Being Natural In A Foreign Country: France

We’ve been a HUGE fan of the site Un’ruly founded by Antonia for years. In fact, it was one of the inspirations for Curls Understood’s own launch. So imagine our glee when Antonia agreed to give us the scoop on what it’s like living in a foreign country as a natural! She’s somewhat of an expert on the topic as she’s currently filming a series called “Pretty” – a look at beauty everywhere. The series has been filmed all over Europe and documents what it’s like to be a young Black woman living in those respective countries. Here we catch up with Antonia on her personal experience of having natural hair in France.

You live in Paris, France! When did you move there from the States?

At the end of 2012 (after two years of planning) I quit my job in advertising to start my own business and because the business I had in mind was digital and could be done from anywhere, I decided to run it from Paris. I’ve always found it important to speak at least one other language so I moved to France to learn French. You can read more about my move to Paris.

Are there many naturals in Paris? Is there a vibrant natural community?

I think so. Each year there’s an event put on by the Natural Hair Academy. I don’t remember exactly when they started, but since they’ve started, attendance of the event has grown to the thousands. (I wanna say 10,000 but I’m not 100% sure of the number). In general, I also see a decent amount of naturals on the streets of Paris.

Where do you buy natural hair products?

I have to confess, I always bring a suitcase of hair products back from the States anytime I go back. But there are actually a lot of places to buy products here. The Chateau D’eau area is basically a Black hair care neighborhood. Chateau D’eau and Chateau Rouge are basically like 125th Street in Harlem. There are lots of beauty supply shops, but they don’t necessarily have some of the products that are specifically for natural hair. There are a few stores that do. I got together with some fellow expats sometime ago and mined them for Black hair care product info in Paris; here’s a good run-down.

When I was in school in St. Gallen Switzerland, I remember this boy coming up to my sister and I saying, ‘hallo ni**er.’ How do you respond to that?

What are 3 products you cannot live without?!

I’m such a ‘hair minimalist’ I like to keep my hair routine simple. I’d say that water, a good super slippery conditioner and a good moisturizer are products that I can’t live without. There aren’t any brands that I use in particular.

Is there a natural hair salon in Paris that you would recommend to fellow natural Parisians?

I’ve tried a salon called Polished Hair. They work with all hair types, including natural hair. The owner is an American that moved to Paris years ago, and she has a beautiful blonde ‘fro!

Do Parisians in general admire natural hair, i.e. non naturals?

This is hard to answer. Not sure there’s a way to answer this one without over-generalizing.

You were born and lived in Brazil! What was that experience like being an African in a country with a lot of racial discrimination?

I was only there as a baby so I don’t have much memory of it. And at the time we were a bit privileged, as my dad was doing business there, so my family’s experience was probably outside the norm.

I actually spent most of my early years in London and then Switzerland. I remember becoming aware of my race in London when I was a kid (under eight years old) because some boys didn’t want to play with me because I was Black. But there’s a pretty vibrant Nigerian community in London (my parents are Nigerian and I identify more with being Nigerian than anything else), so I never felt ‘abnormal.’

When I was in school in St. Gallen Switzerland, now that was another story LOL. Forget about it! People there really had never seen Black people. I remember this boy coming up to my sister and I saying, “hallo ni**er.” LOL! Like, how do you respond to that? It happened again when I went back earlier this year for a reunion. And again, I still didn’t know how to respond to that :-/.

Were you natural while living in Brazil? And if so, how does it differ from being in France?

I’m a recent natural, about three years in. So, so far my only natural experience is my French one :).

What was the inspiration behind your YouTube series “Pretty”?

I’ve really become aware of how so many women feel pressure to be beautiful. Women all over the world are measured first and foremost by their appearance and that shouldn’t be the case. So I wanted to take advantage of being in Europe to better understand beauty standards on a global scale (it’s easy to access several countries from here) and understand how women here deal with that pressure (if they feel it at all). So far it’s been really interesting to hear so many different stories and powerful words of wisdom.

We also love your “You Can Touch My Hair” videos! How did you come up with the concept?

I was inspired by my own experience with the ‘issue’ and also by hearing other women’s stories. I also took a note from the ‘free hugs’ folks in New York but instead of hugs we were giving people the chance to touch ‘Black hair.’ I was hoping people that were curious about Black hair would see how ridiculous it was to put it on display, like it was some kind of alien object. It was a satire and I think some people got that and it led to lots of really insightful conversation.

See how other naturally curly women care for their hair in our Being Natural In A Foreign Country series.

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