Hair Story: Alice

Hair Story: Alice
My mom says I used to eat my hair. So, my parents shaved my head when I was like 1 or 2 years old. So my entire toddlerhood, I just looked like a boy. I don’t know if it was an anxious mechanism or if I just didn’t like having hair on my head but I would just rip it out and eat it. Very weird. That’s my first hair memory. My siblings - I have two sisters, one is 14 and one is 16 - can put in braids, they can do cornrows, my sister knows how to crochet. They really grew up in a time when my mom had had it with hair so they really had to figure it out for themselves. But I grew up with my grandmother and my mom so my hair was always in those little balls where you make a braid and you put the little balls in. I just always had some kind of braids in my hair - always natural, until I was like 14. In early middle school I got bullied for my hair. This kid Wally would call me “shit locks” because my hair was always in braids. It was so stupid I was like - “your sister probably has braids!” But because of it I just hated my natural hair. I wanted to straighten it and do whatever I could to just make it look like Jordan’s or Crystal’s - whoever my friend was at the time. So my mom permed my hair when I was around 7th or 8th grade. I still didn’t know what I was doing - it looked bad. It would be straightened but I was burning it every single day and the hair was just very unhealthy for a long time. I didn’t get comfortable going natural until college. So for 6 solid years I was just burning my hair, perming my hair, doing whatever I could to get it to be pin straight. I couldn’t even imagine being natural. Then freshman year when I got to Williams [College], other black girls had braids in and it’s fucking cold in Williamstown and I was like I’m gonna try it - I’m going to put braids in. And I was really worried too because Williams is so...what it is. And I didn’t want to get looks because people have so many stereotypes about weave or any hair that is different really. So I was really scared. And right when I decided to start wearing braids I also started dating a white guy. So I was like “how am I going to navigate this? He’s not going to get it. I need to put my bonnet in before I go to bed - what am I going to do?” you know. But I did it - I went natural and I did braids. He didn’t really care. I don’t think he knew it wasn’t my hair. *laughs* He just didn’t understand so he never asked. We just never really spoke about it. He just knew that he couldn’t touch it. But I had to take my braids out at a certain point and I’m like “Oh shit, he’s going to see my natural hair.” I took the braids out and then immediately got it blowed dried. He never saw it natural. I don’t think he saw it natural until the summer. Because in the summer I don’t do braids because it’s hot and I want to just have my curls out. So I finally wore my curls and he was like “I love it - you look so good!” And that was when I first started feeling like “Okay, people can handle this. People aren’t going to keel over” *laughs* and I started wearing my natural hair out. So, I think Williams actually gave me a space to explore. I‘ve gone through phases of wanting to just shave my head. Especially when I don’t have braids in because I just don’t know how to do my hair. I have no idea how to cornrow or put weave in. So I’ve thought “Shave my head. Just do it” and I think if my mom were to let me, I would actually do it. I think it would hurt her too much. She had cancer last year and the chemo wiped her hair out and now it’s growing back. And it’s growing back like baby hair in these soft curls. She can’t color it anymore obviously so it’s grey. There’s something about seeing her embrace her natural grey curls that has made me realize that there’s literally nothing wrong with natural hair. You get this feeling that because my hair is a little bit more difficult to work with or takes a little extra time it must not be good hair. Because I can’t just get out of bed and have my natural hair, it must not be good hair. I think I’ve spent a lot of time trying to break out of that. And in trying to break out of that mindset I wore my fro out to work this week and I was like “Alright, I am walking in with my fro out” and I felt like I was ready to fight, like I was literally going to war. I was defensive all day and just waiting for someone to say something. But nothing happened. No one said anything. It literally went unsaid. Which sometimes can be worse, right?! Like, if you as a white person came in with a completely different hairstyle everyone would say something! I’m the only black female investor at my firm. There are other black people working in HR and marketing at the firm but there are only three black investors. It’s me and two older men who are black. So, I think people are on eggshells like, “Should I comment on her hair?” When I came in with braids, same thing - it went unsaid. I feel like it’s more awkward for them to say nothing than for them to be like “Your hair looks different! What did you do?” or even just like “It looks nice.” That’s something that I’m trying to figure out too - how to navigate my hair in a space that is so conservative, like finance. It’s annoying that I know, for the summer, I won’t be able to have my hair out. I’ll have to keep getting it blow-dried and keep it looking “kept” or “presentable.” My aunt has dreads and she’s a lawyer. She gets a lot of looks anytime she’s meeting with clients. And it’s frustrating because it’s like “why is this taking up mental space?” But I think I’m more adventurous now with it. I’m a little bit more comfortable. It’s still something that takes up space for me. I felt like at Williams, I could do pretty much what I wanted with it. Maybe it was the friends I surrounded myself with. I could change it and no one would say anything or if they did it would be positive - “Ooh your hair looks good!” So I think it’s the environment. It’s also Boston. Like if I was in a city that was full of people of color, not only would I be seeing it all the time, but so would everyone else. I think it’s this unfamiliarity that has people not knowing how to navigate it - what to say, what to do. So it’s just awkward for everyone involved. I think it’s the space. Like I want to be like - it’s going to be different next week! You might not recognize me! But I’ve definitely gotten more adventurous. My hair was straight all summer, but it’s a thing like here’s what’s practical for work, but there’s also what’s practical for my life. It’s not practical for me to have my hair blow dried every single day. I go to the gym! I want to have my hair in a hairstyle. I feel like it’s a constant battle of what needs to happen for me and what do I need to present to the outside world. I wish those things were not in conflict with each other. I am trying shit out though. I have clip-ins right now. But no one really teaches you how to shop for hair. I don’t know how to go about buying hair or buying a wig. I have no clue. It’s not something that I learned. So braids have been my go-to since I first tried them. I’m afraid to take the leap. I love my hair, I love the versatility, the unpredictability of it - even to me, and the possibilities. I can’t wait to explore and do new things.

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