Today, New York City-based identical twins Cipriana and TK Quann rock a look that embraces their natural hair. But there was a time when the two girls sported a different look — and different attitudes about their hair.
Cipriana was frustrated by the beauty standards placed on her while working as a model. "I was modeling for almost a decade and the only issue that I had in the modeling world had to do with my hair. My hair is afro-textured; I don’t have a defined curl. I was beginning to actually hate my hair and seeing it as a huge obstacle. I didn’t have any creative freedom or creative control, so I quit modeling and decided to grow my hair natural again," said Cipriana.
So the Quann sisters decided to celebrate their look by joining forces with Austin-based Nikisha Brunson and start the lifestyle website Urban Bush Babes in 2011. However, the twins and Nikisha have been blogging about more than just hair: the site covers issues such as the women's march, music, food, politics and fashion.
Nikisha was also bullied for her hair growing up. "I was bullied really badly in junior high and parts of high school. I felt like I always had to straighten my hair to fit in, so that’s what I did," said Nikisha. But now, Nikisha has embraced her look. "The last time I used chemical relaxers was when I was 16, and undergrad was the last time I straightened my hair with heat."
Now, the women have been discussing how their overcame being bullied for their looks through personal essays on Urban Bush Babes. The essays are designed to "encourage other to embrace their natural beauty" and also to tell them they don't have to conform to conventional beauty standards.
"The main concept was to create a platform specifically around women of color. We wanted to create this really supportive, encouraging platform showing women of color in a different light — different from what you might see from mainstream media. We wanted to tear down those labels and encourage women to be themselves, no matter how different or weird it might seem," said Cipriana.
TK says that the blog celebrates being yourself. "Natural hair was about being yourself. There’s nothing wrong about a woman who wears a weave. I really don’t care what a woman chooses to do with her hair, but I think it came to a point where it was derogatory toward people who wore their hair natural, and there was a certain stigma around people who wore their hair natural or in an afro. It was about breaking down stereotypes and derogatory perceptions that people had about natural hair," said TK.
"We are all about challenging yourself to be the change you want to see. Anything that assists in that direction in a fun, positive, and motivating way is the type of leverage we will wholeheartedly support," said Cipriana. The sisters practice what they preach, and have even started an interview section with up-and-coming models who are "creating change by redefining standards of beauty within the industry."
The word is starting to spread, with the site receiving over 350,000 weekly visitors. Urban Bush Babes has been featured in publications including Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Glamour and Essence. The women responsible for Urban Bush Babes have collaborates with brands including Rebecca Minkoff, Carol's Daughter and even the ultra-mainstream Gap.
For Nikisha, Urban Bush Babes is a forerunner in celebrating the natural look. "At first, what set us apart was that there were no other blogs focusing on the creative in the black community, including music, art, and thrifting, so we definitely were on the pioneering front of that," said Nikisha.
While Cipriana feels like her hair is part of her identity, it doesn't define who she is as a person. "If I lost all my hair tomorrow, that would not take away who I am as a person. Not to be contradictory, but I feel that the hair is part of me as well. It took me so long to finally love it and now that I finally love it, I’m not afraid to wear my hair how I want to wear it. My hair is representing all those years that it took me to finally become confident in the complete woman that I am today," said Cipriana.
Additionally, Cipriana is making it known that hair is unique to the individual, regardless of DNA. "Realize that no one’s hair is alike. Hair is like a fingerprint. To give an example, me and my sister, we’re identical twins, born from the same damn egg and split into two — how cool is that! But yeah, we have slightly different texture... [And] at the end of the day, you are not your hair," said Cipriana.
Cipriana says that while she and TK are identical twins, they were always expressing their individuality while growing up, sometimes even by rebelling against each other. Today, Cipriana and TK lead different lives. TK is an electronic singer and songwriter who sometimes contributes to Urban Bush Babes, while Cipriana is the editor-in-chief of Urban Bush Babes.