I’d just gotten back from a beach day with friends. My skin radiated with sun kisses, and sand clung to my toes and my clothes–little hitchhikers, traveling with me from Malibu to the Valley. When I stepped into the foyer of my house, flip flops flapping against the hardwood, my mom gasped.
“What?” My first thought was that my skin was flaming with a sunburn that I had yet to feel. I touched my cheeks.
Mom began to laugh in shock. “Your…hair…”
I ran to the bathroom, prepared to see seagull poop crusting on my scalp, but instead, I saw–spirals. Spirals upon spirals, floating about my head like an auburn halo.
Here’s the thing: aside from a brief period of toddler curls, I had spent most of my childhood with straight hair. Glossy, soft hair that I could twist into various do’s and run my fingers through as I pleased. It wasn’t until puberty commenced (circa 4th grade) that waves began to ripple through my quaff. Then those waves transformed into frizz. A lion’s mane. Little did I know that all this time, this frizz was actually a bundle of curly-q’s, just waiting to sprout.
Like your average adolescent with underdeveloped self-confidence and the weight of Unattainable Beauty Standards sitting on her shoulders, I hated it. I wanted to rip it out, chop it off. I had convinced myself that my supposedly unorthodox hair would prevent me from ever being “pretty,” because most of the beautiful girls and women that I saw on TV and in the pages of Tiger Beat that I was (allegedly) supposed to aspire to had long, straight hair. All of the girls in school used their flat irons religiously. Not to mention, according to Tumblr, “naturally curly hair” was supposed to look like this:
So, I hid my curls.
In sixth grade, I wore my hair in a ponytail virtually all of the time, even when I slept. I took it to the next level in seventh grade–the age of the bun, during which my mom often joked that I looked like a granny. I managed a slightly more attractive half-up, half-down look from eighth to eleventh grade, buying bedazzled clips from Claire’s in an effort to beautify the bird’s nest. (I have not included pictures of these awkward phases in order to avoid severe embarassment.) None of these were hairstyles to me. Rather, they were my attempts to control the uncontrollable, to rebel against nature’s way.
Then, my mom took me to her hairstylist.
Apparently, all of the years of ponytails and buns had caused significant damage. My hair was breaking off. I guess nature was conducting its own rebellion, each broken strand a statement against self-hate.
“You need to let it down,” the hairstylist insisted as she snip-snipped at my dead ends. “No more hair ties.”
I stared at the mirror. My curls reemerged, expanding in volume after years of restraint. “Okay,” I mumbled. At the time, it’d felt like a defeat. Soon, however, I’d realize that it was the first step towards self-acceptance.
A step. Even after I let my hair down (literally), I had to learn how to love it, even when other people didn’t. When people told me that I looked unconventional, I had learn how to take it as a compliment. When boys told me that they weren’t “into” curly hair, I had to learn how to shake it off. When people claimed that my curls concealed my Japanese identity, I had to resist the urge to think of them as a biological mistake. When family members insisted that I straighten my hair for special occassions (or even permanently–yes, I’ve been offered chemical straightening “as a gift”), I had to remind myself that curly hair is a gift.
I’ll repeat that: my curly hair is a gift.
Now, I regard my hair as a trademark of sorts. The wild spirals enhance my personality and my distinctiveness. People tell me that they can spot me from far away because of my hair, and I love that. I am identifiable–and that’s a powerful feeling.
It may seem absurd that I’ve spent the last 600+ words talking about my hair. But it’s so much more than that. I’ve learned how to love and embrace this somewhat unique part of myself, even in the face of judgment. I’ve tested the resilience of my confidence, and I’ve realized that believing in my own beauty is more important than conforming to a media standard. I’m finally comfortable with being a little different–unconventional, even–as long as that means that I’m being myself.
For some more curly hair love, read this and watch this: