Love My Locks: I Ruined My Hair Trying to Keep Up With White Beauty Standards

This article is part of the Her Campus Kenyon series Love My Locks, in which our writers discuss their relationships to their manes. A huge thank you to Ulta Beauty and Bed Head for gifting us with so many hair goodies in the College Fashion Week Essentials Kit!


I was born with relatively straight hair, so when that pesky little thing called ‘puberty’ decided to butt into my life, my Latina curls began to come in. It was like having a completely foreign object on my head that I didn’t know how to handle. In addition to that, I was used to often being the only person of color in a room, but now my curls made me stand out even more amongst my peers at my predominantly white school. I would pull my hair back into a tight bun to disguise the reality that I had curly hair and my mother would often straighten my hair with a flat iron because I would beg her to frequently. Looking back on it now, it’s sad and truly unfathomable how something as simple as going swimming could produce so much stress for a young girl, just because it would get her hair wet and expose her true hair texture to her peers. In fact, my best friend didn’t even know I had curly hair until three years into our friendship.

The things that surrounded me in my vulnerable adolescent years cornered me into a toxic mindset that was filled to the brim with unrealistic expectations for my appearance. When I was around eleven I distinctly remember watching the Victoria’s Secret fashion show for the first time. After that, I wanted nothing more than to be one of those girls. Around that same time, my magazine subscriptions began to start flooding in. The pages in my magazines and the screen on my television were filled with girls that looked nothing like me; the majority being Caucasian models, with idealized waists, and impossibly long legs to match their long flowing hair. Even the black and brown models displayed pin straight hair that embodied the frizz-less dream I had every night when I went to sleep and continued to have every conscious second while awake.

The world around me reinforced my internalized colorism and racism, then and now. It pushes me to stay out of the sun because when I tan my skin tone becomes so dark that people say I appear to ‘change ethnicities.’ If I can’t find the right shade of makeup, it pushes me to go for a lighter shade instead of one slightly darker. And it pushes me to alter my hair because I’d rather have straight and ruined hair than curly unkempt locks.

Looking into the mirror, my deep brown eyes and my dark brown hair seemed to fall flat against my honey skin. My appearance had always seemed plain to me and I wanted to do something to alter what I looked at. Anything really. My desire to change it into anything stemmed from my unrealistic expectations for my appearance. I always thought I could look better than I actually looked. I always wanted to experiment with dying my hair, but my mother was against this idea, so I went with the only other drastic decision I could think of: cut off 14 inches of my hair.

When I decided to begin dying my hair one year later, I began with doing balayages. Balayage translates to “hair painting” and is a more subtle alternative to highlights and ombre. After that, I got some blonde highlights right before going off to college. I would soon discover that blonde takes a lot of care to maintain. The highlights eventually turned a brassy orange within a month. Over the break, I went back and dyed my whole hair even blonder than the last time in anticipation of the brassiness to come while I was at school.

As my roots grew out, I decided to buy some hair dye and try to dye my hair on my own in my dorm room. I dyed the underside of my hair a peachy pink. Also, I used some bleach to touch up my roots and the darker top half of my hair. This resulted in a very splotchy and overall poorly done dye job (don’t bleach your hair unless you know what you’re doing or have someone to help you!). Once I felt comfortable with the splash of pink, I dyed the entire bottom half of my hair bright pink. I ended up adding more bleach later that month to fix the mess I had made. When the school year had ended, I bleached my orange/pink “Coachella/Strawberry Shortcake” (as a friend had referred to it as) even more in order to dye it a beautiful lilac. Last, but not least, at the end of the summer I dyed my hair bright pink. Fantastical colors like purple and pink fade quickly to a pastel, which is where my hair has settled to right now.

My hair over the course of last year:

Be careful what you wish for…

The dying process exposes your hair to harmful chemicals but my true downfall was the amount of heat I exposed my hair to through styling tools. I have been heavily attached to my flat and curling irons for the past decade trying to stay away from my curly reality. I thought my hair was invincible all of these years, all the way up until the consequences of bleach inevitably hit. And they hit hard. The bleach from all of the hair processes had thinned out my hair so much, that wouldn’t have been so evident if I didn’t add the additional daily heat damage to it. Maybe it looks like my hair is okay to those who don’t know what damaged hair looks like. I like to hope that people think I just have an uber layered angsty haircut to match my brightly colored hair. But, the truth is, the layers in my hair aren’t intentional at all. It’s all entirely due to hair damage. When I look in the mirror, it looks like I am smiling for my selfies, but mostly I’m trying to smile for myself.

In the past year, I have dyed my hair six different color combinations. Unfortunately, all of the bleach from the dying processes and the heat from styling tools have damaged my hair to an irreparable point. Some days I don’t care much about the brittle hair attached to my head. But other days I wish that when I ran my fingers through the brittle hair that is barely attached to my head, I wouldn’t have to watch clumps of hair fall to the ground. I try to look at it all as a learning experience, but often it makes me want to cry when I look at the clogged shower drain because it looks as if my whole head of hair is right there on the floor in front of me and I wonder if I’ll ever just run out of hair entirely to clog the drain with. I’m 19 years old and it’s surely sad to see my hair falling out but it’s heartbreaking to know that it’s all my fault. I know it is just hair, and, fortunately for me, it will all eventually grow back. I don’t regret experimenting to the point of no return with my hair but I do regret not taking the time to learn about loving my hair for its natural beauty.

My hair currently:


Image Credit: Writer's Own