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Covered and Crowned: The 6th Annual Naturalista Photo Shoot

Naturalistas Don Headwraps and Face Masks for COVID 19

By Megan Davis
Soulcial Scene Contributor

Last Saturday, the sidewalk on N. Michigan Avenue in front of the The Davis Building became a red carpet runway for Naturalistas who were parking and making their way to the third floor community room for the 6th Annual Naturalistas Photo Shoot. 

Located in the heart of downtown Toledo, the meeting room was transformed from a dated space with unmatched furnishings into a vibrant stage, fashioned in an array of colorful backdrops. 

It was nearing sunset as the corridor filled with beautiful brown-skinned women of all ages, donning all black with touches of denim, catching up and chatting about current events. You could see their smiles through their face coverings because their eyes curved upward and their voices were as a sing-a-long of soulful hits of yesterday and today- almost forgetting that they were in the midst of a global pandemic known as COVID 19. 

Soulful jazz was the perfect  accompaniment to the event that was held from 7-9 PM. Photographer Carla Thomas, CEO of CYT Images, had a vision that began six years ago;  bringing African-American women, who have natural hair, together for a time to connect and create beautiful photos that showcase the beauty and versatility of natural hair.

“As you know, each year we have a different theme and color scheme for our Naturalistas’ shoot. This year’s theme is totally inspired by COVID 19. Talented seamstresses have already began sewing, selling and wearing matching head wraps and masks, so I figured why not incorporate them into our Naturalista shoot?” said Carla.

Sewing and selling indeed. If this pandemic has shown us anything, it has proven that furloughed jobs and being sheltered in isn’t a burden or hurdle for everyone. Instead, it has brought forth creative artistry in music, film, fashion, literature and has birthed a new and broad brand of small, Black-owned businesses that is growing swiftly amidst the uncertainties that COVID 19, a broken government, rapid climate change  and Black Lives Matter has imposed upon them.

Coko Afri, an Ohio business woman with Toledo roots, has been a seamstress for a few years now, specializing in Ankara apparel. Her business has flourished the more since COVID 19 as she pivoted from creating custom AfroCentric clothing to face masks and has added matching head wraps. 

“Headwraps are just another way of accentuating the beauty of our natural hair and the matching face masks add another level of style,” said Carla Thomas about the vivid fabrics that enfold natural curls within it. 

Head wraps aren’t new to the Black community. Their significance dates back pre-enslavement and has evolved over time from across the seas to America where the perception and interpretation of head wraps is as vast as the land is wide.

“When I think of headwraps, I think of control.” said one Naturalista. “What kind of control” asked another. “Patriarchal…” she replied.

 Patriarchal control is most certainly a part of history that many women are discussing more now than ever before. The idea that women had to be covered from head to toe, whether a Hijab or a Holiness Doily ​ or Chapel Veil was a Biblical, Islamic, spiritual/religious practice that male leaders spoke often about and required of women, their parishioners and especially of their spouses.

This is something that people would not immediately consider “control” because it doesn’t seem as overt as a couple living next door where the wife and children never leave the house because they aren’t allowed to. While women’s rights have advanced throughout the generations, many still hold covering the head as a sacred practice and carry personal convictions by religious doctrine more so than the preference of their husbands. So although they may not do it for the male leaders in their religion or their spouses, they do it because of its presumed innocence, chastity, humility and modesty.

In more modern history, it was known that enslaved Black women were ordered to wear coverings on their heads because their natural aesthetic was considered dreadful to the masters who owned them. This was due to the long, uncomfortable transport in slave ships, coupled with a lack of hair tools or elements to care for their highly textured hair. Those conditioned lead to matted, filthy tufts of hair that was unpleasant to view, touch or smell.

Many enslaved people shaved their heads completely by the time they touched American land. Yet there were some benefits to the head coverings; during slavery, head scarves were most often white and made of cotton or linen and they protected the hair and scalp from the beaming sun, rain and other climate elements that could damage their hair. 

For some, head wrapping has also represented a form of covering and protection from things that may cause harm both physically and mentally, almost like a Super Power. Brittany Jones, who rocked all-black everything, posed with her right fist in the air-a symbol that resounds Power to the People ​ and now ​Black Lives Matter. ​ When asked what head wrapping means to her, Jones replied “It means protection: protection of the lineage, protection of my essence and most importantly, protection of my culture that is exuded through my hair.”

Face Masks are an Ohio government-mandated practice that affects all residents, so seeing people in them isn’t anything to write home about. But Black women are innovative trend setters who blaze new trails in fashion no matter what the circumstances are. Head coverings are already a practical form of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that health professionals wear and are a part of the fight against the spread of the novel Coronavirus. So creating head wraps that match face masks is a pandemic need while also creating a new niche for entrepreneurs and seamstresses.

Toledoan Jeanette Martin is a leader, mentor and inspiring creative who provided a handmade purple and gold matching headwrap, mask and earring ensemble, featured in the photo shoot. Her creation took the theme to another level and was worn as a symbol of pride and royalty, receiving admiration from all the Naturalistas in attendance. 

Local Travel Blogger, Lastisha Williams, also known as The Frugalicious Diva, wore all black with Cheetah Print accessories. She said:​ ​“Headwrapping gives me a sense of freedom and pride. Pride in my heritage. Pride in my beauty. Pride in my Blackness” A woman who is unapologetically Black, she travels the world, locating Black-owned businesses and sharing her findings with her followers and subscribers.

Shari Thompson echoed this sentiment stating “headwrapping means a freedom of expression and self-identity, and embracing our unique culture and heritage.”

Culturally and personally, head wrapping signifies something different for each person who chooses to wear one. Nigerian brides and their families often don Geles, which is a paper-like fabric that is folded and fanned into a structure that may be round, feathered or intricate. ​South African women often use the Afrikaans word doek while Ghanaian women call theirs dukus.

Depending on how they are styled, they may represent a tribe or ethnicity, wealth, marital status, or even mourning. “​It is my belief that Headwrap represents certain cultures and a reflection of yourselves as exhibiting a style of expression.  Also, Head wrapping can be a non-verbal way to communicate his or her journey in life.” said Donnetta Carter, The Social Butterfly,  who is a local entrepreneur and hosts and promotes many businesses in the Toledo metropolitan area. 

In America today, head wrapping is often a part of a Naturalista’s “uniform,” as many Black women can be seen regularly donning colorful wraps that bend, twist and curve to whatever mood she is in or as an accent to her outfit for the day. But for some who attended the photo shoot, they weren’t used to wearing head wraps and needed some assistance in wrapping.

Fanell Williams, author, just began her locking journey and this photo shoot was her first time wearing a head wrap, which was made by Eden Couture’s CEO, Nicholas Harper. She went to The Kitchen Salon, located on a lower level of the Davis Building, to have her head wrapped for the photo shoot. 

“I don’t think I’ve ever thought of what head wrapping means to me, however I know the energy that it exudes especially when I see a beautiful black sista wearing one. I automatically envision a Black Woman standing tall in her beauty, head held high knowing her worth, and her identity. A radiant, royal glow with skin kissed by the sun. Head wrapping is a work of art skillfully designed to accentuate the crown of a royal daughter.” said Williams.

 Teena Jones and Daughter Naomi shared that “​ Head wrapping means protection of my identity and heritage; A sense of pride that black women share around the world.”

As the evening came to a close, the final photos were captured. Darlene Moye-Whitehead posed as if the bright runway was her microphone. Poetic affirmations flowed from her as she described what head wrapping means to her: “I am a natural woman: grounded, resilient, beautiful, fabulous, bold, a queen, kind, fearless, and phenomenal!” 

If there had to be a vote taking place during this photoshoot, the women in attendance would have all won! There wouldn’t have been an opportunity for critiques or debates. The facts are the proof in the pudding, or pictures, as they are published in The Sojourner’s Truth newspaper.

“My favorite part of the shoot is the positive energy and sense of sisterhood. These women and young girls who participate never cease to amaze me in how they support and encourage one another. I also look forward to seeing the unique styles and expressions of the current theme and dress code that each lady will bring to the shoot and every year I’m blown away. “- Carla Thomas, lead photographer and visionary for the annual Naturalistas Photo Shoot.




Copyright © 2019 by [The Sojourner's Truth]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 08/01/20 00:49:35 -0400.



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