I AM #HAIRSTRONG: Curly Red Hair as part of My Identity
Picture this: a small cherub-like child with adorable dimples, big blue eyes, and flames of red hair resting in a perfect crown on the top of her head. She was friends with small animals, who often helped her get dressed in the morning. She ate all the pie but also grew up in the body positive movement so she was v. confident. People noticed her unique hair but no one ever made a big deal about it, and the older she got, the more she realized it was special and beautiful. Yes, that was definitely the story of my childhood, I am being completely honest. It’s 100% true.
Fine, whatever. You don’t know me. That could have happened.
My reality was more of a beet-faced, orange-haired child who was crying all the time. Presumably because I stood out, little old ladies would constantly pinch my cheeks; in the park, at the mall, at school. For years. My hair has always been part of my identity, as it is for most people who have hair that looks different than most. Yet when you have every person and their mother (literally) telling you how “lucky” you are to have such beautiful, natural red hair and such amazing texture at an age where you’d rather be invisible, it doesn’t feel so lucky.
My father and I embracing our true identities. Age 6 yo.
My mom, who is a brunette, was the worst of them all (sorry Mom, I love you, it’s not your fault - I mean, it is your fault, but I forgive you). Everywhere we went she had to compulsively point out other redheads in a very loud, over-exaggerated whisper. Not just the redheads but also the poser redheads.
“Shhhh Alyssa.” (Stage whisper while overtly points at a random woman 20 feet away.)
“THAT hair is not real. Yours is WAY better.” (Snickers delightedly while eating her free Costco sample.)
That woman was like 80, let her live her life, Mom.
As puberty hit, my hair became harder to tame—I call it my orange hazard cone phase. YouTube wasn’t a thing yet, so I did what most other curly girls did: I fried my hair. Totally, completely destroyed it. I straightened it every day, and if I didn’t straighten, I crimped. There was one brief period in my life where I tried to go “natural” but I didn’t understand what that meant. I washed my hair with baking soda every day for 6 weeks! It didn’t end well. Eventually, I did the only thing that seemed to make sense. I disassociated from my hair. I pulled it in a bun and made it look as non-assuming as humanly possible.
You see what I was saying about the orange hazard cone? Age 17 yo.
If your home is a reflection of your life, then your hair is a reflection of how you treat yourself. I couldn’t look in the mirror. I hated everything about the way I looked, especially the Halloween-themed cotton candy plopped on my head. Eventually, I grew up, got married, had kids. Life went on with brief periods of attempting to make my hair look nice here and there, but I mostly gave up. I was doomed to have frizzy, wispy, thinning hair in a conversation-starting shade. I would be probably bald by the time I was 35. It was my destiny, I accepted it.
My daughter and I. Me with a religious head covering.
My son and I. Wearing a wig.
Let me explain: One thing I have never spoken about on Instagram is that once I married my husband, I covered my hair with a headscarf and a wig, as is very common in many religious communities. I sometimes mention my Judaism on my social media; I certainly don’t make it a secret, but this aspect of my life was something that not many people understand. I feared a lot of judgment, both from my community and the outside world. I kept my hair covered for the better part of 6 years. It fell out after having both of my children. I began to get bald spots where the wig clips gripped my scalp. My hair was thinning and oily, but it didn’t matter to me because I could have the beautiful, fabulous hair I always wanted, whenever I wanted.
I struggled with hair covering for a long time, and I still struggle with it in many ways. But that’s the story for another blog post. I knew that when I made the decision to uncover, I had to do it right; for empowerment and ownership. Since I know that people will ask, I’ll just say right here and right now that my husband has always been my biggest supporter and encouraged me to live my truth in the way that works for me. Hair covering can be so beautiful, and millions of women connect to the concept to feel spiritually empowered. But at the end of the day, it was just not right for me.
Probably the first time I actually loved how my hair looked. Age 28 yo.
My curly red hair was part of my identity, and there was no more covering that up. There is no doubt that the biggest game-changer for me in embracing my natural hair was discovering the curly girl community on Instagram. I first came upon the beautiful red haired goddess known as @kelsiefields, in a random sponsored ad. My first thought was, Hey, my hair could look like that. I slowly tumbled into the dark hole that is the Curly Girl Method and life hasn’t been the same. Incorporating the right products and tools, including the Aquis Hair Turban, was huge. Caring for my hair properly for the first time in my life has opened the door to me gaining confidence, learning how to be myself, taking risks and putting myself out into the world. I’ve also learned about imperfection and curl sister solidarity!
I want to finalize this post with a spiel on my soapbox. It isn’t said nearly enough, so I’m just going to come out with it. My experiences with not accepting my hair is only a fraction of what women of color experience. I owe my entire self-care discovery to the beautiful women of color that banded together to own their natural hair. Thank you to all the women out there who are finding and owning themselves through self-expression. It’s beautiful, you’re beautiful. Everyone else can just go ahead and…. do the thing that you’re thinking I’m saying in my head.
Last but not least, here is a list of personas you can don when you are having a bad hair day. I’ve personally used them myself and find this form of method-acting extremely therapeutic:
- Salty sea witch
- Warrior Viking Goddess
- Cheryl Strayed in the middle of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail
- What Wilson, the volleyball from Cast Away, would have looked like if he wasn’t a volleyball
- An insta-famous cat who secretly loves all the pictures her owner posts looking miserable
- Alyssa Reiner