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Brown Girl Beauty: Empire State of Mind


Photo: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

I've been a New Yorker for almost seven years now and as I reach this pivotal anniversary, it's like proclaiming a union due to tenure—a common law marriage of sorts. And, how ironic that is, because I've always seen my life in New York as a bit of a love triangle. One tethered between me, Harlem (the uptown neighborhood I've called home since my arrival), and Brooklyn (the beguiling borough only a bridge away).

Like in any love affair, I was hooked when this city pushed my proverbial buttons by learning what I love and giving me more than my fill of it. And in this case, the seduction of choice was beauty.

I soon found myself courting an uptown "main squeeze" with a weekend "lover" downtown. But, who could blame me? Each had their own unique qualities that made it attractive—unmistakably signature style and a distinct beauty personality. So I found myself torn, unwilling to give my heart completely to Harlem's classic elegance, while still not fully committing to Brooklyn's bohemian chic. What's a lovelorn brown girl to do?

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How about I start at the beginning? Let me tell you about my sweetie, Harlem:

Harlem was definitely my type upon our first encounter. I walked its beautiful brownstone-lined blocks and fell in love with the classic styles I'd see strutting down its streets. I figured residual beats from Harlem's jazz roots must be pulsing through neighborhood salons as sistas sat for the legendary "uptown blowout," because the rhythmic bounce and sway achieved by coupling a precise big-barrel roller set with the taming effects of a swift round-brushing intriguingly displayed this neighborhood's nostalgic charm.

Photo: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Uptown continued to chip away at my defenses with its charismatic display of brown beauty. I felt at home in the company of fellow brown girls rocking red lips and sleek short cuts at Harlem rooftop parties. I was even attracted to its eclectic side. When I discovered the creativity of Nigerian and Senegalese stylists on nearly every block, designing couture-like creations in the forms of twists and braids, I dug Harlem even more.

So before long, I was spending my days and nights indulging in Harlem's beauty buffet. No one could separate us. That was all until a trip down to Fort Greene had me letting my hair down.

Photo: Jessica Key/Getty Images, Eyecandy Images/Thinkstock

So then there was Brooklyn:

In a matter of hours during a brief BK jaunt, my once faithful Harlem heart was tested. I emerged from the subway to see that this borough's beauty swagger didn't move with the same tempo of classic elegance my Uptown love did. But, it had something special! It was funky, and its carefree crowds of curly coils and scents of supple natural oils tickled my fancy for playfulness. 

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Down-to-Earth Brooklyn also had an edgy chicness that made it cool, and I liked it. Instead of long walks through freshly-tinted Fall foliage, we'd stroll a block party sprinkled with fro's, locks, and kinks in shades from golden copper to espresso. It seemed to share my love of color. Amidst the casual camouflage and Hip-Hop quirkiness was a touch of refreshing sparkle. I could kick off my shoes and let my emerald green pedicure commune with its jewel-toned brethren found on the toes of bohemian fashionistas at a late-night barbecue.

And, oh the lovely lazy afternoons we shared indulging in the simple skincare pleasures of street vendor black soap and raw shea butter. I'd leave our sessions with a bold glow and bag full of rich natural keepsakes. And I'd always return for more.

So which beauty beau ultimately won my heart?

Well, as of today, it's still a draw! But hey, all is fair in love and beauty, right?

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Driven to infuse each encounter with joy-inducing laughter, Dre Brown seeks to offer those she reaches both something for the eye and for the soul. Based out of New York City, Dre splits her time between makeup artistry, hair styling, strategic marketing, writing and entrepreneurship. Follow her exploits on her blog: a Dre in The Life and her Beautylish series "Confessions of a Nouveau Natural Woman"