On the evening of Sept. 14, The Jackson 5 song “ABC” blasted from the Bernie Milton Pavilion on The Commons. Little girls and boys shouted with laughter and twirled to the beat, and colorful stands filled with homemade jewelry, fresh baked goods, headbands, shampoos and other hair products lined East State Street. Ithaca’s first official Hair and Self-Care Festival, organized by Jamila Walida Simon, was in full swing.
The Hair and Self-Care Festival featured booths and events sponsored by local beauty and style vendors from Sept. 14 to 16. One of the focuses of the event was personal health. Simon said she wanted attendees to leave with a better sense of how to not only take care of their physical being but their mental and emotional well–being too.
“It’s an opportunity for members of the community to gain connection to people in the self-care industry,” Simon said. “We wanted to create a space where women can come out and really think about self-care.”
Simon works with students at Cornell University as a 4-H civic engagement specialist and is focused on empowering youth through mentorship, leadership and research opportunities. She said female students often come to her with self-care questions, such as where to get their hair or nails done or their bikini lines waxed. Simon realized others might struggle with the same questions, so she organized the festival to help community members gain connections to local stylists and artisans. She wanted to also add in a focus on mental well-being with events on simple ways to declutter and de-stress.
Stylists from around Tompkins County engaged in a “speed-dating” activity at the event, allowing local students and community members a way to connect with local hairdressers and stylists. Saturday night kicked off with a comedy show and a hair battle. The festival also featured self-care workshops held at the Southside Community Center and the Bernie Milton Pavilion. Most discussions were free, though some, such as the De-stress your Life discussion and the “Time Management” seminar, required a fee. Free events included a workshop about sex toys and female masturbation, the Winter Hair and Self-Care Discussion, the Flower-Work Workshop run by Rootwork Herbals and a yoga class. Throughout the weekend, vendors sprawled across the street selling pieces of art and jewelry as well as skin and hair products.
Simon’s main goals when creating the event were to help women learn about and love their natural hair, as well as teach women how to move toward a stress-free lifestyle. Simon reached out to vendors and workshop leaders to teach methods of self-care and self-love. Simon financed the festival partly out of pocket. She paid for the merchandise and marketing materials. Although she tried to secure funding for the event last year, this is the first year Simon was successful. She partnered with the Tompkins County Board of Tourism and the Alternatives Federal Credit Union to fund the festival. She began planning for the event with the city of Ithaca in January.
Several vendors were members of Simon’s family, and other vendors included Rocky Acres Farm, Eye for Design, Jah Making Juice and Awe Naturalz. Simon’s sister, Aiysha Malika Simon, and her mother, Valerie Simon, sat behind a table filled with beaded jewelry, watching their children and grandchildren meander around the festival. They said that, as a family, they wanted to promote the importance of self-care while also showing their jewelry.
“Making jewelry is something we find very relaxing,” Aiysha Simon said. “At the end of the day, we’re all one community. We’re all a community of people with skills and artistry. So I think it’s nice that people can come out and see what we’ve created.”
These women said they aim to show Ithacans that having a passion and putting their heart into their work is another important way to take care of themselves emotionally and spiritually.
Valerie Simon said she is proud of her daughter’s work putting together the festival.
“I led my daughters my whole life,” she said. “And now they are leading me.”
It is easy to get caught up in stress and not take the time to understand the concept of self-care, Jamila Simon said. She said people tend to grow unhappier as winter approaches and the days grow shorter.
“Ithaca is gorgeous, but there are times it doesn’t feel that way,” Simon said.
Simon said she would love to do this festival again next year and hopes to hold a spin-off retreat and a podcast about self-care. Simon said she wants Ithacans to focus more on their emotional health, realizing that it’s perfectly OK to treat themselves and indulge in a little self-love.