Fitness Inspiration: #YogaAfterDark with Jessica Tara

When one of my long time curlfriends tweeted that @jesstaras was her best follow of 2015, I had to see what was up. After browsing through her pics for a bit, I found myself clapping in my head, raising the roof, and convincing myself to go to the gym, all at the same time. Her posts are sexy, insightful, and just plain awesome.

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I was excited to pick her brain about fitness, hair, and women’s empowerment – here’s what she had to say:

How long have you been doing yoga? How long have you been teaching?
I’ve been practicing yoga for 10 years, and teaching for five years. I received my first Yoga Teacher Certification at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health (2010) and my master Yoga Teacher Certification with Sacred Lasya in India in (2013). I’m also a certified personal trainer and I’m currently finishing up my B.A. in Dance.

YogaAfterDark is fierce, sexy, and empowering – what made you start posting your skills on Instagram?
Thank you. I strive to convey all of those things through my pictures so it’s nice to know that it’s being well received. Throughout the years, I had posted a few yoga poses here and there but I never really started posting regularly until January 1, 2015. I made sort of a “New Year’s resolution” to post one yoga picture a day for the year. It started as just a way to improve my alignment in poses by looking at the pictures and also just a fun social media experiment. But it’s snowballed into what is now a statement on female empowerment, body confidence, art, and freedom of expression.

My favorite aspect of the whole project is the people who contact me sharing that they’ve been inspired to start yoga or some other venture they’ve been putting off. Or that they were inspired to be bold and wear that red lipstick they’ve been too shy to wear. One woman even said she was inspired to pull out a cheeky bikini that’s been sitting in the back of her closet unworn because she wasn’t sure if she could pull it off. That one really made me smile. Go, girl. Wear that bikini and wear it proud!

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In addition to yoga, how do you stay fit? Do you have any nutrition tips for our readers?
I’m also a dancer, so I take ballet, modern, and hip-hop classes almost every day – that definitely gets me sweating! Another aspect of my fitness, and one which I really want to emphasize, is that I’m a bike commuter. I own a car, but I very rarely drive it. My road bike is my primary form of transportation, rain or shine. I love it because it doesn’t “feel” like exercise. I just get on, start pedaling, and cruise – to work, to class, to lunch with friends. I’ve really gotten to know a different side of my city as a bike commuter. It’s a totally different view than from inside the car. My gas budget is almost nil. Plus, it’s good for the environment (and my glutes).

Your inspirational posts often center around encouraging girls and women (I love those!) – do you consider yourself a feminist? Why or why not?
I am an advocate of female empowerment and empowerment in general. My work deals a lot with body confidence, anti-bullying, anti-slut shaming, and non-judgement. It’s crucial that we as women stand together, encourage one another, and support each other. Enough of calling each other “sluts,” enough of picking out each other’s physical flaws, enough of this “You can’t sit with us” mentality. You can sit with me. And this doesn’t just apply to women. It applies to everyone.

Have you always worn your natural hair? If not, when did you go natural and why?
I straightened my hair for years until, around the age of 21, I chopped it all off. I wanted something new and different. As my hair grew back, I developed a different appreciation for it. I realized that it wasn’t something I had to fight against, it wasn’t this wild beast that needed to be tamed. It was a crown. It was a blessing. After I started wearing my hair natural I got all kinds of comments about how “bold” and “brave” I was being. At first I thought “this isn’t a political statement – I woke up like dis.” But now I understand what they meant. It does require confidence to be your natural, authentic self, especially in a roomful of people who are not like you. Natural hair is big. It’s bold. We have to own it. Wearing my hair natural was a milestone in my personal journey of self-acceptance.

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How do you care for your natural hair? Is your regimen simple or more complicated?
I try to keep it as simple as possible because I’m always on the go. I co-wash/detangle every few days. Coconut oil is my best friend. I also use a leave-in conditioner daily (currently using Kinky Curly Knot Today). If I want my hair to have that extra oomph, I’ll wet it and blow it out using a diffuser (low heat!).

Do you have any tips for ladies on preserving your natural hair while working out frequently?
The more you sweat, the more you will have to wash your hair so conditioning is vital. I try to plan out my Bikram classes (yoga done in a room heated to 104F – you sweat A LOT) for right before wash days. Aside from that, I either style my hair into two pigtail-buns (my go-to hairstyle) or the infamous pineapple ponytail with a headband to catch the sweat. It’s work, but it’s worth it.

Your double puffs are too cute – What are your favorite natural hairstyles?
Thank you! The double puffs are my go-to daily hair style because it’s simple and neat for yoga, and it fits the dress code for my ballet class. But my absolute favorite way to wear it is all out, loud and proud. I feel most like myself when I’m rocking my lion’s mane!

Anything else you’d like to tell us? Any mantras to share?
Gandhi said that happiness is “when what we think, say, and do are all in alignment.” Be your most authentic self. Be kind. Do you. And in doing so, you will inspire others to do the same.

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**Can I just say that I love this interview? Such a kickass sweetheart. Make sure you follow Jess on Instagram (@jesstaras) for more pics and inspiration. Namaste!

**This post also appears on Black Girl with Long Hair**

Staying True to Yourself In Corporate America

This is how my hair looks (well with crappy lighting) at work when it's out. If this distracts you...you might have ADD.

This is how my hair looks (well with crappy lighting) at work when it’s out. If this distracts you…you might have ADD.

An opinion about my hair color post on BGLH was about wearing colored hair in the professional world (basically stating that it can prevent you from getting a job or keeping your job). Even Lil Duval (I only know this b/c a friend texted it to me lol) posted today on Instagram, “I might be wrong but I don’t know no women with good jobs that got bright color hair.” Grammar issues aside, I want to give him a FULL on side eye, but he is not totally wrong regarding corporate and your overall appearance (not just colored hair, some people could have replaced that with several other characteristics).

The crappy truth is that in Corporate America, you are encouraged to not stand out in any way regarding your appearance because people feel as if it deflects from your overall work or it brings too much attention to you and Corporate America is basically obsessed with work (drones baby!!!). Hell, I’ve even been told that I should not wear brightly colored dresses or printed slacks to work (that were professional work dresses or slacks) because the color was “distracting.” And note, these comments were made by my friends, not my management or HR.

This point of view is bullshit to me, because I know plenty of folks who dress boring as hell and suck at their jobs (nor do they care, they only want to do enough to not get fired), BUT I know when to pick my battles. You won’t see me in HR fighting to wear thigh high boots even though my way of dress has absolutely nothing to do with my ability to complete my daily tasks. We have other hurdles we need to jump before the superficial stuff (’cause really, I care way more about my natural hair than thigh high boots – and I can easily change my shoes).

However…damn the man and save the empire (s/o if you know that quote)! I think (IMO) that you can do some things so you don’t go crazy sacrificing your creative well being for the sake of a paycheck:

  • KICK ASS AT YOUR JOB. It is unlikely that someone is going to call you out about how you look (again, not too far, let’s not with the mini dresses and 6 inch heels, time and place, y’all!) when every single performance review you get is exemplary. And I mean overtime work, encouraging collaboration with colleagues, being proactive, asking to lead initiatives, etc. Simply doing what you’re told is not enough. You need to realize that going above and beyond is a key to having people recognize you for your skills, rather than your hair color or how you look.
  • Know when the time is right. If you have a job interview at a new company and they don’t know you from Adam, it’s probably not the best idea to show up looking like you could be an extra from Love and Hip Hop. Again, you have to realize that people who don’t know you will assess your appearance FIRST, and one job interview is not long enough for them to truly understand your awesomeness, unfortunately. In my first interview out of college, I wore my hair in a bun with glasses. Y’all, I don’t even wear glasses in real life. But I will rock them to a new business meeting in a second. Think of it as your corporate costume. You’re modern day Super(wo)man.
  • Know when enough is enough. Compromise! Beyond my fear of all my hair falling out, I know that it’s not a good
    Okay, I would not wear this outfit to the office, but you can see that when my hair is pulled up, only a bit of purple shows.

    Okay, I would not wear this outfit to the office, but you can see that when my hair is pulled up, only a bit of purple shows.

    idea for me to dye my whole head the color of Nicole Richie’s – again, I may have proven myself to my immediate team and management, but to prospects, potential partners, etc – they don’t know me. I chose highlights because when my hair is pulled back you can only see some streaks and it’s not overpowering. I was at a conference today and had “warned” one of my former colleagues that my hair was purple, and while my hair was in a bun he came up to me and said, “Your hair isn’t nearly as purple as I thought it would be.” I doubt most people even noticed. But when I was wearing my hair out, my colleagues walked up to me and the first thing they said was, “Ooh, I like the purple!” or “Hey Pink!” I have nice coworkers.

  • Know your job’s dress code. If your dress code clearly states, “No brightly colored hair,” you can’t really be upset if people give you a side eye at work for dyeing your hair without first speaking to HR. Just follow the rules so if someone says something to you, you can kindly email them the dress code with the subject line “BOOYAH.” Okay, don’t really do that. But do it in your head.
  • Last, don’t adhere to any “standards” that make you uncomfortable. Sure, I wear my hair in a bun a lot of the time at work, but that’s mainly because it’s easy and I hate it when my hair gets caught on my work bag. If I want to wear my hair out, I have no issue doing so. If I didn’t feel as if I could even wear my natural (purple highlighted) hair without feeling insecure or “wrong,” I would need to find a new job. I know that’s it’s not easy to find a new job in our current economy, but it’s damn sad to go to work with your head down in order to stay under the radar. It may help to speak with your manager or HR and let them know how you feel and why.

Hopefully one day, people won’t be focused so much on our appearance and our work will be the only thing that matters…wait, who the hell am I kidding? Show me that day and glitter will rain down from the sky. But in the meantime…find some ways to add your personality to your attire so you don’t lose your wonderful self in the sea of corporate drones. Because that, my lovelies, would be the ultimate injustice to yourself. xoxo

Double Standard? Why is It Considered “Hood” When Black Women Experiment with Color?

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I’ve had a thing for colored hair for as long as I can remember. In middle school, all the skater chicks and alternative girls dyed their hair every color of the rainbow after seeing celebs change their hair color on a weekly basis. We frequently dyed our hair with Kool-Aid and Manic Panic to our parents’ dismay, hoping the rain never came or we’d end up with a t-shirt soaked with orange, purple, or green streaks. At the time, most of these celebrity influences were white, but I never thought anything of it. When Lil’ Kim showed up to the VMAs with a purple wig and her sparkly dress, I thought she looked like a mermaid. When Charli Baltimore blew up on the hip hop scene with neon red hair, I was jealous because I didn’t want to bleach my relaxed hair and have it all fall out. I opted for a more subtle red tint to appease myself.

It wasn’t until I became older and witnessed internet sites like No Way Girl and World Star Hip Hop frequently posting pictures insulting black women with colored hair  and categorizing them as “hood.” Recently, I added purple/lilac highlights to my hair and when I was showing my friend inspiration pictures from Tumblr, he responded that they reminded him of the hair color of “hood chicks in Baltimore.”

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What? I had never thought such a thing about creatively colored hair in my life. And no, I’m not talking about hair that emulates the infamous pack of Skittles hair picture or hair that is green because a woman has a weave made of money.

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I’m simply referring to hair that is dyed an unnatural color. But the funny thing is, the current pastel hair trend and creatively colored hair look is donned by non-black women all the time (Nicole Richie and Kelly Osbourne are two of my favorites), and I’ve never seen them referred to as “hood” or “ghetto.” More often than not, people find the look creative and cute – more of a homage to My Little Pony rather than an around the way girl. For white women, the look is considered fun, but for black women, it can be considered cheap and classless. Is this fair? I think not.

When I asked my friend to elaborate on his opinion, he expounded on the fact that the hair adds to an overall look – the weave, fake nails, huge hoop earrings, and any other style stereotypically considered to be “hood.” If you couldn’t tell, I keep putting “hood” in parentheses because I don’t see styles as hood and find that word to be way overused. But is that it? Is the hair itself not classless, but an overall look displayed by some black women? Well, that’s not really fair either. I guess you could say that on the flip side, white women with colored hair and an ill sense of fashion may be considered trashy (Sorry, Courtney Love), so perhaps it could be a look that reminds people of the negative, outlandish stereotypical view of you as a person, regardless of color. Either way, I would say that the smartest thing is to not judge someone off of the color of their hair, because you never know where the inspiration came from, whether it be My Little Pony or Fantasia (the Disney movie, not the singer), or simply a pack of tropical Skittles. And if it were a pack of Skittles, is that so wrong?

Do you consider unconventionally colored hair to be “hood” or “ghetto”? Do you think there is a double standard between white and black women with colored hair?

This post also appears on Black Girl with Long Hair.