I have the blessing of being surrounded by many wise, beautiful, stable and generous women in my life. Olivia is one of them. She is my auntie and a woman I look up to a lot. She is a mother, grandmother, and wife, who has been married to her high school sweet heart for over 20 years! As with all of us, life has not always been easy but she clearly lives in the realm of appreciation, enjoyment, generosity and style. Her birthday passed recently which marked her membership into the exclusive club of the ’50 somethings’ (although she looks years younger). She has been natural with loc’d hair for some time and stylish, funky and dedicated to healthy living for much of the span of her life.
From a very young age, I would love to sit with the older women and listen to them share their laughter, experiences, struggles, recipes, fashion tips, advice and squabbling with one another. I take a lot of their advice to heart as I try to navigate and create my own life. I wanted to extend that correspondence between the “more mature” women and our generation. This is a long read but trust when I say it’s worth it
Describe your hair journey. When and why did you decide to go natural?
I was in high school when I first wore my hair natural in an afro hair style. The 70’s was a good time for self-expression and a time when I exercised the freedom to express, celebrate and embrace my naturally beautiful locks. I remember the day I wore my first afro hairdo. I loved the way it framed me emphasizing the shape of my face, eyes, nose, and lips. I wore big hoop earrings, excited about how it felt to finally be liberated from the straightening comb, hot curlers, hair grease, burnt ears, and the smell of burning hair. Let me not forget the pink hard hair rollers that came loose while I slept and ended in the bed or on the floor leaving me without a curl to start the morning. I loved that I no longer had to worry about bad hair days.
Wearing my hair in an afro was a soulful experience. I felt a closer connection to the person inside of me who was transitioning from girl to woman. It was a time when I shared a growing connection with women of color who was uplifted and thrilled about wearing our hair natural. We were finally given permission to reflect on how profound it was to be Black and Proud in America. Wearing an afro was also a political fashion statement. It was the first time we were allowed to openly appreciate the texture of our hair. Being called “nappy headed” lost its significance as a full afro became the crowning glory desired by some of our “finer” haired sisters and brothers.
I never really knew how to style my hair. Perms were too damaging so I wore my hair in a crop natural cut for years after the afro. After the crop cut I wore a wet set natural curl and began to grow bored with this hairdo where I eventually went back to wearing a short cropped cut only to desire something new and different. In a short time I needed another change, but a change I could personally feel attached to, and then came Anita Baker. She changed my world in the 90’s. Every woman admired the sophisticated cut she wore as well as her music. I made my first visit to the hairdresser to get my hair permed, cut and styled the Anita Baker way. It was fun while it last until it started to get expensive to maintain a bi-weekly cut and style.
The style, length and color of hair convey a subtle message about our sense of fashion and personality. Being a fashionable individual, I chemically permed and dyed my hair. I also went as far as wearing a wig and getting a weave, none of the styles matched my personality. Unhappy and frustrated about my hair and the effort it took to get it right, I decided to go back to wearing my hair natural; a place of comfort and ease. The journey with my hair has taught me that as Afro-American women we have the exclusive advantage of wearing our hair in so many different styles. Our hair textures are as diverse as the color of our skin, and to celebrate this uniqueness. For these reasons I made the decision to free myself from the chemically treated products and accept my genuine natural hair again. This time around my decision was to lock my hair and claim my freedom with pride. Once again, I was empowered to embrace the quality of my god-given naturally textured hair, skin, lips, hips and butt, and style; developed my signature swagger and claimed what is mine. Being able to embrace my outward beauty allowed me to embrace the beauty I host within. Once again I gave myself permission to love all of me – not just my hair, but the temple of my wealth, wisdom and a new appreciation for the journey I’ve taken to enhance the beauty I sometimes fail to acknowledge.
Have you always taken such good care of yourself? What habits have you practiced consistently from your youth to your middle ages that you think has been beneficial to your health?
My grandmother always reminded me to scrub my knees, smile and show gratitude. My father would check me and always remind me to wash your neck when you wash your face. My mother who stood 4’11” will remind me not to slouch, check my posture and act like a lady. And when neighborhood kids called me names just because of my dark complexion, I’d go home and tell my mother and she would assure me I am loved and that I am beautiful and that God loves me just the way I am because he made me just like he made the others. It was clear to me early as a child that beauty is more than an outward appearance. The people who called me ugly were being mean and that made them appear to be ugly. I learned from my experiences as a young girl that acceptance of differences is a value. Showing kindness and empathy for everyone is a distinctive quality that superseded any imperfections or perceptions others might have of you. Having a positive attitude and practicing the art of forgiveness is so therapeutic. I am able to feel positively free and I do not walk around with a grudge. To my advantage I was taught early to be authentic, connect with my soul and seek acceptance from within. Embracing these teachings early in life gave me permission to explore my femininity at the same time I explored the values and tenants of my soul that support me in feeling beautiful.
I learned early to adorn myself with clothes and jewelry that enhance my features, body shape and self-esteem. After attending charm school where I learned how to walk, and conduct myself as a lady I began to adopt a philosophy and a regimen for taking care of myself early. I was fortunate to learn early to make a personal commitment to always challenge my capabilities, celebrate my accomplishments, and show gratitude every day. I also committed to maintaining a positive attitude, eat healthy foods, and spend time with people who warm my heart and make me smile. And … always pamper my mental, spiritual and physical self. Yoga keeps me centered and prepares me to mentally and physically deal with any challenges I might face throughout the day. I recently returned to practicing hot yoga which has helped me tone my body and eliminate impurities and meditate. I begin my day giving thanks to my GOD for a new day. In the mornings I dedicate 20 minutes of yoga 3 to 5 days a week. As I grow older more importance is given to attending annual medical appointments, exercising. eating healthier, and making sure that rest and relaxation is included in my schedule of activities.
What is your skin care regimen?
I drink lots of water, and avoid or limit the amount of sugary and fatty foods I eat every day. I believe it to be true that what you digest has a tendency to affect your complexion, concentration and energy level. Overtime, I’ve reduced or eliminated fried greasy foods from my daily diet and eat them when I want to treat myself. Knowing my skin type and what works for me, I use the appropriate products to clean, exfoliate, moisturize, and protect my skin as well as keep it hydrated and blemish free. I wear make-up and no matter what’s going on, I DO NOT go to bed without first cleaning my face. Good dental care is as important as washing my face and taking in vitamins and herbs before going to bed. When I was young we used petroleum jelly to moisturize our body. Later I learned that petroleum products are not good for the body because they clog your pores. In an effort to find the right moisturizer for my skin I have learned to mix up my own moisturizers using coconut, almond oil and essential oils. To help keep my skin smooth I exfoliate while bathing 2 to 3 times a week. Exfoliating is necessary because it helps to reduce the appearance of dry skin. This is especially important in the winter when you skin can get dry and appear ashy.
Exercise has always been something I do for fun to maintain my health. I’ve mentally and physically challenged myself to commit to an exercise routine. I enjoy feeling strong, healthy, and competing with my capabilities. Feeling good enables me to challenge my capabilities and explore other types of exercising. To start my day I do a combination of yoga stretches in the morning to waken and tone my body. The benefits of stretching 15 -20 minutes 4 to 5 times a week have significant health benefits as I get older. In addition to my morning stretches I attend hot yoga classes twice a week and take the stair steps instead of the escalator. I am an avid gardener and can easily spend up to 5 hours in my garden in the spring and throughout the fall seasons. In addition to gardening, I try to incorporate some form of exercise in my life every day going to work and while I’m on vacation. My lifetime goal is to stay actively healthy.
As a woman who came of age in the 60’s and 70’s self-awareness and holistic knowledge was most popular and circulated, what do you think about this generation of women? Have we gone two steps forward or two steps back?
Many of my friends have aged beautifully because we share some of the same values growing up. We’ve learned to support and encourage each other to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Our mothers, grandmothers, and aunts were role models who taught us to respect and embraced our femininity and sensuality. Although they did not exercise like we do, they walked more, ate better, socialized and because they lived with routine and structure they managed to maintain an active life. We grew up under these conditions and did not have the alternatives of eating and relaxation as our young women have today.
There was also a code of ethics about how we were expected to dress and behave as young ladies. Our parents established specific standards we were expected to follow as we grew into womanhood. Something happened that began in the 80’s that erased the values of eating meals together, “courting”, ( a process of getting to know your mate), behaving and dressing like a lady and having positive male and female role models to help you mature. In the 80’s I gradually observed extremes changes in how young women conducted themselves. Another change was the popularity of young girls and women wearing Timberland boots, white t-shirts, cross-gender dressing, and posturing like the opposite sex. In addition to cross-gender dressing I see extreme inappropriate dressing and a lack of self-awareness and self-respect for what is appropriate clothing to compliment body shapes and sizes.
Another observation is the number of overweight young women. We need to promote health and engage our youth early in embracing their inner beauty to help them develop a healthy and honest self-esteem. We have to try harder to teach each other that size does matter in health, appearances, and relationships and in how people respond to. Unfortunately, some of our young women today are experiencing more health and relationship problems that have the potential to follow them into adulthood. Ignoring your health and appearance is a choice. It appears that too many of our young women have become complacent and are finding quick ineffective solutions to beauty and healthy lifestyles. These choices have replaced alternatives to developing long-term solutions and daily beauty regimens for a holistically healthy lifestyle. It’s never too late to demonstrate the importance you personally place on your mental, spiritual and physical self. The first step is to personally and honestly evaluate their lifestyle, and begin to make changes to support your personal goals. There is something significantly preventing our youth from recognizing their natural beauty. I think it takes each and every one of us to help our young women to realize their full potential. Old-school values learned as a young woman has had a positive effect in the way I approach the aging process. What I learned from the women who passed through my life has allowed me to embrace my aging beauty. Now it is my turn to teach our young what being beautiful really means.
What pitfalls or habits of your peers have you noticed that lead them to look more worn, out of shape and overall unhealthy in their older years?
Unfortunately, some women believe that at a certain time in their life when they define themselves as being old, they take on the attitude that they are suppose to stop living and begin to neglect their appearance practice unhealthy habits that exacerbate the aging process and accelerate life expectancy. If you believe aging is a problem then you are right. If you believe aging is a natural occurrence in life you are also right. I believe you become what you think and believe to be. It’s a fact that as we age our energy level decreases, our body goes through hormonal changes, and we no longer have an interest in doing what we need to maintain an attractive appearance. Although I do not have the energy I had when I was younger, I’ve made a commitment to maintain a consistent level of fitness, and an active social life. To ensure that I am able to accomplish these goals I make sure that I attend regular scheduled doctor visits to maintain my health and appearance.
A pitfall for women my age is not pushing beyond their full potential to improve their health and lifestyle. They will eat unconsciously and even if they exercise they’ll go home and justify eating more calories than what they burned just because they visited the gym. They easily give up on exercise if they don’t lose weight as fast as they believe they should. I tell them not to give up and offer resources about exercising to help them understand that they need to develop a holistic approach to diet, exercise and skin care.
If you have not paid attention to your body in your in the last 30 years its going to be tough starting an exercise program and/or changing your diet. My advice is to begin a life changing/sustaining healthy approach to longevity today. It’s never too late to take on the challenge. Exercising, developing healthy habits and exploring your full potential will help anyone feel great and even better as you age. I remind them that there is more to life to explore with a new and developing attitude.
As you age, how has your perception of yourself changed? Do you still feel effortlessly sexy, energized and motivated?
I am comfortable with how I have aged. I feel sexy motivated, and energized every day I wake up. I expected wrinkles and changes in the shape of my body. I expected these changes to occur, and began as a young woman to establish a lifestyle that slowed down the aging process. I’ve embraced every decade of my maturity. When I was younger I promised myself that as I mature, I will hold on to the uniqueness of my body and soul and value every lesson I learn. I’m now very comfortable and satisfied with how I have aged. Getting older comes with many benefits. It’s empowering to feel confident and secured knowing and liking the person I’ve become. This attitude makes it easy to feel sexy. Feeling sexy is effortless and it motivates me to continue my lifelong commitment to wellness.
What beauty secrets can you share with the younger girls?
Total care of the body is so important in maintaining your youthful look; so start today. Read and understand the science of healthy eating, diet, nutrition, and exercising. To stay focus on with your personal goals, be honest and determined. Commit to what you want and desire. I have learned that success is sexy and motivating. To lose weight and like the way you look in your clothes is an extremely strong ego booster. Commit yourself to accomplishing goals to eating healthier foods, losing excess weight, and exercising. I feel more confident and motivated when my efforts show results. When I do better, I smile more and the process gratefully repeats itself with each new challenge.
To keep my skin smooth and free of blemishes I exfoliate, cleanse, moisturize and protect my entire body. If you wear make make-up cleanse your face before going to bed. Our skin say so much about what is going on inside our body. This is why it is important to understand the importance of vitamins and minerals and the effects they have on your body.
Being and feeling beautiful is a personal responsibility that begins with you. The earlier you start taking care of yourself the more beautiful you’ll feel as you grow older.
Thank you so much Olivia for this interview. Love you!
|Olivia with her sister Kutia (my God mother)