Growing up there are a lot of experiences good and bad that you go through and sometimes internalize. It’s not until later that you realize that it’s OK to be you.
I was raised by both of my parents who are Black, along with my little brother. We lived in an apartment in a small community, in a place that wasn’t sunshine and rainbows all the time. There were crimes that occurred throughout the neighbourhood from time to time. I wasn’t allowed to play outside by myself because my mother was scared that me or my brother would get lost or kidnapped. So, she put us in an after-school program down the street from where we lived. It wasn’t until other kids would point it out that I realized how different I was.
Being the only Black girl in my class or program and the only person with very tight coily hair – this was my experience up until Grade 6. As I got older, I would see people in my class that had brown skin and curly hair like me. However, they were of lighter complexion with looser curls than what I had. The differences in our complexion and hair texture would change the way people would interact with us. I have 4b/4c hair, which is one of the tightest curl patterns on the spectrum. Due to this, my mother put single braids in my hair known as a protective style because she didn’t like fighting with me to try and manage my hair. Wearing my hair in braids and sometimes adding extensions came with comments like “is that your real hair” or “can I touch your hair,” which are very offensive. Other times they would ask why I had grease in my hair and if I washed it. The list could go on in terms of nasty things I’ve heard from students, teachers and program leaders about my hair.
These comments would sometimes make me uncomfortable and insecure about my hair and the styles I would try. I used to try to convince my parents to let me have my hair out like the other girls, but they never budged. They knew the reason why I was trying to switch it up was not because of myself but because of the pressure of my peers. Over the years, I had to build my self-esteem and really accept who I was even if others could not. I started to watch YouTube videos on how to do my hair by myself and I looked for different inspiration pictures so I could change the style.
The videos would tell stories about Black women and their hair journeys and life experiences that I could relate to. The process did have challenges. I would sometimes cry from sitting for long periods, not able to feel my butt or trying to put my hair in a bun and having the elastics break. I began to cherish the protective styles because they made me unique and creative. Some pros to my hairstyles were that it was protected every day; leaving my kind of hair out for long periods of time can be damaging. I could change my hair colour by getting different coloured braiding hair. Trying new things helped me to love my hair with or without the protective styles.
Growing up, I realized people will always have an opinion about who you are. Ultimately, it’s not what they say, it’s what you listen to. There comes a point in your life where you learn the importance of accepting yourself. It’s OK to embrace who you are.