My Hair and I
Nia Harris, Division 2, 12th grade #ws17e-s1d2

"Your hair is gonna get mold.”

I sat frozen in a plastic-red styling chair that refused to stop squeaking.
“Why do you wear your hair in a bun every day?” She pressed me while she began attempting to pull apart the mess. Millions of answers raced through my head: because I hated my hair, because I was embarrassed by its texture, because it wasn’t blonde, because it gave away my identity.

When I was thirteen years old, I was told that I would never look like the skinny-blonde girls in my class but I still tried, I pulled my hair back in a tight wet bun every day, never letting a single piece breathe, suffocating it before it could try to spring free. I was always the only African-American student in the classroom growing up in suburban Minnesota. I was stared at as we learned about slavery and constantly asked why I talked so “proper.” My wild hair not only stunned my peers but my family as well. My grandma told me I had “dreadlocks” and needed to burn out the kinks. My mother told me that my hair was fine but her eyes would widen whenever she tried to contain my hair.

The hairdresser clicked her tongue and sighed. She didn’t say anything as she led me to a sink and leaned me against the cool metal. I heard the rushing of the water before I felt it reach the moist forest, a familiar feeling. I heard her hum as she rubbed a magic tonic over every branch and leaf on my head. As the freezing water rushed through again I felt the leaves, twigs, and branches disappear down the drain. She sat me back on the plastic-red styling chair and blasted me with warmth, making my new curls stretch and reach toward the heat. Finally, she clicked the blow dryer off and I felt a silence envelop me.

My eyes were squeezed tight, fearing what she had done. I knew she hadn’t let me try and look like everyone else. I wasn’t just scared, I was terrified. I didn’t want to be change, I didn’t want to embrace myself, I didn’t want to be different. I finally released my eyes and let them drift to my reflection, or at least what should have been my reflection. The foreign curls fell to my shoulders, framing my face as if that was their job; they looked so shiny and bouncy and alive. They weren’t angry twigs clutched together to form the branches I had been used to, but they were spread out, comfortable and content with their own space. My hand shook as I reached a hand to the ringlets, grazing the curls, feeling the softness I saw, making my reflection a reality.

“How?”

My word piercing the everlasting silence I had created. How could something that I had been suppressing all of these years look beautiful? That very moment I decided I would wear my hair down curly instead of containing it in a bun; allowing it to finally live untamed. That new hairdresser didn’t know that by showing me the gorgeous potential of my hair that I would invest hours watching “How to do Natural Hair” YouTube videos, made by women who looked just like me, and consume countless blog posts that taught me to be proud of my identity and my natural hair. My natural hair meant I was a young woman of African-American descent and for once in my life I was proud to show that. That day I learned that my blackness could be beautiful and I have been unapologetically so ever since. My hair is unique in my community but I embrace it and love it. Although I still sometimes feel like I need to pull my hair back in a tight bun, instead of suffocating my curls, I let them be free.
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