Students Use Hair as a Form of Identity and Self-Expression
Much like fashion, hair has much more meaning than some may think. In fact, hair is often used as a form of identity and self-expression. Whether dying your luscious locks every color of the rainbow or embracing the au natural look, there’s a lot more to hair than just “hair.”
As a child, Franshelis Calderon, a senior at UAlbany, struggled with finding out who she was. This was apparent in her hair style at the time. She currently rocks a natural pixie cut, the polar opposite of the straight, longer hair style she wore growing up. “I used to straighten it all the time as a teenager,” Calderon stated. “I’ve always loved my curls but my mom put a lot of pressure on me to assimilate. Unfortunately, in my culture, straight hair and Eurocentric features are considered more beautiful and I still get flack from my family members for my decision to go natural.”
Calderon took an even bolder step in staying true to herself when she cut her hair short. “My dad hated it. He viewed long hair [as] synonymous with beauty,” she said. Vehemently disagreeing with this view, Calderon added that she felt more beautiful now than ever before. When asked about what pushed her to make the cut, Calderon said, “I was going through a phase of internal transformation when I decided to cut it. [I wanted to] change the way I communicated with people, change the way I felt my emotions…to reaffirm the fact that I was changing, I changed my hair.”
Calderon added, “My curls complete me. They show my African roots.” She embraced short hair to show that she had blossomed into a stronger person. At the end of our interview, Calderon reflected, “Now I can just be who I am. It just took me a while to find it.”
Natalya Dumont expressed a similar struggle growing up. “All the woman I grew up with always put [in] texturizers and perms to make our hair straight so we could ‘fit in.’ Curly hair wasn’t seen as beautiful,” Dumont explained. She has tried every hair style from perms to weaves, but cutting her permed hair is the moment she was most passionate about. “I decided to finally cut all of the straight ends of my hair and my natural little afro started to blossom. It made me celebrate my natural beauty. I didn’t feel like I had to fit in anymore,” Dumont shared.
By no means did either girl feel like subverting the cultural norm of straight hair was easy. Society does not make it easy. Both girls felt the pressure of Eurocentric beauty standards. Calderon stated, “I feel for the women like me who are told their natural hair is too nappy and unkempt for the workplace, and the little girls that are deprived of opportunities to learn because their natural hair is seen as a distraction. Your hair shouldn’t be seen as a reason for you not to get a job or an education.”
Hair is a part of every person’s identity and no one deserves to have their identity attacked.