For Nikki Walton, Writing About Hair Was Just Step 1

In 2013, Nikki Walton had a thriving website, a best-selling book and a schedule packed with promotional events and appearances on TV talk shows. And yet she felt something was missing.

“At the time, I had never felt that sad,” she said in an interview at her waterfront townhouse in Clearwater Beach, Fla. “I had never felt that low.”

Ms. Walton, 39, had risen to prominence as a blogger who promoted the benefits of natural hair for Black women. Under the name CurlyNikki, which she first used in online forums in 2005, she gave voice to those who were ready to give up straightening their hair with hot irons or chemical treatments and accept it as it was, untreated, curls and all.

It wasn’t easy for her to get to that point. As a child growing up in and around St. Louis, she would sit in the kitchen as her mother or grandmother straightened her hair with a hot comb. “And then by 10, 11, 12,” Ms. Walton recalled, “we had a stylist that comes to the house with a flat iron, and that was my whole life.”

When she started attending Truman State University in Kirksville, Mo., where she majored in psychology, she took care of her hair on her own, given the lack of salons for Black women in that mostly white college town.

“That is where I came face-to-face with my hatred for my hair,” she said. “I didn’t know that I had low self-esteem because of my hair. I knew, growing up, that it had to be kept straight for us to be pretty and feel good.”

One day, during her junior year, she let it frizz out. “And I remember going out on campus, and girls looked at me, like, ‘What are you doing? What did you do to your hair?’ Like, ‘What is this?’ Because this was before the movement.”

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And when the movement arrived, she was at the forefront.

She started the website in 2008, not long after she earned her master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling and psychology from the University of North Carolina. In her posts, she discussed hair types and hair-care techniques in great detail, including the L.O.C. method, which uses liquid, oil and conditioner to help retain moisture.

Black women, including this reporter, decided to shave off their chemically processed hair and grow it back out naturally. Sales of chemical relaxers plummeted as more and more women ditched the “creamy crack” and embraced the fullness, curls and kinks of their hair. Stores started carrying more products for women with curly and kinky hair. Today, the options are dizzying.

Ms. Walton said she hit a wall in the middle of her Curly Nikki success. “I never had time to just be,” she said.Credit…Eve Edelheit for The New York Times

As the popularity of grew, Ms. Walton started making guest appearances on “The Tyra Banks Show,” “The Dr. Oz Show” and “Today.” In 2011, she left her job as a psychotherapist in Raleigh, N.C., where she had been working with Medicaid patients, to focus on her site.

Things kept picking up — meetings with digital executives, beauty-industry people, book editors, agents, publicists, party planners, TV bookers — until she hit that what-does-it-all-mean moment in 2013.

“I never had time to just be,” Ms. Walton said, her hair wrapped in a scarf. “Something was missing in my life, and it has nothing to do with a new deal from SheaMoisture or L’Oréal and everything to do with this inner work, this inner process.”

She threw herself into a lengthy study of spirituality and religion, reading more than 600 books on the subjects, by her count. She got into the habit of waking up before dawn, and she meditated, sometimes for as long as four hours at a time. “There’s a meditation where, if you sit for a while, you might close your eyes and ask yourself, ‘I wonder what my next thought will be?’” she said. Eventually, she added, she was able to find what she described as “the gaps” between thoughts, and those moments, with the mind quiet at last, were blissful.

Little by little, her marriage to her college sweetheart broke apart. “If you were to ask him, he always says, ‘Nikki found God and I didn’t,’” she said, adding that her former husband, with whom she had two children, is still her best friend.

These days, she has shifted her focus from writing about hair care to podcasting about spirituality. Living with her children in the townhouse overlooking Clearwater Bay, she wakes up at 4 a.m. and meditates for an hour before going to her basement, where she records the latest installment of “Go(o)d Mornings With CurlyNikki,” a daily series made up of five- to 10-minute episodes.

The show, which draws from a variety of religious and spiritual traditions, is meant to help listeners start the day in a tranquil frame of mind. In a medium that rewards partisan rants, heated discussions of hot-button cultural issues and true crime narratives, “Go(o)d Mornings” stands apart as a retreat from the noise.

“It feels like an extension of my private spiritual practice,” Ms. Walton said. “The whole time I’m feeling love. I don’t talk until I’m there.”

Starting June 28, her listeners will be able to ask her questions directly on a new live podcast, part of a deal she has recently signed with Spotify. “There’s a lot of competition in the wellness space, which means a lot of appetite on the consumer and listener side,” said Max Cutler, the head of talk creator content and partnerships at Spotify.

It would have been more lucrative for Ms. Walton to continue in the field that initially brought her success, she said. Her evolution, she noted, has cost her six-figure deals with beauty companies.

“It was hard to be like, ‘No, I don’t need $150,000 or whatever you guys are offering,’” she said. “I did not have strong opinions that needed an hour of me onstage or on a microphone talking about natural hair. It felt forced. It felt fake.”

She sees her move into wellness and spirituality as the next logical step of the work she started back in 2005, when she was posting her thoughts on natural hair in online forums.

“I did not even really see how natural hair was connected to this in the beginning,” Ms. Walton said. “But it is the same continuum, it is the same journey. You are just tearing away more layers.”

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