Arts + Culture

A Love Letter to Shea Butter

A heartfelt love note to a vital component of black hair and self care—raw shea butter. Light the candles. Cue the violins.

Dear Sista Shea,


You’ve been apart of my heritage and household for longer than I’ve known, yet I’ve only become truly acquainted with you about six years ago. It was when I went natural, and I suddenly became more aware of what goes in and on my body and how my body reacts to it. It was when I started to consciously practice self love and self care.

Self care. It’s one of many buzzwords that rose in popularity in recent years. Simply put, it is the act of caring, catering to and comforting oneself in times of emotional and mental need. I’ve needed to do this more often lately because sometimes it feels like the world is falling apart: police brutality against black people, the acquittal of offenders in controversial cases, and, most recently, the presidency of Donald Trump. We have to take care of our minds, hearts, and bodies, and thus, one another.

For me, self care varies from cooking myself a delicious, healthy meal to reading a good book to going on a mindful walk and treating myself to a cup of tea. It means logging off of social media, meditating, stretching or calling a friend.

It means buying all natural soaps and hair products because it eases my senses and my body. It also means washing and styling my hair, which, as a natural hair mama, can take several hours, but I find it exciting because I thoroughly enjoy spending time with my hair. It is an intimate, personal activity filled with aromatic essential oils, scalp massages and creamy conditioners.

And you, shea butter, have played a key role in my self care routines. As you know, I care a lot about maintaining smooth, clear skin and growing strong, healthy hair. You’ve been helping me get closer to these goals.

Growing up, I’ve suffered from all kinds of skin issues. Eczema has plagued my body, ranging from itchy, scaly spots to more severe symptoms. I am susceptible to boils in the winter (I know, gross!) and essentially, I have dry, sensitive skin. But with you, shea butter, I’ve found a cure to these dilemmas.

You smooth the cracks of my heels, you appease the ash on my elbows. My lips drink your moisture, my curls cuddle with your softness. With you, my body awakens: glowing, glad, grateful.

And when you meet the likes of coconut, almond, avocado, extra virgin or vitamin E oil, your benefits multiply in number. With the whip of my wand (a long spoon) and the addition of these essential oils, you transform into a supple, buttery cream that glides easily between my fingers and kisses the grooves of my curls. You become a still, golden river.

No more stark white lotions with ingredients I can’t pronounce—I’m on my DIY body creme flow, and you’re the star. No more overpriced lip balms—err, wait! I still like those! But I make sure you’re the main ingredient. And my soap bars contain you as well. You are with me all day, in many ways.

Yet, there is another reason why I feel connected to you. You are the treasure from my family’s homeland, Ghana. And although I haven’t been home yet, I feel like I have a piece of my roots every time my grandmother returns to the States with hunky globes of you. You are the bridge that connects me to the land I dream of.

And it’s not only I you've touched. There’s natural haired people far and wide who have been blessed by your wonder. They do tutorials about you, have started skin and hair care lines in your honor. You’ve helped us realize a new level of our potential, have empowered us to embrace our kinks, our melanin, our now unchapped lips.

Because when your skin is smooth, your hair is poppin, your mind and body softened, you can go about your day with more confidence and stride. Then you can focus on other important things as well: like work, creativity and social justice. You bring out the best in me, and thus I can walk into the world as my best self.

Love always,

Sista boo

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Photo: Courtesy of Saphir Niakadie

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