Coming to Terms with my Unique Hair

As I turned down the “dental hygiene” aisle at my local Target, I see her coming too late. Our eyes meet, and before I can turn away she says, “Oh my goodness, look at that hair! My grandson has the same beautiful red hair as you.” This is a scene replayed too many times at too many locations throughout my travels. I awkwardly responded with a thanks, give a cursory smile and walked away. I never realized how my bright, curly red hair could make me stand out in the middle of a crowd, but somehow it does. It is odd that something I cannot see is so visible to others.

I grew up hearing compliments left and right from adults about how special my hair is and to “never dye it or you’ll never get that special color back!!!!!” I even ended up in a commercial when I was 4 years old for how unique my hair looks and to match the lead actresses hair color as well. (Yup, that's me on the slide at 4 years old, already peaking in life.)

Once I hit middle school, I realized that being different could be brutal. The innocence of elementary school was replaced by competition and cruelty. I knew then that everyone has something about them that makes them stand out, that defines them, whether it was athletic talent, an artistic gift, or a sense of humor. I never thought that I had a defining quality while growing up, at least not something I am proud to share with potential colleges. I was just Sophie; that girl who sits with us on the bus. This all changed one day in 7th grade biology class, my day of reckoning. While calling on students, the teacher looked at me, and said, “How about you, Merida?” For Disney fans, this is a death sentence; Merida is the princess from the movie Brave, and has identical curly red hair. Of course, the next couple of months were a bit of a nightmare. Students in the class felt a need to repeat this moment of teaching brilliance by permanently renaming me. I spent a lot of middle school even straightening my hair everyday because I wanted to be as normal as possible and stick out as little as possible.

When high school arrived, I was in for more petty torments. Freshman and sophomore years were the years of straight, long brown hair, or so it seemed from every girl walking down that hall. This was at the point where I had woken up every morning hoping that i’d magically find myself with “normal” hair. I may as well have grown a red clown nose by the looks of people as they passed. At least they weren’t telling me I looked like their grandson.

Little did I realize it at the time, but a strange thing happened. A fashion trend toward curly, frizzy hair erupted. Suddenly, I became different and stood out in a good way. My hair, which had for so long became a source of torment, would soon become my gift. People started going out of their way to achieve my “look” and started asking me how did I get my hair to “do that’. I became more confident, more comfortable in my skin, and more proud of the DNA which bestowed me with this fashion trend. This newfound confidence helped me grow both academically and socially. I accepted that I am unique, embraced my individuality and used it to become a better person. 

Today, I am encountered with people of all ages complementing the fro on my head. Now being in college for two years now, I've realized the power of something as simple as your hair. Hair is a form of self-expression, that allows people to have a first impression of you. For the longest time I fought the idea of standing out, but now I embrace my hair, and my culture that comes with it. I’ve done more than just come to terms with my hair and distinctive style, i’ve come to embrace it wholeheartedly.