Chef Sophia Roe on Her Daily Braiding Ritual, and Embracing the Grays

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Chef Sophia Roe is here to make the food world a more inclusive one. She speaks passionately during her IG lives on topics from colorism and anti-racism to clean beauty and delicious recipes. She is also the co-host of Pillow Talk Sessions, a conversation series that covers everything from interracial relationships to CBD. She centers community and advocacy for marginalized groups in all she does, while emphasizing the importance of self-care through it all. For Roe, self-care can mean emotional work, following a skin-care routine, or braiding her hair. “Our relationship to our hair is, in essence, our relationship to our ancestry,” Roe tells Vogue from over the phone. “It’s just so much more than hair.”

This keen understanding developed later in life for Roe. “I didn’t love my hair until well into my twenties,” she says. This was in large part because no one around her growing up knew how to do it properly. “My mom didn’t know how to do it. Then I go to a group home and they certainly didn’t know how to do it,” she said of her childhood. “The products that were available weren’t products for my hair. It just was unmanageable,” she recalls. “I always wanted to make it look like it was wet so that no one saw what it actually looked like,” she says. She would part her hair in the middle and wind her tresses into a low bun. “I have really thick brows, but I remember plucking those down super thinly, too.” Of course, working in the food business was another reason to keep her hair tucked away. “I mean you could get in trouble for wearing lipstick,” Roe remembers of her time working in restaurants. “This is a job where you can’t have fingernail polish on, you know what I mean? So there’s almost this sort of military regimented thing. We all need to look alike. There is no place for expression, except for on the plate. So it really did suppress a lot of self-love for me in general with working in that kind of environment.”

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“Such a huge part of the work that I do is empathy-led. As a trauma-informed person, I have to be so aware of what anger, maliciousness, and defensiveness are. What are those things? Those things are just a snow globe for pain. I think that for me, self-love is just understanding those things about myself and understanding those things about people. If I don’t love myself through that, through that journey, then there’s no way I can possibly love and understand anyone else and then we’re not going to get anywhere.”

She admits she didn’t have much time to explore or express herself until she moved to New York at age 24. “Most of my life has been about, ‘you’ve got to focus because you are responsible for eating your next meal. There’s no help,” she says. “I never really felt like I could just spiritually take my shirt off and love who I am, because there’s no time for that. It was always, ‘you got to get to work, you got to make money.’”

In New York, Roe saw people with hair like hers. Then she began working as a private chef, where she was able to be more playful with her look. Taking inspiration from Donna Summer and disco culture, today Roe reaches for hemp oil to nourish her spirals because of its non-comedogenic nature. “It can’t actually clog your pores. I have acne-prone skin, so my hair is so long, it touches my face, it touches my body, so it’s really important that I use products on my hair that are also body and skin safe.” For definition, Roe turns to Not Your Mother’s Curl Talk, while Shea Moisture’s Jamaican Black Castor Oil Strengthen & Restore Shampoo makes for the perfect cleansing aid.

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“My bangs are really inspired by Donna Summer. As a little girl, she was my hero. I remember seeing one of her records and I’d never seen anyone that I felt like I could like. I was just blown away. I just thought, ‘Oh my gosh. Look at this beautiful woman,’ and as a little girl, I also just thought Freddie Mercury was the most fabulous thing I’d ever seen.”

Roe says her secret to achieving her long locks is to not wash them so often, save for her bangs that get cleansed every 4 days because “that’s where we sweat.” She keeps her hair in braids most of the time. “It’s just a really great way to protect the hair. Plus I can’t be in the kitchen with my hair all out.” She re-does her braids each morning as a ritual. “I take my braids out and I spray my scalp, run some water through them, and then put them right back in braids,” she says. Her secret sauce scalp spray is equal parts apple cider vinegar and colloidal silver with whatever essential oil she feels like using. “I’ll never let anyone else braid,” she notes. ”It’s really my time that grounds and connects me to myself. It’s my way of tethering to normalcy.”

When comparison and doubt arises, Roe makes a point to spend less time looking in the mirror. “In fact I try not to do my skin and hair care routine in front of a mirror at all,” she says. These days she’s embracing her gray hairs, too. “The biggest beauty lesson I’ve learned is that I’m allowed to be a complex person,” she says. The same goes for her hair: “Some days my hair wants do one thing and then other days it says ‘today we’re not doing that,’ and that’s okay.”

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“I’ve just got so much texture, so much length, so much hair, so much gray. My hair really seconds as me.”

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