Flawless Mag: The Natural Issue

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Issue 14-Spring 2022 The Natural Issue

Flawless Brown Editor Valentine Carr Layout by Flawless WRites Kim Ndegwa Kiersten Tate Nicole Townsend Cover Shoot by Sasha Models for Cover Shoot Kim Ndegwa Kiersten Tate Sophia Inez Shruti Rajkumar Santana Perez Elise Guzmán Brooke McLeod

Flawless Brown Flawless Brown Executive Board President — Brianna Jackman Chair of Pictures — Worlanyo Mensah Chair of Sisterhood — jehan ayesha Chair of WRites — Valentine Carr Chair of flawed Comedy — Hawa Kamara Chair of Stage — Rocio Perez

Letter from the Editor It’s been a beautiful thing to see the wonderful pieces this semester come in from such talented writers. Being part of Flawless Writes has been such an uplifting experience for me, and I’ve enjoyed every moment that I can be among these fantastic artists. The Natural Issue is one that reflects the way that we all are in control of our own destinies, and how we can just be ourselves without anyone else telling us what we can and can’t do, who we can and can’t be. I can only hope that in future issues that we all remember that we are, in fact, in charge of our destinies, and we lean into our power as individuals. Valentine

Table of Contents 1 Coming of Spring—Kiersten Tate 2 This World—Kim Ndegwa 4 To be a “White Man’s Whore”—Christina Horacio 7 Curly Headed Shorties—Nicole Townsend

Table of Contents 15 reflections of a teenage homebody turned [insert here]—Valentine 16 Eating is Hard—Kiersten Tate 17 Hymns to a God I No Longer Believe In— Ghanima Ganthier 18 Woman in a Box—Ghanima Ganthier

The Coming of Spring (A Haibun) by Kiersten Tate Winter has dwelled upon us for several weeks now, and I can’t believe how cold it gets here. After three years of living in this city, I finally feel the harsh cold temperatures in January. Moving in and staying in has become my pastime, yet I do not want to be cooped up forever. My room, full of books for reading and writing, has seen too much of me. She wants better for me, too. She loves to cradle my body to sleep and watch me rise from slumber, but she knows I need more outside time, more company. She wants me to walk for ten minutes to get my favorite drink (boba). She wants my skin to be covered with short and thin fabrics, so I will bronze under the springtime sun. We both know winter will not last forever. The increased solitude and confinement are only temporary stages. Spring will come around these next few weeks and things will change with the new season. Winter’s greatest pains are healed by spring’s saving grace —magnificent time!

This World by:

Kim Ndegwa

I live in a world Of sprouting trees and scorched lands, Budding seeds, fragile and flaccid Spreading roots and strengthening stems Reaching for air and nutrients. Then the sun smolders. The leaves on greater trees Begin to wither: wilted and dried. A cycle of blooming and perishing The trees give fruits To the birds and the worms. Perched on the trees, the birds sing The worms find home within the branches Some birds play with the worms, They step on them, Eat them. I live in a world Of first cries and final breaths Where the grass gets greener On the other side But nobody knows Where it is And those who do Never return

The side where rain is constant And growth is infinite. The side of vast fruit Where the birds feed the worms Then spread pollen, giving rise To fresh plants and new trees. I live in a world Where the clock is more important Than life, Its hands move, ticking With every breath, motion, emotion. Eagle-eyed, humanity rushes Along an unending path With no perception of the life around. Dwindling awareness Lonely trees Suffocating waters. What is this world that I live

To be a “White Man’s Whore” By Christina Horacio Artwork by Christina Horacio

My sister once sat me down and asked me quite bluntly, “why do you like him?” I merely said that I just did, but she pushed. She couldn’t understand how I disliked so much about the core of this person, but still maintained such a debilitating attraction to them. A border-line oppressive magnetic pull. What I had expressed was a long list of cons that overwhelmed the seemingly nonexistent pros. Why couldn’t I answer her question? “Is it just because you find him attractive?” The answer was no. It wasn’t that I didn’t find him attractive, I just knew that that wasn’t the allure. So what was? After some silence, I swallowed a hard truth. I said that it was because I had thought that if he had liked me, then that meant that anyone could. He got anyone he wanted; as white men often do. He expressed a fine taste in women that many non-white men in my community also sought after: skinny, blonde, fair-skinned, doe-eyed, ready to please her man. I, evidently, as a Puerto Rican woman, was not that. But it became almost a game, with my self-worth being the ultimate prize. I figured that if he liked me, then that would mean I was finally the exception. That in spite of the big curly hair, harsh dark facial hair, and curvy body, my face had some redeemable quality that both white men and men of color could appreciate. I felt small, as I told my sister, white or not, they all seem to want one specific version of a girl. One that I spent most of my adolescence desperately trying to imitate.

At a young age, growing up in a predominantly-white small town in Massachusetts, my classmates—even my friends— never missed the opportunity to remind me that I did not look like them. That my “afro” was crazy. That they couldn’t believe how beautiful my white friends were in comparison. Consequently, I straightened and bleached my hair, stating that I was exclusively white to anyone who investigated my identity beyond face value. This was met with suspicion, especially after being questioned of whether or not I was bi-racial, or why I looked “exotic.’’ I resented that. As I sat in front of my sister, I now resented that I was seemingly still that girl, somewhere inside. I was still chasing the validation and approval of white men. I may be outspoken and proud of my identity now, I may embrace my own features, but I realized that this was not an isolated incident. That the pattern of liking shitty white dudes and not knowing why, was actually concrete and significant. To some level, I still held the white man’s opinion on a pedestal. I couldn’t seem to catch the tears from falling on my reddened cheeks. I told her that my worry now was that I would never be seen as attractive. I would only ever be a gateway, at most, to my “more attractive” white friends. She then asked me when I felt most beautiful; when I actually believed that to be true. I was shocked by the question, but I thought about it sincerely. There was this one time when I was in the grocery store with my mother. A Black woman approached me. She told me that I was beautiful, that I could pass for her daughter. Her loving hazel eyes reflected that of my own. She was so ethereal that I was utterly stunned that she saw myself in her. And so much so, that she needed to approach me and say something about it. No one had ever done that before. She took notice of my white mother, and apologized, saying that she wasn’t implying that she was not my mom or she didn’t look like me. But her original instinct was completely correct; my mother looked virtually nothing like me. That was the other thing. Many would take notice of my mother, of her beauty, and wonder why I didn’t inherit that. And here, this woman, who I did see myself in, recognized that, and told me that was okay. More than okay. That that was beautiful. My sister smiled, as if acknowledging that I had come to some sort of answer or conclusion.

I realized then that there was still work to be done. That my struggle with loving myself, was not at all a thing of the past. It was allowing me to tether myself to such toxicity, poisoning my brain, my heart, with such self-hatred. I saw that girl again. The one who doused her hair in chemicals. The one who never got the white man’s attention, but fought for it so earnestly. It was chilling and disorienting, but exactly what I needed to be reminded of. Because although I had compassion for her, I never wanted to see her again. Self-love is a perpetual journey that is hardly ever linear. And as a woman of color, I cannot expect myself to not have moments, prolonged ones even, where I start to believe the narrative engraved so long ago by the oppressor. But what I can do is actively choose to fight against that everyday by consuming media that uplifts me. Joining a community that is actually proud to look like me. Choosing to nurture worthy relationships. And most importantly, redistributing all that love and attention I felt was wasted, back to myself.

Curly Headed Shorties By Nicole Townsend

Curly Hair Profiles Nirvana Ragland’s Profile Freshman Journalism Major From Melrose, Massachusetts Nirvana Ragland wasn’t exactly happy with her curly hair during middle school because of how time-consuming it was to take care of it properly. And how time-consuming it was to style it. Ragland explained that it was because of her older sister that she decided to take her own natural hair journey. A lot of what Ragland was taught about curly hair stemmed from her older sister and family members, which is where she would see her family member’s curly hair either straightened, blown out, or have some chemical treatment completed in order to straighten it rather than embracing their curls. It wasn’t until Ragland was influenced to love her curly hair through one of her friends who embraced and loved her curly hair in all of its stages. Furthermore, Ragland explained that being raised in a predominantly white community influenced her relationship with her curly hair, saying that there weren’t many Black hair care stores where she lived and it took having friends that either lived in the city or in areas that had more cultural stores and Black hair care stores, for her to find the sort of products and brands that worked for her. Ragland says that she currently has a positive and a negative relationship with her curly hair, stating “I think it’s in the middle. I think it really depends on the day. I feel like there are days when I’m really frustrated, or I feel like I’m putting a lot of time and effort into it. And now being in college, I think that also has sparked some, I guess, aggression towards my hair because I feel like I don’t have the time to take care of it properly. And living in communal bathrooms and stuff like that it feels like there’s not the space to have a wash day or detangle my hair every day.”

Izabella “Izzy” Abbott Freshman Marketing Major From Wichita, Kansas

Izabella “Izzy” Abbott wasn’t exactly keen on her curly hair during elementary and middle school. There was this specific moment that she remembered when she was in second grade, this one kid used to come up behind her and touch her hair, repeating, “pillow pet, pillow pet.” It was instances similar to that that caused Abbott to straighten her curly hair in seventh and eighth grade. It was towards the end of eighth grade that she started her natural hair journey, and started wearing her curly hair out almost every day. Abbott identifies as a mixed woman who is both Black and White and states, “My dad obviously doesn’t know anything about my hair. My mom doesn’t know anything really about my hair. So most of what I found out about my hair type and different kinds of hairstyles that I could do was through YouTube, and watching those videos to try and figure out what I could do and what would work for me.” Abbott explained how the community and environment in which she lived influenced her relationship with her hair since she was raised in a predominantly Latino/Latina community, which didn’t have many Black people. So the types of hair she saw were mostly straight. She explained how she straightened her curly hair because she wanted to look like what she saw. It wasn’t until Abbott started watching curly hair tutorials on YouTube, and it wasn’t until she saw representation on the TV screen that influenced her to take her own curly hair journey. She started to experiment with different products to see which best fit her hair. Abbott explained that her relationship with her hair now is very in between because during COVID-19 and when in lockdown, she had the time to experiment and take care of her hair causing it to become a lot healthier. However, now, she expressed that it is just very hard to take care of and maintain her hair, especially since she arrived at college.

Colette Lauture Freshman Journalism Major From Montclair, New Jersey

Colette Lauture was insecure about her curly hair in elementary school, mostly in fifth grade. She was raised in a predominantly white community, which affected how she felt about her curly hair. Growing up, all of her friends had straight hair, which caused her to think that there was something wrong with her hair. She remembers one time, her friend, who was Black, stated “straighten your curly hair for you and nobody else. ‘’ She took her fingers and made the notions of a flat iron and passed it through Lauture’s curly hair saying, “See it looks so pretty.” This memory stuck out to her because it made her realize that her hair was beautiful. As Lauture matured, she would receive compliments, such as “Your curly hair is so beautiful you should wear it out more often.” Lauture said it was these comments that switched how she felt about her curly hair from negative to positive. Also, she explained that she had a hard time trying to figure out what to do with her hair because neither of her parents knew how to take care of it. Her mother is Puerto Rican, but she’s white-passing, and her father is Haitian, but he has very tight 4-C hair. At first, she used whatever her mother used for her hair, which wasn’t good because they had very different hair types. And what worked for her hair didn’t necessarily work for her hair. However, when she got older, she did her research and found out what products did and didn’t work for her hair. Furthermore, Lauture explained that her mother wouldn’t allow her to straighten her curly hair, except for special occasions. She explained that her mother was a big proponent of wearing her hair naturally and putting it in braids. She wanted her to embrace her curly hair and not be ashamed of it. As of now, Lauture explained that she has a positive relationship with her curly hair. She expressed that she has heard the stupid questions and comments, such as How did you get it curly like that? Can I touch it? Can I lay on it? It’s like a pillow. Although, even though she’s heard those stupid questions and comments she went on to say that she loves experimenting with her curly hair and other styles.

Stephyne Weathersby She/Her/Hers, Freshman Creative Writing Major From Byram, Mississippi Stephyne Weathersby hasn’t personally experienced any hatred towards her curly hair. When she wears her fro out, it is when she feels the most beautiful. Also, even though her mother is a hairdresser, her mother didn’t enjoy doing her curly hair; she just gave her a texturizer. She can’t pinpoint how she felt about it because it was during the earlier stages of her life, but she said it wasn’t until eighth grade that she decided to do the big chop. And as soon as she started wearing her curly hair that way, she received even more compliments and that’s when she felt her most confident. She explained that even though it’s not like the average three C type of hair and it’s a lot of work, she still loves her fro. However, she does sympathize with other curly-headed girls who don’t feel the same. She says that she understands the self-hatred towards curly hair, especially having 4-C. She went on to explain that she has heard the stupid questions and comments as well. Don’t have your hair so nappy. Weathersby recounts a memory of when she was little, on the bus. She was on the bus where the girl was mixed, and she has nothing against mixed people, however, they were friends. At least she thought they were friends, and they were going back and forth. Apparently, Weathersby said something to her, she doesn’t remember what that was, but what she does remember is her saying, “Whatever with her Dookie Braids in.” But she said that she never let those comments get to her and she was able to find the strength to powerthrough. Also, she said that in the community that she was raised in, there weren’t a lot of white people. She was constantly around Black women with braids and weaves. Weathersby went on to explain that she was educated about curly hair from YouTube, during the time when the natural hair movement was in motion. Weathersby explained that her relationship with her hair as of now is very flip-floppy. She was so used to stretching out her hair so often, so she isn’t used to wearing it in her shrinkage stage, which is how she’s wearing her hair now.

Afua Pinamang Freshman Communication Disorders Major From Portland, Oregon

Afua Pinamang was raised in a predominantly white community, making her hair really foreign to her peers. She wouldn’t say that she disliked her hair, but she would say that the process of taking down her braids or washing her hair (wash day), would make her really frustrated. And in those times she would wish to have straight hair. Growing up, her mom always did her hair and she’s always classified it as really thick. She would usually relax her hair when enduring the natural hair process. That’s when she started researching what type of hair she had, how to treat it, and how to wash it correctly. It wasn’t until towards the end of middle school that she realized she had 4-C hair and the correct way to take care of it. Pinamang explained that her relationship with her hair is very flip-floppy since she was raised in a predominantly white community and her peers would always be very curious about her hair. At first, she was flattered, and then it became annoying because of all the questions and comments they were making about her hair. Pinamang was in the fifth grade when she went to Ghana for the first time, which is where her parents are from, and she got her hair braided there. It was the first time that she got her hair braided like that before. It wasn’t until she went to Ghana that she got products that worked for her hair type and that’s when she stopped using relaxers. She still uses a lot of those products, if they come in the shipment, to this day. Pinamang admitted that she used relaxers in her hair for the duration of her life, however, it didn’t have any lasting damage. Her curls still held because she didn’t use a relaxer often and she didn’t like straightening her hair. Pinamang shared how the perceptions of how white people viewed her curly hair affected her relationship with her hair and herself. “I would always find myself having to explain myself.” Pinamang believes that hair is a massive part of one’s identity for the Black community that’s not the same for the white community or other curly hair communities. Outside the Black community, others see Black womens’ hair before they see them. In her experience, people would always compliment her hair before they complimented her. This resulted in her coming to terms that her hair is a really big part of her and that you should cater and nurture it as much as you can, while also remembering that you’re also more than your hair.

Christina “Chris” Brown Freshman VMA From The Bronx, New York/Montclair, New Jersey

Christina “Chris” Brown was raised in a family where nobody had her hair and nobody knew how to do her hair. Her mother’s mother has straight hair, because she permed it, while her mother has very loose curly hair and could pass as Latina. While her father is biracial resulting in her having a white grandmother. In conclusion, Brown said, “So it was just a bunch of people who didn’t know how to do my hair.” This resulted in Brown not feeling confident with her hair. She said most of the disagreements between her parents would be about her hair and a lot of her family members told her that she had difficult hair. A specific instance in which she remembers is that her aunt decided to “make everyone’s lives easier,” by perming her hair without her mother’s permission. This resulted in her having to do a big chop in second grade. Brown said that others would name her bald-headed, and other nicknames as well. After that, that’s when the natural hair movement occurred on YouTube and all of a sudden everyone was obsessed with her hair. And that’s when, in fifth grade, her mother decided to learn how to do her hair. And since then, she has been on the journey of growing her hair out. She’s not going to lie and say she is super confident in her hair, but she would say that she’s okay with it. Brown stated, “You honestly don’t have to strive towards this self-love that everyone pushes; this super obsessed, extreme self-love. Body neutrality is enough. You are neutral in your body and accepting that it exists and that you’re in it is enough. And that you like it works for you. Like you’re living in it. You’re doing well in life, you’re here and every single day you wake up and get to do what you need to do in your body. That’s enough. Like, if you can’t get to like it if it’s too hard for you to get to the point where you’re super self-obsessed with your hair, or like love it. And you want to post it all the time. It’s enough to just be okay, wake up every day and get what you need to get done and not stress over.” .

Elizabeth “Lizzie” Borg Freshman Interdisciplinary Studies Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Elizabeth “Lizzie” Borg didn’t like her curly hair until her junior year of high school. Up until then, she didn’t know what to do with her curly hair. She thought that her curly hair was ugly and she wished for it to be straight or she wished that she could have it in braids all the time. There was a specific instance that she remembers where one time when she was around seven, her white friend wanted to do matching hairstyles, and Borg tried explaining to her that it wouldn’t work because they had very different hair types and her white friend just didn’t understand. However, when sophomore year arrived, she visited this really cool woman who knew how to truly take care of and make natural hair healthy. That’s sort of what pushed Borg to fall in love with her curly hair, and she is proud to say that she has not straightened her hair since eighth grade. She further stated to be educated on her curly hair by natural hair YouTubers, she used to watch them all the time, and she would question Why can’t my hair be like that? And then, that’s when she realized that she was watching women who had way looser curl patterns than her and then in some of their videos, they would talk about it and that’s when Borg started to think and look at so many different charts to try to figure it out her curly hair type. And that’s when she came to the conclusion that she has three different curl patterns on her head. And that’s when the process of finding people who actually had her hair type, mostly influences on YouTube.” Growing up, Borg went to predominantly white schools. So she always felt like her hair was not appropriate, or messy and not good looking because it didn’t lay flat, or it didn’t do the things that the girls with straight hair did. And then eventually, she realized, like, this is sort of the hair on my head. And I’m not gonna damage it or anything. Borg believes that she has a positive neutral relationship with her curly hair now. However, it’s very complicated because obviously growing up with the trauma of getting humiliated by your hair day in and day out it would be difficult to be in a positive state. So right now I’m trying to lean more towards neutral.

Nicole Townsend Freshman Journalism Major Brooklyn, New York/East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania

Nicole Townsend didn’t really pay attention or didn’t really even care about her curly hair throughout elementary school. It wasn’t until she moved to suburban Pennsylvania at the beginning of middle school that she really started to pay attention to it. She started straightening her curly hair for most of her sixth-grade year. Before she moved, she would wear her hair in braids or twists but never down. Down wasn’t an option. Towards the end of her sixth-grade year when she decided to actually start wearing her curly hair out more and to stop straightening it, is when she realized that her curly hair was damaged. Throughout her natural hair journey, it was mostly her friends that were supportive of wearing her curly hair out compared to her actual family members. Her mom had straight hair, while her dad used to have a fro but is now bald, so both of them weren’t exactly keen role models on how to take care of her curly hair or experiment with various products and hairstyles. Ever since seventh grade, she has been experimenting with various products and hairstyles to see what best fits her hair type. Whereas most of the damage has been done with, she still feels the need to play around with her curly hair and what best fits her and what makes her happy. However, her parents didn’t really support her because of the number of products she was experimenting with which almost made her feel like her hair wasn’t just hair but a chore. As of now, Townsend has a positive relationship with her curly hair, but definitely has those days where she feels like her hair is too much to deal with or she doesn’t feel supported by her family to play around with various products and hairstyles.

reflections of a teenage homebody turned [insert here] by valentine it’s strange to me that i can’t really look at myself in the mirror the same i. i look through old photos of old times when things were how they should have been and i see that they had the potential to become something greater than they were then i sort through old memories when things weren’t how they are now and i see where i went wrong ii. is it natural that i’ve changed so much that i’ve gone so far forward that i’ve gone so far back iii. the former teenage homebody sits in their room with their head in their hands wondering how they got there how they turned into a ***** and a ________ and an [insert here] ouch, man. iv. they looked at their vision board that their teacher made them make in sixth grade, the one that had who they thought they’d be at 21 and wondered, “what the fuck happened to that kid, where did they go?” but now they’re grown almost 21 and they are no longer a middle school nerd a teenage homebody and are now [insert here] v. it’s strange to me that i can’t really look at myself in the mirror the same

eating is hard by Kiersten Tate because all i want to feel is that which i don’t feel. i miss taking outdoor strolls; writing poems in the garden to nourish my soul. a hot day in the september of boston, the month i remember as a chilly one last year, but i don’t mind the difference. no windows shut. more independence and time spent with dear friends. oh, time feels like an enemy now! the good weather said ciao.

Hymns to a God I no Longer Believe In by Ghanima Ganthier It can’t be said I never tried, because my baby fat fists clasped in prayer until my fingers stretched like daddy long legs But I was doomed from the start; how could I believe in Him when His word was used to chain people like me? How could I believe in Him when His word Is used to hate love like mine? How could I believe in Him when His word Is used to hate women like me? I tried, through my thoughts and actions to believe in you, and I succeed for a time, until doubt creaked open My mind to who I am, and it was certainly not a Christian Where does that put us? Why don’t you defend me when they call me the worst names possible? Why don’t you defend me when they mock me behind my back when I only want their respect? Why didn’t you say anything besides what the most bigoted people say you said? I don’t believe in you anymore, I haven’t in a long, long time

Woman in a Box By: Ghanima Ganthier

i thought love was constricting my spine and fitting in his heart, between his lungs whenever he demanded it. i thought love was devouring the morsels of attention and holding his trinkets with my rat paws, a supplicant in the mosque of his devotion. i thought love was to be cast aside in the lean times, where his attention is better spent on lust, gluttony, and avarice whenever his time was limited. i thought love was to be walked by in the narrow confines of rooms and corners unrecognized, unnoticed, unmarked a blank in the landscape undeserving of affection.

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