Growing up, I had the most beautiful curls you can imagine. I had my own little afro and spirals growing left and right as a child. I was only a baby, so I did not know self-esteem at the time, however, it felt good having nice hair, right? When I made a trip to the salon for the first time in my life, they cut my hair very short and ruined my curl pattern. I've had pin-straight hair ever since that encounter. It was a crazy “anti-miracle,” if you will. Because of this, for the majority of my childhood, I had straight hair.
Naturally, this led to commentary by others. “What happened to her hair?” was the biggest comment of all. The constant reminder of this “past beauty” was crushing and paralyzing at one point. My existence, my being, and my personality were beaten down to one concept. Those who knew I had an afro only saw me like that. It begged the question: am I not beautiful now? Am I only beautiful with curly hair? I found myself still saying “I have natural curls!” when I ironed my hair or when I styled it. Perhaps I said so to expand my versatility or to fill the void of “I am this now, but I was this! There’s potential!”
Going back on the memories, when I hit puberty, my hair started getting textured again, and frizzier. I went to a curly hair specialist and my hair came back curly! It was not at its beautiful kinky afro stage anymore, but it was curled nonetheless. Yet, I did not feel whole. I would constantly battle my hair saying, "You’re not curly enough. You’re not good enough." Never happy and never settled.
It's evident that I never fostered an attachment to my hair. I never thought of my hair as sacred and “untouched.” To me, it was just hair. To me, it gets ruined, it gets crazy, but it gets beautiful again. It gets short, it grows back. It gets damaged, it gets fixed. To me, there is no right or wrong feeling about this conceptualized societal construct of hair. To me, hair is just hair. Facing society was the biggest issue. Why is it a big deal? Hair is a reflection of who you are, but in the way you perceive it. Messy hair does not mean a messy person, but messy hair is a free, wild and imaginative soul.
I was inspired when I went to a cancer event in 2018 and cut my curls up to my shoulders. I donated over 12 inches of spirals to a cancer patient. I did not learn from my past mistakes, and my hair turned wavy. Yet again, I found myself fighting the struggle of, “What the hell is my hair?” This time, however, I did not care, because the big difference was that I made a choice. My choice.
I've kept it short ever since, and when quarantine hit, I went even deeper. I bleached it and dyed half of it red. Then, I bleached the whole thing and made it neon pink. Very bold choices, but choices nonetheless. These were my choices and my choices only. I felt good, I felt empowered. It was freeing! It was not a choice to show off, it was not a choice to crush others' opinions or be better than anyone. It was just a choice to my hair, that I simply do not see the same as I did before. I see it as a feeling, a perspective, and an outlet. Hair to me is just hair!
Through my chaotic hair journey, I struggled to learn this. Hair is just hair. Crazy, right? Of course, I found myself in the same cycle as before, this time defending my own choices in both negative and positive comments. Anytime I go out in college, people compliment me! It makes my day! But, I find my friends and family saying “Why did you do that? You had beautiful hair before!” or “You are falling into a stereotype.” Others mention how my hair can be unprofessional, or even attack my character of being reckless. My favorite comment was from a parent to my parent: “Gabriela is very herself. Her hair is pink, for god sake!” And no offense to them, but he nailed it!
Gabriela is very much herself because Gabriela is unique, creative, smart, beautiful, strong and she just so happens to have pink hair. I am very much myself, and I am proud of that. I made this choice. I am a woman who makes her own decisions, and it's time that I make my own decisions with my hair. Hair grows, hair is natural, and it's nothing but an insignificant factor in our lives that we carry (literally). There are bigger problems in the world than what color my hair is, because it's more important to get to know the person who has it.
Someone’s hair can be a beautiful story. Who would have known my hair went through these phases? In other cultures, hairstyles mean different things. This observation, this perspective, varies from each their own. And to me, hair signifies the ups and downs of life. The always-changing of moods, the constant battle of identity, and the choices we make. To me, hair means nothing. But to me, my hair means everything.