When Hair Becomes Your Identity
Growing up, my hair was one of the many factors that defined my identity as a multiracial child to parents of different backgrounds. My mother's family runs deep with Cherokee and Creole blood, while my father (whom I never met) is half black and Italian. Growing up in the 80's when being mixed wasn't as normal as it is now, was difficult... to say the least. Kids wondered what I was rather than who I was. Having long dark curly hair that often turned blond around the edges during the summer threw most, if not, everyone off. From my subtle exotic look to curly hair, it became an unwanted identity that helped others put me in a category of its own whether I liked it or not.
Unlike most little girls whose hair hung low (or short), my mother never allowed me to wear my hair free flowing. It was always neatly braided because she never wanted anyone to play with it. I never understood why but as I grew older, I came to realize why. From middle to high school, I attended an all-girls Catholic school. It was my junior year in high school when I first wanted to explore straightening my hair for class pictures. Let me tell you how bad of an idea that was. Not only did girls look at me like who is she with a sharp-edged side eye but someone had the nerve to walk up to me and say, "Crystal! Your hair is so beautiful. Is that yours?" Before I could even process what was said, my mother (don't ask why she was there) hastily replied "Of course it is. Why wouldn't it be?!?!" Not only did I feel bad for the girl, but myself. I would go on to hear the same question but in different ways for several years.
I started straightening my hair because I wanted to blend in with all of the white girls I saw at school, in magazines and let's not to mention the modeling world. Been there done that. After being compared to the average girl next door, trying to be a model from 2002-2004 was not for me. Plus, who was the girl next door?
After years of wondering what it'd be like to really embrace my hair without caring what others would say, I fell in love with my natural mane. People didn't ask as many questions because I became the woman with the big hair. I should preface that in 2016, I chopped it all off. At the time I wanted something different and for people to see my face first, not hair. It was so short that you could see my scalp! Clearly, I was not playing around. Short hair is amazing because it requires less maintenance and I no longer have an excuse to use it as a distraction when I'm nervous. Fast forward, it's been 2.5 years since the cut but I decided in January to start growing it back. The journey has been interesting. Although there are times I literally look like a chia pet, I've learned to be more comfortable in my skin - no personal judgement, comparison or thoughts on what others think of my hair.
Note: My mother is also extremely happy that I'm growing my hair out.... very happy!!!