Reagan Ladd – My Hair

“Reagan, stop all that moving!” my mom fussed at me. She was braiding my hair back into cornrows, and I was already regretting asking her to do it. My mom always did my hair for me when I was a kid; I had a lot of it, and it was too much to manage for an eight-year-old. I have always been tender-headed which basically means I would cry before she even put the comb to my head. About an hour in I would pretend I needed to scratch my head, but secretly I was checking to see how many more braids she had left and how long until this torture was over. The feeling of the cold mousse coating my head after she was done was like a reward.

During my middle school years, I had the task of washing and styling my own hair, and I would do the same style every single day. I would wet my brush and slick my thick hair into the fluffiest puffball on the top of my head. Going to a predominantly white school, teachers and kids would always make comments on my hair: “Wow your hair is so…huge!” or the infamous “Can I touch it?” I always felt so insecure, almost like I was in a petting zoo. I would sit in the back of the class to make sure I wasn’t seen and that my afro did not obstruct anyone’s view. During lunch I would sit with my friends and the most random topics would always come up: “How often do you wash your hair?” was one of them, and everyone looked at me waiting for a response. I answered confidently thinking this was a normal duration between hair washes “Once a week,” I said. A look of disgust filled their faces.

“Oh my God only once a week? That is so nasty your hair must be so dirty!” they shouted. I could feel my cheeks grow hot with embarrassment. Growing up around my sister and family members who did the same thing, I obviously assumed this was the norm, and not one to two times a day like my friends. That moment at the lunch table was something that would be etched into my memory for a long time…

Sleepovers on the weekend would roll around, and I was always so excited to see what my friends had planned for the night. Most of the activities I could be included in like obviously the prank calls, movies, and facemasks. It was until they pulled out those little pink brushes filled with long pieces of blonde hair that I knew my time was coming to an end. Those stupid braid trains. I was so jealous that they could run their fingers through each other’s hair, and not have to worry about them getting caught onto anything. Their hair was never caked with product so they never got questions about why their hair was so oily. I would just slip my bonnet on, and go lay down on the bed. They would then ask questions like “why are you wearing a hat to bed?” or “can I try it on?” passing it around like I brought it for show and tell. I know they were just curious, but I always felt like I was being ridiculed– so after that I started to remember to just sneak it on after everyone was asleep. Being so young in that situation I felt so different and excluded. All I could do was wish I had hair like them and yearn for the winter season when I could finally straighten my hair.

I remember the smell of the flatiron running against my hair, and the feeling of the heat getting too close to my ears making me tingle with nerves. During those winter months I felt so beautiful. felt like a movie star with all eyes on me–showered with what I did not know were backhanded compliments. Being told “I like your hair better like this,” and “you look prettier when your hair looks like mine” didn’t occur to me that those comments meant that my curly hair wasn’t deemed as pretty, and I wasn’t beautiful in my natural state, until a few years ago. It didn’t click to me that my peers did not like me as me, and my hair for what it was: a big kinky, coily afro. I was so sick of my hair. I felt like I was the only one with my type of hair; even all of my cousins had light, bouncy, loose curls inherited to them by their white moms.

Moving up into high school I began to surround myself with people who looked more like me. They had the same hair as me, so beautiful, thick, and- is that a wig? Since when do they wear wigs? Did I miss the “We’re in high school so natural hair is immature now” meeting? They looked so much older, and I looked like I was still in the sixth grade. I started to notice how when we would go out now, I was the only one who wore my hair curly, and even the curly wigs that they would wear were loose and wavy curls. I felt so overlooked, and I was getting tired of having a distaste for something I couldn’t change, something that was a part of me, and something that I should love.

Loving yourself is a roller coaster, and it takes so much time. You have to unlearn so much jealousy and negativity that you have towards yourself. I had to learn to stop comparing myself to strangers, family, and friends and be grateful for the way my hair is. My hair is big, kinky, loud, black, and untouchable. I know what my hair needs to thrive, and I nourish my hair like the sun nourishes its flowers. I know that I have beautiful hair, and I wear it on display. I don’t feel like I’m in a petting zoo anymore, but more of an art exhibit.

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