Meechy Monroe, who achieved YouTube fame with hairstyle tutorials that empowered black women to embrace the so-called natural hair movement and forgo harsh chemicals, died June 27 at a nursing home in Westmont, Ill. She was 32.
The cause was brain cancer, her mother, Patricia Moore, said.
Ms. Monroe was feeling unfulfilled in her marketing jobs, at PLS Financial Services and CareerBuilder.com, when she realized the key to her career success was atop her head.
A bad haircut in 2009 prompted her to cut off the tresses she had been perming from the age of 16 and to start over. She went online to research ideas for what she called her “transition,” and found inspiration in a web community of people who believed that black women should embrace the natural texture of their hair.
Many black women grow up with the notion that straight hair is healthy and easy to manage, while curly hair is messy and untamed and heavily braided hair is too ethnic, according to Ingrid Banks, an associate professor of black studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
“What is deemed desirable is measured against white standards of beauty, which include long and straight hair (usually blonde), that is, hair that is not kinky or nappy,” she said in her book “Hair Matters: Beauty, Power and Black Women’s Consciousness” (2000).
The movement has continued to grow. In April, women cheered Michelle Obama’s decision to wear her hair naturally, and in February, Halle Berry arrived at the Oscars with natural curls.
Video by MeechyMonroe
Ms. Monroe recorded every inch of her progress, starting with a moment she — and many others making the transition — referred to as the “big chop.” Once she began to grow bouncy corkscrew curls, she said, women stopped her on the street: Did she like going natural? How did she maintain such a neat look? Did men still find her attractive?
She realized there was a world of women seeking guidance and said that “being natural means much more than just a look.”
“It says, for one, that you’re accepting of who you are, how you were created, and that you have the confidence to go against the norm,” she said in her first video, in 2010.
Ms. Monroe talked about transitions as a revolution for women freeing themselves from a lifetime of hot combs, perms and extensions, said her sister, Vaughn Colquitt, who also has a beauty channel on YouTube.
“It’s a huge step; it’s scary,” Ms. Colquitt said. “People cry through those phases.”
Ms. Monroe’s signature style was a “twist out” that involved twisting sections of her hair together with leave-in conditioner overnight and then untwisting and fluffing them into curls. There was also the “messy updo,” a “roll and tuck” and a “swoop to the back side puff.” Ms. Monroe demonstrated each step in front of her computer at home.
The Perfect Twistout | How To
Video by MeechyMonroe
The videos took off, with some garnering more than a million views. Beauty brands began calling with endorsements, and in 2014, the sisters were hired to promote the American hair care company Huetiful in Paris.
“She became a celebrity in no time,” Ms. Moore said. “I was like, ‘Wait a minute, do we need a bodyguard for you?’”
Meechy Monroe was born Tameka Marie Moore on April 29, 1985, in Chicago. Her mother is an accountant; her father, Alexander Moore, is a retired warranty officer for the Chicago Transit Authority. She graduated from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Ill.
In addition to her parents and Ms. Colquitt, she is survived by two other sisters, Katara Giles and Alexandria Moore; a grandfather, Grant Kelly; and a step-grandmother, Rosalind Kelly.
Ms. Colquitt gave Ms. Monroe the nickname Meechy in high school, and she chose the last name Monroe as an ode to Marilyn Monroe.
In 2014, Ms. Monroe had multiple strokes and was found to have aphasia, a language disorder that is caused by brain damage. In preparation for brain surgery that year, she shaved the curls that had turned her into a local celebrity and donated them to the nonprofit Locks of Love. A tumor was found during the procedure, and she received a diagnosis of brain cancer.
Through her chemotherapy treatments, she continued to promote the natural hair movement.
“I lost all my hair, I had the worst year of my life,” she told People magazine in 2015. “But you know what? I’m still the same person.”