On HAIR AS AN EXTENSION OF MYSELF and taking up space

BY Sunny Maria
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My hair does not define me. I could be bald tomorrow and still be me. However — from an early age — it’s been both a way of expressing myself, and an indicator of my feelings.

I remember being a very insecure child , often mocked or bullied for being different: as a chubby person of colour with big curly hair and coming from a modest background in a school with a majority of privileged children of doctors and lawyers who had lean bodies and shiny straight hair, I stood out in every way. Back then, my biggest wish was to fit in and conform. I couldn’t change how much money my family made, my features or the color of my skin and despite trying to control my weight at an age where it shouldn’t even cross my mind, I remained bigger than anyone else in my classes. The one thing I had control over, the one thing I could change about myself to fit the mould was my hair. So after a while I begged my family to chemically straighten my hair with relaxers. I’ll always remember how painful it was, burning my scalp and my eyes. But I felt that it was worth it if it meant the name calling and fingers pointing would stop. Maybe I would finally fit in. Needless to say it didn’t work. I also tried protective hairstyles such as box braids but still got mocked for it and compared to anything from a mop, to Bob Marley or an octopus. Ignorance runs deep after all.

Fast forward a few years later and I’m in my last couple years of middle school. I’m still in a predominantly White city and school, I’m still bigger than most people my age, still struggling with my confidence and still being bullied for being different. But something has shifted : YouTube beauty gurus are becoming a thing and some of them have the same curl pattern and texture as I do. They taught me chemical straightening or heat of any kind can permanently damage my hair so I took their advice and slowly recovered my natural hair.

At that time, I would religiously watch these videos and fantasize about wearing my big mane of curls unapologetically like they did. But standing out in an environment where I was already the odd one out seemed like the scariest thing. So I kept my hair in a very tight bun EVERY ! SINGLE ! DAY ! without missing a beat. One day however, I decided to let my hair loose and instantly regretted it : the amount of teasing and jokes made me decide I would never let my hair out again so I went back to my signature tight bun despite the headaches and hair breakage it would cause.

This lasted until the end of high-school where in my senior year, I finally felt comfortable enough in myself to start letting my hair out more often, gradually learning to love myself and as a result, loving my hair.

“Don’t touch my hair, when it’s the feelings I wear.” — From Solange’s song “Don’t Touch My Hair” (2016)

 

Not so long ago, I asked myself why the journey was so complicated and painful. It’s just hair after all, isn’t it ? But it’s more than that. I realised that my hair was an extension of myself and a window into some of my internal struggles : When I felt like the odd one out, I would try to conform through my hair. When I gained a lot of weight and got shamed for it, I tried to make myself smaller by making my hair fit into a tight bun. When I had severe acne and braces, I hid my face behind my big hair. When I was at my happiest during the last few summers, I let go of control over my curls and just let the sun, the seawater and coconut scented shampoo do their thing. Whenever I would go through depressive episodes, I’d stop taking care of my hair until the knots became impossible to detangle. And when I decided to let go of the old me and reinvent myself, I chopped it all off so that it would grow anew, along with me.

As women, we’re made to feel like we should make ourselves as small and unnoticeable as possible. When we’re plus-sized, we’re made to feel like we’re a waste of space. When we’re women of colour, we’re called loud or wild. If we’re at the intersection of these identities and have curly or coily / afro-textured hair, it’s so easy to internalize those ideas and try to “tame” and “control” and “fix” our hair even though there was never anything wrong with it in the first place.

Hair is part of ourselves and our stories and we can style it to show the world how we’re feeling and who we are. So as a reminder to myself and anyone who’s ever felt insecure about their hair : go ahead and express yourself ! Wear it pink if you’re feeling flamboyant, dark if you’re feeling edgy, natural if you’re feeling confident, in a crazy hairstyle if you’re feeling extra… Whatever it is, don’t be afraid to be too noticeable, take up too much space, do too much. Don’t let anyone make you feel small and make sure your hair is a reflection of yourself and not of other people’s opinions about it.

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