(Curl Conversation)

Olympic Runner Masai Russell On Bulding Natural Hair Confidence

Plus, her beauty must-haves for the track.

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masai russell hair routine
Curl Conversation
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Black women’s hair has always been a divisive topic in sports. From the backlash Venus and Serena Williams experienced for wearing beaded braids on the tennis court to Olympic runner Sha’Carri Richardson being criticized for donning colorful wigs on the track, Black women athletes are constantly judged and often discriminated against for wearing natural and protective styles. However, amidst the negative discourse and prejudice they’ve faced throughout the years, these athletes continue to wear these looks as beautiful representations of pride in their culture, hair types, and hairstyles. For track and field sprinter Masai Russell, wearing her natural hair or a protective style when she’s competing is how she feels the most confident. “My natural hair is like my baby. I don't play about my hair,” she tells TZR over Zoom.

This summer, Russell will be able to bring this sentiment to arguably one of the most important competitions of her career: the 2024 Paris Olympics. At last month’s Team USA track and field Olympic trials, Russell secured her coveted spot on the team by winning the 100-meter hurdles and beating the 24-year-old Olympic trials record, with a time of 12.25 seconds. And she did it all while wearing two feed-in braids, a protective style that she hopes to replicate during the games. While her relationship with her curls hasn’t always been so positive, she champions for natural hair confidence and will “always be rooting for my natural hair girlies,” she says.

TZR spoke with Russell about her natural hair journey, her go-to styles, her favorite products, and her advice to other athletes. Plus, more on her recent partnership with Conair and how their products make her feel more confident during track meets.

@masai_russell

You’ve been running track for over 10 years. What has been your go-to hairstyle for track meets and why?

My go-to hairstyle is anything natural. My favorite is my two braids or a slicked-back bun with my natural hair, or a ponytail. But, two braids are my 100% go-to all the time. They make it easier for me to run. When I ran the other day, I had my braids tied up because I don't like anything falling on my shoulders when I put my head down at the [starting] line. I like to keep it light so I feel free, which is why I don't do certain hairstyles while I'm in season.

Has your relationship with your hair evolved or changed since you began running? 

I'm a big fan [of my natural hair]. My hair is pretty manageable. It’s too much to deal with. It’s mangeable. I feel super confident when I wear my natural hair. That's what I feel most comfortable in while I'm competing and just in general. My mom has always told me that my hair is beautiful and that I'm beautiful, but I did [have to] kind of find a love for my own hair. I think that my mom's generation and my grandmother's generation were so used to doing perms and texturizers.

When I was a kid, I wanted my hair to be straight all the time because that's what my other counterparts had and it just seemed easier to manage. Once I learned how to do my hair and put the proper products in it, I actually started to see my hair curl up the way that I didn't know it could. That definitely gave me so much more confidence in myself and to try different styles. [Black women] can do so many different things with our hair.

You spend a lot of time training. What does your weekly hair routine look like?

[When practicing, my hair is always] in a dried out, crusty bun. It looks good on the outside, but on the inside, like in the middle of my hair, it's a mess. It’s just in a bun or ponytail, something that's not [creating] too much tension. It's not in my face and it’s out of my way.

I know a lot of Black women always talk about how long wash days are. But like I said, my hair is very manageable for the most part, so I don't spend too much time washing it. It’s not a full day process for me, but I try to wash my hair once a month and then deep condition weekly or as much as I can since I'm always on the road. I've learned to do braid outs and twist outs, which has been really fun for me because there are just so many different things that you could do with your hair that you don't notice until you see the result.

@masai_russell

Do you have any specific hair tips that you've picked up along the way for track runners or athletes in general?

I think that twist outs, for me, are the best kind of style. You can do them if your hair is any length, long or short. It's like getting two styles in one. You could do the twists [themselves] and then you can take the twists out [for the twist out effect]. You can leave the style in for so long. I feel like it's good for training, you can put them up, put them down, or slick them back. It's just easy, lightweight and convenient.

Congratulations on breaking the record at the Olympic trials and securing your spot in the Paris Games. What’s one hair product you will bring to the games?

I'm definitely bringing my Eco Style Gel and the Edge Booster that I use to lay my edges. The edges are really the most important thing. Your hair could be a mess, like my hair is a mess right now, but the edges are laid so you can't really tell. The edge control [is definitely] number one over the Eco Style. But, I can't just take one thing, like, come on, I'm a Black girl. I'm definitely bringing some Amika products too, because they just soften my hair up so much and make it so easy to slick back.

[For the Olympics,] I really want to do two braids again, but unfortunately it isn’t a style that lasts long. I'm going to Paris, in [about] a week and a half before I actually compete. It's a big city, I heard it’s similar to New York, so hopefully they have people out there that can possibly do hair in the village or even outside of the village.

@masai_russell

How has your partnership with Conair impacted your beauty routine while prepping for the momentous competition?

I've been using the Conair Girlbomb All-in-One Shave and Trim set because it just makes my hair removal days so easy and effortless. I use Conair Girlbomb Nose, Face, and Brow Set to touch up my eyebrows and the all-in-one shaver on my legs, under arms, like everything. When it comes to being on the track, I have to be snatched and I feel my most powerful when everything is like clean and sleek. I have the most confidence when I don't even have to think about certain areas of my body having hair.

What is your advice to other BIPOC athletes when it comes to feeling confident about their hair and other aspects of their physical appearance?

My advice would be to just love yourself. If you don't love yourself, then I don't think people will love you as much as you [can] love you. I feel like the basis of how much you love yourself will open the gateway to all the other avenues of love that you can receive. Self-love and knowing your worth is the most important thing for anybody, not even just for Black or multicultural individuals. Self- care is one of the most important elements when I prep for competition, and that's how I feel my most powerful so it's important for me to not only look good, but also feel good and feel confident.