words by Courtney Phillips
photography by Brad Ogbonna
“When I went natural, other things started to change in myself,” explains Cipriana Quann while on the phone from her home in New York City.
As a former model, Quann is well acquainted with the looming expectations of beauty. She was consistently told that her hair was a “problem” and if she could only “tame” it she’d be able to take her career further. In the fashion industry, where creativity supposedly has no limits, she felt as if her beauty was restricted and confined to a mainstream mold that undermined her personal reflection of beauty. With that, she decided to resign from modeling to embrace her natural beauty and see where it would take her.
Fast-forward to today and you’ll see Quann has taken her career into her own hands as a blogger with creative partner, Nikisha Brunson, in the creation of UrbanBushBabes.com. She was named one of the Most Fashionable Bloggers by Vogue in December 2013. Considering the blog was initiated as recently as 2011, the amount of growth and recognition it has received is remarkable. One can’t help but notice the irony of Quann being pushed out of the fashion community for not fitting in only to turn around and be revered for breaking the mold.
Quann’s break away from modeling gave her the space to explore her naturality and start the “Urban Bush Babes” blog to inspire others to explore that option too. The passions behind the blog came from a respect for women of color and their overall health. The mission has since expanded, but Quann made it clear that there is a need for people to know, “There’s a life outside of that mainstream idea of what a woman of color is, like Love and Hip Hop and Real-life [sic] Housewives of Atlanta.” Although she admits those shows are all fairly entertaining, she doesn’t want the mainstream view of women of color to be the only representation out there. UrbanBushBabes.com seeks to contradict this by displaying the different life-styles women of color can lead. Quann states, “You don’t have to look a certain way, you don’t have to wear your hair a certain way, or talk a certain way.” This site shows that to be natural is to simply be you.
Quann is not just a blogger, she’s an educator. She is a free spirit showing the way for many women searching for more than just a “solution” to their erratically flailing frizz. Quann gives readers an opportunity to learn more about their options, like why washing their hair with conditioner may be better than shampooing, or why they should “seal their ends” and use natural oils. Most, if not all, women who fit the “textured” hair category have been there and know the value of hair knowledge. She shares her hair regimens and also lays out an open platform for other women to do the same. The site features stories of women from diverse backgrounds, giving them the space to share their hair regimens, workout routines, healthy food habits, and other lifestyle choices. Not every story, regimen, or piece of advice is made for everyone, and that’s fine because there are so many options. “It’s about finding what’s right for you. That’s the beauty of it.”
In getting to know Cipriana a bit more, the deeply rooted motivations for starting her blog were revealed. Growing up with a strong-minded father and an influential mother, whom Quann is proud to say was the only standard of beauty that mattered to her, helped shaped with beautifully intelligent sista, Quann. “I never desired straight hair because my mother always had natural hair”, she recalls. It wasn’t until the age of 13 that her mother came home with what was at the time called a “Leisure Curl,” a relaxer of sorts. Quann then received her first chemical hair treatment, an experience paralleled by many women of color. Some women experience this at such a young age that natural texture of their own hair is unknown to them. The damaging effects of the chemicals started to take a toll on Quann’s locks. After struggling with damaged hair and unnatural texture she decided to cut it all off, or in her words she did the “big cut.” She had a powerful realization, that ‘AHA!’ moment when a woman decides she’s done with the chemically treated hair and wants to start over, naturally.
With patience, trial and error Quann got her length back. Now she has locks over twenty-one inches in length that reach to her waist when stretched out, and hairstyles that are sky-high. “I remember sometimes I would get dressed and I would have my outfit on, and I would look in the mirror and feel like something was missing. Now, when I look at my hair style, it’s not like, ‘Oh my gosh!’ To me it doesn’t look like anything, to me it looks as if I saw a woman walking down the street with her hair straight.” She described it as a transformation from the inside out. Being natural may not mean the same for every woman, “For some women it’s just hair,” admitted Quann. But to her, “Hair is like a bridge way to other things.”
The success of Urban Bush Babes has been phenomenal since their start in 2011. What began as a way to connect specifically with women of color has expanded to an inclusive, informative blog that celebrates a diverse group of people and interests. Quann is now pursuing opportunities to further her passions for women's natural beauty and overall well-being beyond her current audience. She volunteers at a school near her home in Spanish Harlem called Harlem RBI (PS 72), where she speaks to the youth about how to build a healthy self-esteem. She and Brunson have plans to further Urban Bush Babes by taking on an opportunity in the Dominican Republic where they will lead workshops helping women make careers of their passions.
Ultimately, Quann and the many women she features on her website represent a bold new standard of beauty, one not predicated on commercial standards and the compromise of a woman’s natural state. Urban Bush Babes, like Ms. Quann, are real natural beauties.