a curly girl, the dry does all sorts of nasty things to my hair and I had to experiment until I found something that would keep the hair tamed during the dry months. I am unable to use shea sadly, so I had to go with a different routine. In the normal average humidity, I have nice normal curls that mostly behave. When I head to any coast or anywhere near a large body of water, I end up with massive hair. It loves the humidity but I have no idea what to do with it. In those places, I just oil it and let it live it’s own life.

    Also, I don’t live in the States, so calling someone African American is obviously not going to work. My aunt is black, and that’s what she is referred to here, if it’s mentioned at all (which it can be since the side of the family who adopted her is white Irish Catholic). If we happen to know where they are from they are usually referred to as African, Jamaican, where ever they happen to come from. However, all of us non-whites (I am Metis, and an therefore a Half Breed) who are Native are supposed to be called First Nations. I have an idea, how about everyone just refers to everyone as what we are. In the case of the US, Americans, or in the case of here, Canadians.

  12. Frosty says:

    Love this interview, especially where she says
    “And I think the term “African-American” is often used as a racial term when it’s a cultural group that does not encompass every single person of African descent. So there’s that. So when you say “African-American,” you’re not actually addressing what you think you’re addressing. That’s a national identification, and it cannot be about the hair. ”

  13. Michelle says:

    She’s stunning! & her hair is beautiful. Lovely girl with substance. So glad there is women like her who are redefining beauty within the Entertainment industry for young girls to look up to, rather than the vapid Valley girl fake ass kardashian/Jenner’s.

  14. Darlene says:

    I love everything about her.

  15. Alix says:

    NOW they put her on the cover — right after I cancelled my subscription, arrrrgh!

  16. Lorina says:

    Gorgeous. I could look at her for days.

  17. DesertReal says:

    I love this.
    As a black woman who has done her own hair for years I love hearing about other peoples regimens and products.
    Especially when its someone I enjoy watching and admire!