Something that I get asked about all the time is my hair. I’ve gotten stopped in the street and yelled at from car windows with questions and comments like “What do you do to get it like that?” “Is that your real hair?” “Your hair is beautiful! I bet it’s really long when you straighten it.” And all of these questions and remarks make think about my own hair journey and what I wish I would have known about myself growing up. So, I now present to you a brief look into the important self-discoveries I made once I learned to love my natural hair.
When I was a young warthog, (10 points to Gryffindor if you get the reference) I hated my hair. My hatred for my hair started when I told my mother I wanted to start doing it myself around the beginning of fifth grade. I had long, thick, curly hair, and the more I tried to style it, the more I realized I did not understand it at all. It got tangled all the time, it was frizzy and in general it was just unruly. I remember nights when I would sit on my bedroom floor crying as I tried to pull the knots out of my hair. I would get so frustrated that I would sometimes try and rip out my hair.
My elementary and middle school were both in predominately white neighborhoods, so almost none of the girls I went to school with had hair like mine. I remember being so jealous of my friends who had straight hair and wishing that my hair would lie flat like theirs. I felt like I was a weird kid in general, and I felt like my hair just made it worse. So, in my head I thought that maybe if I could change my hair, I might stick out less. For years, throughout the elementary and middle school, I tried many different hairstyles which were all geared to make my hair something it wasn’t.
By the time my first year of high school came around, I had started using a flat iron religiously, and for the entirety of freshman year I straightened it. I didn’t wear my hair curly once during that first year as I was determined to start off my high school career “right” and be one of the “cool” kids. However, the high school I went to was in a different city than my middle and elementary school and it was much more culturally diverse. I saw older girls who looked like me and had hair like mine and I started to change my outlook on my hair. One of my biggest hair inspirations was best friend, Alondra. She had (and still does) the most beautiful long, curly hair and I was so amazed by it! Her hair always looked gorgeous and I would go home and tell my mother about my friend with the fabulous hair.
Then, I ended up taking an elective class in my freshmen year which was another reason my outlook on my hair changed forever. In the class, we were to read and discuss the book “Letters to a Young Sister” by Hill Harper, which is an absolutely amazing book and I highly recommend it. The book focuses on life-lessons and advice the author learned from the powerful women in his life. One of the assignments we had for the class was to write a short paper on an India Arie song that had been specifically chosen for us by our teacher. I was given the song “I Am Not My Hair”.
I remember being taken aback when she revealed the song she had chosen for me. I didn’t understand how she was able to pick something that was so perfect. I thought I was good at hiding my disdain for my hair. But apparently, she saw right through me. In quieter moments, I still hear the wise words of the song echo in the back of my head reminding me that there is so much beyond a person’s appearance.“ I am not my hair/ I am not this skin/ I am the soul that lives within.’
Eventually, I decided I wanted to wear my natural hair, so my mom’s hairdresser told me about products that I could use if I wanted to start wearing my hair curly. My mother and I immediately went out and bought what she recommended and from there, the rest is pretty much history. I remember the first day I went to school with my hair completely natural: I was so nervous! No one had seen my real hair and I was afraid that people wouldn’t react well to it. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The moment I walked through the door, I had people telling me how much they loved it and asking me if that was my real hair. Since that day, I rock my natural hair with no problem.
Not liking my hair might not seem like a big deal, but as I got older, I realized that not liking my hair was a very small portion of a much bigger issue we face as a society. As women, we are constantly being told to curb our brilliance. Be a good girl and don’t rock the boat, stay in your place. Society tries to control and distract us by placing images of what we should “want” and “look” like in front of us to make us feel inadequate. We are taught to hide and squash the things that make us unique and wonderful. I realize now that it was never truly about my hair, it was about accepting who I was and not apologizing for my existence any more. Loving my hair turned out to be the turning point of me accepting all the things about myself that made me unique, and it gave me a sense of confidence that I had never had before.
Honestly, I could talk about this subject for days, because there are so many avenues I could go down such as diversity in media, women’s right etc. I’m not going to do that in this post, but I will leave you with this; I have come to realize that it is the things in life which make us different that give us strength. To fully embrace the body you have in its entirety is to allow your true nature to shine through. So ladies, I have shared this story with you in the hopes that it gives you perspective on the thing about yourself that you wish you could change. Everyone is given gifts in this life, and to realize the beauty of them, especially when society tells you not to, is one of the biggest gifts you can give yourself.