Miss USA Shares The Inspiring Reason She's Wearing Her Hair Natural Tonight

Photo: AP/REX
When Kára McCullough, or Miss USA as you may know her after tonight's Miss USA competition, walked onto the stage during preliminaries on Thursday in Las Vegas, she was the only one rocking her natural curls in a sea of smooth, polished blowouts, voluminous sets, and stick-straight styles (around 49 of them, to be exact).
But going against the grain wasn't exactly an easy choice for the 25-year-old. "When I choose to wear my hair curly, I was afraid," she told Refinery29. "I didn’t know if people were going to accept it...if anyone was going to be receptive to it at all." The reaction, of course, has been better than she could have anticipated.
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"I decided to embrace what makes me feel comfortable and what makes me feel the best and brightest on stage, but also embrace what other people can relate to," she continued. "That typical, traditional sleek hair with a big tease, not to say it’s gone out the window, but it’s transitioning a lot."
It's one step on a continued path to inclusivity and more diversity within the organization post-Trump (he sold Miss USA and Miss Universe in 2015), and we're so here for it. (Shout out to Mia Jones, Miss Delaware, who's sporting a gorgeous curly bob.) “We want to enhance her curl, not change it completely, so with her natural texture all we have to do is touch up the little pieces on top to give it that fully curled look, but everything else is natural texture,” Chi hairstylist Albert Luiz told Refinery29. To get the look, he mists the root of each individual coil on her crown with Chi’s Magnified Volume Finishing Spray, then defines it with a 3/4-inch, tapered curling rod. Once they cool, he uses his pinky to bust through each curl for a more lived-in look — and that's about it.
Kára hopes to be a role model for anyone with curls. "When I didn’t see anyone in competitions with my hairstyle, I decided wanted to be the mold," she told Refinery29. What's more, she follows in the footsteps of United States Army Reserve Captain Deshauna Barber, the previous Miss D.C. who took home the crown last year — and was still on duty one weekend a month during her reign.
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Of course, that's not all that will impress you about Kára — not even close. She is one of many women in the competition that break the common conception of a "pageant girl." Kára is a physical scientist at the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission and has an outreach program she’s been funding herself called Science Exploration for Kids, which offers tutoring and science- and math-based activities for grades 6 to eleven. “I go to the schools to do science projects, tutoring, and presentations,” she told us. “I hope and pray these moments fuel them for their entire lives.”
We got a chance to discuss all this and more with Kára ahead of tonight's competition. Highlights of our conversation, below.
Photographed by Lexy Lebsack.
Kára McCullough minutes before the Miss USA dress rehearsal Sunday.
R29: What made you decide to go against the pageant trend of smooth blowouts and embrace your natural texture?
Kára McCullough: "You answered it right there! With the paradigm shift of the competition, formerly a pageant, now a competition, we are highlighting aspects of a modern woman.
"When I choose to wear my hair natural I had a lot of support from many people, essentially, I decided to embrace what made me feel comfortable, embrace what makes me feel the best and brightest on stage. But also embrace what other people can relate to, so that typical, traditional sleek hair, big tease, not to say it’s gone out the window, but it’s transitioning a lot."
Have you always wore your hair natural when competing?
"Not at all, it’s a new thing — and that’s because no one looked like me on television, no one looked like me in commercials, no one looked like me on stage. The inspiration came from hairdresser Albert Luiz and his salon in Sugarland, Texas. When I choose to wear my hair curly I was afraid. I didn’t know how people were going to accept it. If anyone was going to be receptive to it at all, but I felt like a Grecian goddess on stage!
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What kind of reaction have you gotten on social media?
"I haven’t looked at any comments, but I can say that people are happy I am following my heart."
How do you prep your hair for the competition?
"I arrive with clean hair, so the night before I section it into four section, I put a curl cream in, scrunch it up, then diffuse the majority of it, so the curls come out more bountiful. But I prefer to let my curls air-dry [towards the end] because when I air-dry my curls [fully], they tend to come out kind of straight and stringy, and when I diffuse fully, I lose my texture. That’s my tip for women with fine curls: don’t fully diffuse your curls because the curls will lose their natural texture."
Photographed by Lexy Lebsack.
Kára McCullough at a Miss USA event on Friday.
What are your favorite products?"I like Chi products, I love BioSilk, and I love Moroccan Oil Curl Cream. People actually think it’s perfume because my hair smells so good!"
Do you have any words of encouragement, tips, or tricks for women who are thinking of transitioning from relaxed hair to natural?
"Do what makes you comfortable, if you’ve been thinking about it, just do it. There will never be a right time to do it. If you are transitioning, my tip is: moisturize, moisturize, moisturize! Stay away from combs and brushes and use your fingers to detangle and style. Try to keep your hair in a tight bun as much as you can for the first two years of your transition. When I transitioned from heat-damaged, straight hair to my natural curl again I wore a bun for two years!"
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
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