“What’s wrong with your hair?” I remember my 8-year-old self running to the school bathroom in confusion, thinking that maybe my hairstyle was simply crooked, or had gotten messed up when I’d left the car that morning. I stared in the mirror trying to find possible flaws for several minutes, only to find none. It wasn’t until later that month that I realized my classmates weren’t talking about my hairstyle; they were talking about my hair.
I’d gotten sisterlocks (thin dreadlocks) earlier that summer, and had excitedly anticipated showing off my new ‘do to all of my classmates the following fall. I was sorely disappointed to find that my classmates didn’t share my enthusiasm at all and were way to delighted to voice their newfound opinions about my hair with me.
Comments like: “Your hair is ugly,” “You look like Medusa,” and “Why is your hair like that?” became my normal. I felt as if the things they were saying were accurate. My hair became the punchline. For a while, the few positive remarks I heard regarding my hair felt like a drop of water in the bathtub of seemingly hateful comments I’d received. I’d grown so accustomed to being faced with negative comments, the uplifting complements I was occasionally heard seemed peculiar and false.
Recently, I caught myself thinking about how far I’ve come since then. In seven years I’ve become completely comfortable with my hair and consider it my most unique physical trait. The positive comments I receive about my hair are simply awe-inspiring, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Granted, I still receive negative comments about my hair, but I’ve come to realize that most of them stem from innocent curiosity on the part of the questioner. Questions such as the “realness” and cleanliness of my hair no longer offend, as I realize most people ask these questions without malicious intent, simply trying to understand the unknown. My natural hair journey has been rough at times, but has definitely been an overall amazing experience.
I was curious to find if my African-American peers with natural hair felt the same way, and I created a written survey to ask nine of them about their own journeys.
One question I asked, was: What are some of the most hateful things you’ve heard about your hair? The flood of answers I received ranged, from general comments like, “Your hair is messy” to rude insults.
“Have you ever heard of a mirror/brush?”
“I know you don’t like your hair like that.”
There were plenty of negative comments to go around, but the response to a different question really impressed me. Every single survey included this question and answer: What are the most uplifting praises you’ve been told in regards to your hair?
The answer: “Your hair is beautiful.”
I read a multitude of other powerful responses like: “Your hair makes me want to go natural,” and “You have the prettiest, thickest hair I’ve ever seen.”
The survey respondents wrote about the freedom their hair provides them and the power it makes them feel on a daily basis. As I read comments like, “Never let anyone tell you what to do with your hair,” and “Be comfortable in your own skin,” I couldn’t help but wish that I’d always had as much confidence in my hair as I do now. I wasted years feeling like my hair made me too different.
There is no such thing as being too different. Enjoy your unique qualities and take pride in yourself. Focus on the positive things and embrace what you consider negative about yourself, because your negative could be someone else’s beautiful.
Sarah, 15, is a sophomore at Milton High School. Sarah also created the art for this story.