For today’s conversation, I had the pleasure of speaking with Kali Blocker, one of the founders of Diosas al Natural(Natural Goddesses), a movement to inspire women throughout Puerto Rico and Latin America to embrace their natural beauty. Kali lives in Puerto Rico and shares tips, photos and stories of women going back to their natural hair.
Worrying and talking about hair might seem trivial to some, but Kali explains why this issue is so complex and important, and she does it beautifully. Thank you, Kali for taking the time to speak with me about your mission.
Caitlin: So, this goes deeper than hair. It’s a very complex issue. Tell me about that.
Kali: Historically throughout the Americas, the ideals of beauty do not typically include black women. Beauty ideals are Eurocentric, placing a higher esteem towards lighter skin, straighter hair, the closer to “white,” the better.
So, you had the 60s/70’s where there was the movement of black pride, with people wearing afros and reclaiming their roots, despite societal ideals.
Fast forward today, at work, for example, many of us feel pressured to change how we look, and in many cases, it is expected. Going into an interview with an afro for instance could be looked at as unprofessional, they might not want that look for their office. It’s inappropriate, unkempt. Stereotypes that are attached to a very ugly history.
Caitlin: Basically what they’re telling you is, it’s not white enough.
Kali: Exactly. The way your hair comes out of your head naturally is not okay. Someone with straight or loosely textured hair may never hear something like that.
It’s also within the family. Naturally, colonialism has had its effects.
Caitlin: It’s generational, as well?
Kali: It can be. I got my first relaxer when I was 3. And part of that was that my mom didn’t know how to deal with my texture. Which is crazy, right? But it is common, so people look to get relaxers to make it “easier” to work with tightly curly textures. That’s why we refer to it as a journey, because you are learning how to work with your hair in it’s natural state. There is much more information available now, and the information sharing started off organically in the early 2000s with women who were going natural, sharing their tips and tricks with each other on portals (picture sharing sites like fotki, etc).
When I was 12, I would look at other girls with straight hair, the white girls or girls with naturally straight hair in my school or girls who had a looser hair texture, and think to myself “ they don’t have to deal with hours at the Salon on saturdays, relaxers every few weeks, running from the rain, etc etc” (laughs). I never desired to have their hair, but I was curious as to how to work with mine, as I knew that my strands weren’t some impossible feat to overcome.
So I attempted it at age 12 for a year, and then the hairstylist I went to told me my hair was too nappy to “go without a perm.” A very disappointing moment, to say the least.
When I was 18 and I started the process again. I had to experiment and figure things out. The beauty with the natural hair movement is that I can sign onto the (websites), where people post pictures and what they did to get their hair healthy. That stuff helped me big time in the process.
At the time, my grandmother looked at my hair and she didn’t understand why I was doing it. So, in some cases, it can be generational.
It hurts, I can’t lie about that. That’s why it so important to have this community and share these raw stories. It’s not always pretty. You know, you have people who shout out to you on the street. Someone once said my hair looked like a pile of shit!
Caitlin: Oh my god!
Kali: Yeah, you get that. People who don’t even know you.
That’s why it’s important that we have that community. If your mom, your dad, your boyfriend, your boss (doesn’t support your natural hair journey), you know how to handle yourself. You’re not torn down afterwards. If you do feel hurt, you have the community to share your feelings with.
But, sometimes someone does say something to you and you feel self-conscious and you’re trying to get away from that mentality, but insecurities do step in. Am I ugly? Is this not okay?
It’s generational, it’s societal, it’s so many things.
Caitlin: How did this become a passion of yours?
Kali: I wanted to share information and empower other women.
It started ten years ago when I took my journey into transitioning into having natural hair again. Women would see me on the bus or the train and ask for tips. I’d see women in the street with gorgeous natural hair and ask what their regimen entailed. It was really organic, it was really beautiful. It’s almost like a sisterhood of support. I knew how significant it was for me to go on the journey and push myself to get to this side.
The community has grown tremendously and I love it because it started so organically, you know?
About five years ago, me and one of my best friends had discussed going into Spanish and English content, but ultimately decided not to do it.
Then I met my boyfriend, Joaquin, who said he was inspired by what he saw in New York: Black women who were proud of their hair.
You know how New York is, everyone is super fly, dressed up and snazzy and wearing their hair and their style with pride, with no shame. He said he wanted to bring that to the people in Puerto Rico (where he’s from).
We originally had the idea to do a photo project and I was like, if you don’t do it, I will! And it was like, all right, let’s make this happen.
It started as a Facebook page, sharing photos and information. We shared each person’s journey. And a lot of women were so inspired by that. Then we had our first meet up last year. That was amazing. It was the first time something like that had happened on the island (of Puerto Rico). People loved it and I felt like I was amongst family.
It was beautiful to bring that here.
Caitlin: You know, one of the goals of this blog is to remind us that we’re all really the same when it comes down to it. We all have hopes, and fears, and dreams. Are you seeing that as you bring what you learned in New York to the women of Puerto Rico?
Kali: Yeah, definitely. That’s actually what the initial mission was. Our priority is to cultivate the community here in Puerto Rico, but it’s also a learning experience for people outside of the island. And that response has been amazing, too. We wanted to share images of Puerto Rican woman that the media doesn’t usually show, encouraging dialogue and enlightenment.
Our mission was to start the conversation and our medium was pictures.
In movies, TV shows, even videos from the island and throughout Latin America, it’s a homogenous (and stereotypical) idea of what Puerto Rican women and Latinas look like. It’s similar in the states, an idea of beauty that mainstream media continues to perpetuate.
Caitlin: What do you hope women and young girls take away from your mission?
Kali: It starts young, you know? Children notice when someone gets more attention or affection because of certain features, etc, and it’s not what that child can be naturally. It’s important for people to see themselves in the media, in images, etc. in a positive manner and to know that they are unique, and that is beautiful.That affects them. It’s stays with them.
My main goal is for fewer girls to have to deal with the questions that I had as a youngster. The feeling that what came out of my head wasn’t adequate and needed to be changed.
In an ideal world, no young girls, or children in general, would have to deal with that. So, that is my mission.
I also want women to feel empowered. Everyone wants to feel beautiful, and when you feel confident in how you look, that makes a world of difference. It makes a world of difference in your relationships, and how you go on in life.
Caitlin: I heard this quote the other day from Salma Hayek of all people, “People often say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I say that the most liberating thing about beauty is realizing you are the beholder.”
Caitlin: Yeah, you know I read that and thought, man, if you can realize the beauty within yourself, that’s half the battle.
Kali: At the point I am now, if someone doesn’t like the way I look, that’s not my problem. I don’t care to convince them either.
*Photos courtesy Kali Blocker