I can't pinpoint the exact moment my hair became a blessing instead of a curse. It wasn't in elementary school, when outings to the local Supercuts left me in tears. It wasn't in middle school, when the poofy pyramid sitting on my head was so different from the straight, obedient hair of the rest of my family that a few of my classmates asked if I was adopted.
By the time I reached high school, I'd given up trying to tame the beast. I stopped cutting and shampooing, and let my hair do its thing. No drastic change occurred overnight, but by senior year my hair fell down my back in curls of varying shapes and sizes. Still, beautiful hair has a price.
From Samson's shorn locks to Kate Middleton making headlines when she changes hairstyles, people all over the world, at every point in time, have been obsessed with hair. But in this country, we have a particular obsession with controlling hair.
With hair tied to so many aspects of a person -- gender, race, sexuality, health -- it's not surprising that many decide other's tresses are their business. Just look at the petition to comb Blue Ivy's hair. Now, I am not a black woman, and I don't know what it's like to have my hair viewed as a politically-charged statement. But as my hair has grown longer and wilder, I've discovered that all curls are politicized to some extent.
Curls aren't regular, or docile, or malleable. Most people see curls as a problem to be corrected.
"Your hair is so long! It's beautiful," strangers will say to me, but before I can thank them, the compliment is almost always followed by "Have you ever considered straightening it?"
Family, friends, acquaintances, strangers, everyone seems to have an opinion about my hair.
"Never cut it!"
"So you ever planning on getting some of that mane cut off?"
"You should donate it."
I understand, and respect, women in orthodox cultures who choose to cover their hair to shield it from the gaze of outsiders. My hair is powerful. Curls are contradictory, associated with both childhood innocence and uninhibited sexuality. For some reason, this gives certain guys the license to comment, from the innocuous -- "Your hair is top-tier." -- to the insulting: "Your hair looks like you just... y'know."
And of course, people want to touch it. My hair has its own atmosphere, and woe to anyone who gets caught in it. I can see the look in their eyes, as their gaze drifts from my face to my curls.
"Can I touch your hair?" they say, their hands already buried in my thick locks. But, my hair is magical, attuned to my feelings -- if I like you, the petting and braiding and touching feels nice. If I don't, well, your sweaty palms manage to snag on every knot and tangle.
With the chic bob re-emerging as a hot trend, and the fear of frizz instilled in young women like the fear of death, my friends and family often ask me when I'll cut my hair. I never have an answer. I keep it long not to make a statement, but because my hair is part of me. When I let my hair down, I envision Jane Eyre wandering through the moors, Lady Godiva riding through Coventry, a Pre-Raphaelite painting. But the epitaph that gets thrown my way the most is dirty hippie. The fact that I go through approximately one bottle of shampoo a year probably doesn't help.
It's just always surprising to me how often I am judged because of my hair. I think my curls are beautiful. My hair is big, and easy to hide behind. Many times I wonder if people see my hair instead of me. If my hair disappeared, would I go along with it? My curls are part of me, but they shouldn't define me, either.