Natural Hair Diary: Shante On Going Gray, Aging Well, and Being an Artist

Shante is a natural hairstylist (for nearly 19 years), creative artist and Detroit Style ballroom dancer (since 2011). Each time I look at her photos on instagram, I find myself transporting myself to a slightly older self. An older self with a fro and grey hair, still wearing a blazer and finding joy in getting dressed each morning. But equally, I also am willing myself next to Shante, drinking coffee in Detroit or Brooklyn. Or somewhere in-between if we could be so lucky. There, with brown mugs and plants and reclined seats we discuss style and creativity, and how one makes of it. There is something about her. It’s hard to put your finger on it. And then, I get to read her thoughts on natural hair, creativity and art, and that ease I found through the blue-lit one person expereince of social media, truly makes sense. I’m so happy to have her here today to share a bit more with us.

Natural hair has become the fastest growing trend in the African American hair market. Many of us have moved towards having our hair natural due to chemical and heat abuse in the past. I decided to rid of all that over 20 years ago and I’ve never felt freer about my hair. In doing the work over these years with my clients as well myself looking at this from a holistic standpoint, it is the best decision one can make: to be natural. Natural hair has been viewed as negative. I view it as positive because the hair is free of chemicals. I slowly see the rise of being accepted with natural hair in the corporate world and this too is a positive. 

My mother taught me how to braid and plait hair at around the age of eight. She was a wig-wearer and would buy wigs then created her own tracks from them. She preferred the synthetic kind. She would cut them into layers and rows with some pieces even and uneven shaping the pieces into the style she wanted. Her natural hair would be in cornrows and then the individual tracks would be sewn on each one. This was my duty to her every month, either braids or plaits.

I began to do natural hair professionally in the fall of 2000. I was trained by the world-renowned master Hair Scientist, Allen Biggers, who’s been in this field of natural hair care for 50 years now. He taught me how to do dreadlocks, or locks, if you will. Starting and maintaining is what I have been specializing in now for almost 20 years. 

I used to wear locks and had them for almost ten years (in my early 30s) until they got midway my back and I couldn’t take the weight of them any longer along. With hormonal issues such as menopause, experiencing the hot flashes with all that hair was a bit much. Having gone through that type of stress also changes the texture of your hair or causes hair loss. Thank God I didn’t lose any! 

I start by sectioning my afro hair into about 8 to 10 square sections, then loosely two strand twist each section, then finger roll each twists and tuck with a little tug using the index finger only. I wear this look for almost a month.

I’d noticed my first gray strands around my temple and sideburns area when I was 33. At first they were barely noticeable and then, in what felt like overnight, they became lighter and lighter. I was married at that time, and one day, I was preparing getting dressed for an evening out. I stood in the mirror, looked at the gray strands, my face, and the rest of my dark brown hairs, and was like, “This is not even looking.” I took my mascara wand and gently brushed the grays to color them, cover them. I was disturbed by my husband who snuck up on me and kindly said, “Why are you doing that? You’re natural! You have natural hair, so why NOT let the gray come in?” I bucked my eyes, dropped the wand, wiped the mascara off my grays, agreed with him, and never looked back.  He was so right. Ever since that day, I have been embracing each gray strand regardless of how and where they appeared. I have quite a few women clients with a head full of gray and over the years of working with them, they have helped me to embrace my gray even more. There are some younger women who are afraid to GO GRAY, and they sometimes ask how do I do it. They say they couldn’t do it or they’re not ready yet. My response is always, “Just let it be.” You have those that say they want their gray to come in a certain way or a certain path and my response to that is, “You really think you have control over that?” It’s going to come in how it wants. 

As I am aging and graying even more, it amazes me that I have almost a full head of it now. There are times when it appears really silver looking and other times, not as much. When I get approached about my hair, some may ask my age and when I tell them, they’re in shock because the gray is not matching the age. I like the fact that you can’t guess what my age is really from looking at my gray. Gray hair kinda makes you do a double look. I’ll be 50 in October. I’ve already at times been considered a senior, and, guess what! I’m cool with that.  RESPECT THE GRAY! Ha! I am going to wear it proudly. 

I don’t make a big deal or fuss with my hair. I never really have. Quite frankly, I really don’t care for having my hair DONE. It is a done deal for me to just be natural. My texture allows me to do something really simple and easy and quick, and I am out the door. Talk about freedom and a “relaxed” mind! Now, if only I can get some of my women clients and friends to embrace this. I have two favorites, a poem and quote that has become my mottos:

Mirror, mirror on the wall, Why does my hair snap back into a wiry ball?What seems like the riddle of nappy hair is not.The enigma is easy to figure out if you just think: art!-Juliette Harris

“I guess my fantasy is to age well enough so that younger women would think, Gee, I wish I were her age. I want to do it well, because I feel that women who do things well inspire younger women to do them.  I want the stigma of aging to be removed from women. So, for all those younger women and for myself, I intend to do it with as much panache as I can. I’m going to put everything I’ve got into it.”-Claire Braz-Valentine

When I was in the eighth grade, my mother wanted to color her hair this auburn color. She sampled it on me to see how it was going to look and I came out looking like a baby orangutan. I got teased big time in school, still had to go to school because I had THAT kind of mother, okay? All the crying and whining wasn’t something she tolerated. I was humiliated. That was a complete wrap for me NOT to ever color my hair, EVER.

I am looking to retire from doing natural hair full time. The repetition of the braiding and twisting has caused some major arthritic issues over these years. So, currently, I am taking it easy with that. I think as an entrepreneur and creative being, my next path is to truly pursue photography and to write a few books I’ve been wanting to do for a while. I have always had a passionate interest in photography since my late teens photographing families. I was gifted my first DSLR a few years ago and began photographing and documenting Detroit dancers. I had my first exhibit a few years ago, featuring Detroit dancers, and that inspired me to keep at it because although I love to dance. I get just as much enjoyment watching and photographing my dance family. (Side note: Detroit is the dance and hair capitol of the world!)

Overall, I am an artist that has been blessed with many artistic abilities. Hair is just one of the mediums I choose to express myself. JOY for me is dancing, singing, decorating, styling, and dressing up or playing dress up even if I don’t go anywhere. My style is vintage collective and eclectic.

Thank you, Shante! You can follow Shante on instagram right here. Photos by Mark Brown and Allen Biggers

12 thoughts on “Natural Hair Diary: Shante On Going Gray, Aging Well, and Being an Artist

  • Reply Dorcas September 19, 2019 at 8:58 pm

    Girl you’re a model, a trailblazer in your craft. Keep up the good work!

    • Reply latonya September 19, 2019 at 9:22 pm

      She is! Hard agree.

      Thank you,

    • Reply Shante` September 20, 2019 at 6:48 am

      Awww!!! I love you my friend!

  • Reply Geneva Phillips September 19, 2019 at 11:29 pm

    Always true to herself , and others.
    Little Sister, Do not hesitate, the Sun is waiting….time for you to Shine!!!

    • Reply Karl Nova September 21, 2019 at 4:34 am

      I love this. So beautiful. So real. Thanks for sharing this! Much love and respect to you Shante.

  • Reply Shante` September 20, 2019 at 6:47 am

    Thank you awesome woman for a wonderful interview.

  • Reply Jen September 20, 2019 at 6:52 am

    I love reading this. Though I was given free will with my hair I never dyed it semi permanently. The sprays and now the cream I may use but costume wigs are my jam. Anyway , I was taught very young how to braid because I asked and all my dolls hair were braided lol I went into the stage of not wanting to do my hair which I still don’t lol but it was cut for a while then I stopped and let it grow. Then I got heat damage because I trusted the wrong person with my hair. It grew back in less than eight months. That was last year I didn’t believe it now until the person washing my hair took a picture. I also braid my hair more like
    Box braids. Doctoral School is enough money I can’t afford what I really want. Lol. I think hearing stories that in the same page but a bit different makes you feel like hey I did it correct because there’s no correct way. I did not know that Detroit was as the dance capital of the world. I did know about hair. Love it !!

    • Reply latonya September 23, 2019 at 11:32 am

      Thank you for sharing Jen. It’s so important to be reminded that it’s just OKAY to do nothing. And doing nothing is wonderfully beautiful. I thought about this interview all week long when I wated my hair out but it didn’t feel done. And I thought, what is done with natural hair? I defined that. Noone else!

  • Reply Allen Biggers September 20, 2019 at 8:30 am

    Reading this interview was a very spiritual moment for me I found myself in tears and laughter because I’ve been loving my friend Shante and nurturing her AfoNatural hair though out her hair journey💓 We also have worked together sharing our love for our AfoNatural hair community since she asked me to “take her under my wings”I have been committed to this service for 50 years Shante you are amazing❣️

    • Reply Shante` September 21, 2019 at 4:36 am

      I am grateful to you, Ari, for sharing your gift with me and educating me on OUR hair. You are not only an amazing Hair Artist, but an amazing person. Thank you for all that you do and have done for the natural hair community. ❤❤❤

    • Reply latonya September 23, 2019 at 11:30 am

      So amazing, Allen!
      And thank you for the lovely photos.

  • Reply Steve September 23, 2019 at 6:56 pm

    A remarkable sliver of an incredibly multifaceted artist. I’m a graying, dreadlock wearing client of many years, and extremely grateful to have been a canvas to her talents.

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