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Like a Natural Woman: Nzuri Natural Hair Health and Beauty Showcase

If you happened to notice afros, twists, puffs and dreadlocks walking past you en masse this weekend, there was no need to raise your eyebrows. Women -- and some men -- from all over the world gathered to celebrate natural hair at the 2nd Annual Nzuri Natural Hair Health and Beauty Showcase, held all day on Saturday and Sunday at the Reliant Center. Art Attack took a quick break from the art on the gallery walls to admire the art on the heads of beautifully proud ladies.

The Natural Hair Health and Beauty Showcase was sponsored by Miss Jessie's, a company founded and owned by Miko and Titi Branch, sisters who specialize in and wear natural hair. The climax of the showcase occurred when these two came out and shared their slow rise to success with an enraptured audience, us included.

"Curly hair came knocking at our door," said the duo, known as some of the first to recognize a potential market niche in the natural hair care industry, and whose Miss Jessie's products, named for their grandmother, have revolutionized the day-to-day curl-pampering routines of many women.

With shouting vendors, beauty and hair pageants and demonstration booths happening simultaneously over a two-day period, there was a lot to take in. Luckily, the individual seminars located conveniently outside of the main convention center offered peace and quiet with an added educational incentive. We absolutely loved sitting in on such sessions as "Putting Health Into Beauty," taught by Dr. Floyd Atkins, and "What You Eat Is What You Grow -- It Takes More Than 'Good Products to Grow Your Natural Hair," taught by Dr. Nina Ellis-Hervey, in which we learned about the importance of healthy nutrition in a natural hair care regimen.

And speaking of the latter, Dr. Ellis-Hervey, who under the YouTube nickname "BeautifulBrwnBabyDol" has amassed a hair cult following, was in the place showcasing her thick, dark brown locks. She, along with Aevin Dugas, the current Guinness record holder for the World's Largest Afro, were just a few of the thousands of women whose curly manes in all shades and states continuously brushed against each other in natural solidarity throughout the weekend. We'll never forget the golden-tipped locks that sat in front of us during the "Miss 'Happy' Headed Beauty Pageant" or the ruby red two-strand twists that waltzed down the runway during the "Nzuri Top 'Natural Beauty' Model Competition" fashion show. It was, to us, the human epitome of art.

Natural hair is appearing in droves on the heads of women all over Houston. Where only a few years ago it was considered unprofessional to exibit wildly curly hair in public, these days, seeing a woman with tight twists is par for the course. Oh, and if you don't know what "natural hair" is, it is a term used by African-American women to describe their hair in its chemical-free state. No perms. No relaxers. No dyes. Of course, you might recognize the term by its other, more colloquial counterparts, such as "curly," "kinky" or the oh-so controversial "nappy," but ultimately, "natural hair" remains the all-inclusive, politically correct identifier.

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However, the natural or curly hair phenomenon is not exclusive to black women. All over, women with curly manes are now accepting and embracing their larger-than-life tresses. One need only click on some of the Web sites dedicated to the natural hair to see its colorblind popularity. For some, wearing natural hair is a social and political assault on what they assume to be the requirement to adhere to a status quo of long, straight strands. For others, however, natural hair is merely another styling alternative; they like the way their curlier locks look. And for some, switching to natural hair means less time spent primping and preening in mirrors and in salons, offering them an easy "wash 'n wear" lifestyle. There is no one rhyme or reason for wearing natural hair, something Art Attack learned this weekend.

We didn't expect to see anyone we knew in such a large crowd, but before we knew it, we were being greeted by Southern -- or vegan -- comfort in the form of Chef Sabali Mpozi Earth, long a fixture of Houston's vegan scene. The health food maestro was at the showcase in a two-fold position: She was first there to demo a few easy-to-make vegan recipes, as well as a repeat attendee of the showcase and supporter ---and wearer -- of natural hair.

Chef Sabali summed up the sentiment of the event well.

"It's beautiful that black women are embracing their natural beauty," said Sabali. "It's nice that Houston has finally gotten on board with embracing natural hair."

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