All Locked Up

A personal hair-story.

Illustration by Kelly

A month ago I was riding the metro in Washington, D.C., when I locked eyes with a cuddling teenage couple sitting across from me. I smiled at them and turned on my iPod.

A few minutes later, my music-induced trance was broken when I sensed that they were talking about me. Through the strains of Nina Simone’s “Lilac Wine,” I heard this high school girl with cocoa-colored skin and chemically straightened hair tell her partner that she wanted dreadlocks like mine.

In response, her boyfriend shot her a sharp look, rolled his eyes and snapped, “Really? Dreads are horrible, dirty, and ugly—especially on girls. You’ve got ‘good hair.’ If you want to stay with me, stay pretty and keep your hair straight.”

Giggling anxiously, the girl glanced at my iPod to confirm that I wasn’t listening to their conversation before reassuring him, “I was just kidding. I’ll keep my hair nice.”

I turned up the volume and took some deep breaths to calm my anger. Did they realize how hateful they sounded? As they walked off the train hand in hand, I fought the strong urge to scream, “Don’t date him, girl!”

I wish I could say this the first time I’ve overheard that kind of conversation, but it’s not. I’ve been hearing variations on it my whole life. As a southern-born African-American girl who attended predominantly white boarding schools, I am well acquainted with the sexism, racism, and colorism that shape people’s attitudes toward black hair. Strangers, friends, family, and ex-loves have tried to make me feel bad about my hair throughout my life. For a long time, it worked. But then one day I decided that I was done attaching my self-esteem to what other people think I should look like.

Although it has often been painful, the struggle to love my hair made me who I am today, and I’m grateful for that. Here’s how it went:

1980: When I was born, I had so little hair that my parents put a pink headband on my head so that people would know I was a girl. “Thank the lord she has hair now,” my grandmother still says. “She was a bald little something when she was a newborn. We were worried her hair would never grow.”

1984: My family Christmas card read “Peace on Earth” and featured a picture of me wearing tap shoes, my sequined dance costume, a toothy grin, and a huge sandy-colored Afro. I remember when my parents took the picture, and when I think of it now, I realize it was one of the last moments in my life when I felt totally confident and free, blissfully ignorant of mainstream beauty ideals or other people’s issues with my hair.

1985: I asked my mom why my hair didn’t bounce around like Punky Brewster’s curly pigtails. My mom laughed and told me that while my hair didn’t swing, it could do lots of things Punky’s couldn’t, and I should be proud of that.

I ignored her, and spent my days running around the house with a towel on my head, pretending that my short little Afro had been transformed into long, flowy locks. My mom told me not to break my neck tossing my “hair” like the white girls on TV and carefully monitored the ratio of my white Barbies to the black, Asian, and Latina dolls in my collection.

My parents had cultivated their own Afros since the ’70s and were especially sensitive about shielding me from media messages that reinforced a white beauty ideal. When they recognized that I was absorbing negative perceptions of my own hair, I received a birthday cake decorated with Rainbow Brite—with brown skin. They also gave me a copy of Camille Yarbrough’s book Cornrows to encourage me to be proud of my heritage. I loved the book because it reminded me of my original style icon, my mother, who wore beautiful braided styles and then unraveled them to reveal gorgeous waves that I envied and adored.

1987: We moved away from our mostly African-American community in South Carolina and I started grade school at a mostly white international school. After growing tired of being called “Medusa” because the ends of my cornrows were braided and decorated with the colorful beads that I loved, I finally begged my mom to fix my hair into a single French braid.

1988: During gym, we lined up to learn square dancing. I was paired with a gangly blonde boy from New Zealand who said he wanted a new partner, and not one with “cotton-candy hair. ” My cheeks burned as my classmates laughed. The teacher responded by silently walking me away from the boy and placing me with another girl as a dance partner instead.

Later that afternoon, I snuck into the bathroom so I could squeeze my afro-puffs in my hand. Did they really feel like cotton candy? My hair felt so wonderfully springy in my hands—why would that be a bad thing? A few days later, I asked my mom if I could get a “baby relaxer” from the brand Soft & Beautiful’s kiddie-perm line, Just for Me. My mom said I was too young and would have to wait until I was 10 or 11. I honestly liked my hair because it was soft and reminded me of my dad’s Afro, but I was tired of being singled out at school. While I understood my parents’ reluctance, I still to pestered them to let me relax it because I wanted to look like the other girls.

1990: During our annual family reunion, I heard one of my older cousins whisper to my straight-haired, tan-skinned multiracial grandmother, “It’s a good thing Jamia is a good talker and she’s smart, because she sure doesn’t look like much compared with her cousins.” I looked around at my family, observed the ones with lighter skin and silky hair, and contrasted it with my darker shade and kinky head. My face grew hot with anger, but I refused to give her the satisfaction of knowing she’d made me feel inferior. I thought to myself, I am smart and I’ll always be smart, and resolved to take that on as my shield.

Still, it got to me. A few months later, I convinced my mom to let me get my hair straightened. The lye in the chemical relaxer burned my scalp and my curls into what the product described as “bone-straight” submission. Thirty minutes later, I finally had hair that swung back and forth when I shook my head.

I loved feeling my hair move in the wind. But it wasn’t long before I came to resent how it would frizz up in the humid heat and kink up at the slightest hint of rain, and how the maintenance required for me to get in the pool prevented me from joining the swim team. Because I liked swimming so much, I decided to get hair extensions so I would be able to wash my hair without having to straighten and blow-dry it so often. All that fuss made me wish I had the courage to wear it in dreadlocks like my style icon, the high priestess of The Cosby Show, Lisa Bonet.

1995: Our family hairdresser, Betty, told me that I had pretty eyes like Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes (RIP) and commanded me to ask my mom if I could stop getting braided extensions and get my hair relaxed instead. Betty gave me bangs to match Left Eye’s and showed me how to blow-dry my hair straight and wrap it at night. She instructed me to get $60 touch-ups every few weeks so no “nappy hairs” would ruin my look. While I had reservations about the cost and time investment required, I took her advice and basked in the compliments, even when they came in the form of underhanded comments about my natural look. I’ll never forget how, on one of my first dates, the guy looked at me and said, “Wow, with your hair straight like that you are almost beautiful.” I grimaced and turned my face away as he tried to kiss me. I wondered what he thought of his own cropped kinky coils.

1997: When I was 17, I saved money from my internships and summer job and took a trip to the city to get a “Hawaiian Silky” human-hair weave. My boarding school roommates named the weave “Baywatch Barbie,” as if it had an identity of its own. I noticed that the attention I received from boys skyrocketed. It made me feel ill that the weave made such a difference. Did these boys like me or my fake hair?

I waited too long to take the weave out—I wanted to get the most for my money!—and when I did, it had become matted to my head. Getting it off required me to rip out clumps of real hair and made my scalp irritated and flaky. I began considering putting an end to my war with my natural hair.

1998: I started my freshman year of college at American University in D.C. with a fresh new head of braid extensions. Even though I thought I had learned my lesson with the weave debacle of 1997, I was afraid to wear my hair free when starting college. After so many years of hiding it, I felt vulnerable wearing it natural and guilty for not being able to stomach the prospect of being marginalized or judged for the way I looked.

In my Dissident Media course in the communications department, I was assigned a research project on censorship in schools. I read up on the media controversy surrounding Carolivia Herron’s Nappy Hair, a children’s book that de-stigmatizes and celebrates natural hair. Even though I spent my time in school passionately arguing that Herron’s book be taught in schools despite parental objection, I still wasn’t brave enough to bare (or bear!) my own hair. I spent half of the money I earned at the computer lab and babysitting on extensions that took hours to braid into my curls, to make sure I looked “presentable.”

This same year, an elderly professor pulled me into his office and told me that I could have a long career in broadcast journalism because I was “articulate” and have a “young face that will ensure a longer shelf life as a female reporter.” But he also warned me that I could never work with my hair in braids and instructed me to think about changing my hairstyle to fit in more with more “professional” looks worn by other black women on TV.

I didn’t want to choose between my job and my hairstyle, so a few months later I switched my major to print, and then finally to public relations. I regret how much I took that professor’s words to heart, but I am also grateful for them. That interaction gave me a final push to begin pursing my passion, feminist media activism.

1999: I went to go see feminist royalty bell hooks read at Vertigo Books for the launch of her children’s book Happy to Be Nappy, a beautiful story about brown girls celebrating and embracing their natural hair texture. Paging through the book, I was delighted to see girls and boys of all colors using positive words to describe “nappy” hair.

On the internet, I discovered Nappturality, one of the earliest online communities devoted to natural hair. For the next five years, I visited this site every day to read stories and messages from women who were transitioning their hair from chemical relaxers and hair extensions to Afros, natural twists, and dreadlocks.

I longed to try dreadlocks, but my fear of being judged and ridiculed held me back—so every few months I forked over almost as much money as my rent to get my hair done.

In the meantime, I pasted pictures of Lisa Bonet and Lauryn Hill into my journal with the goal of inspiring myself to take the plunge and do what I knew in my heart I needed to do—stop hiding my real hair.

2004: After I broke up with a boyfriend who told me that I couldn’t pull off short hair or dreads, I cut all my hair off. I washed that man out of my hair, and years of self-loathing and racist conditioning went down the drain, too. For a week I went around town holding my Afro’d head high, loving the feeling of the air on my neck and the lightness of not having fake hair on my head. As my hair grew longer, I finally did what I’d been secretly longing to do for years, and started twisting it into dreads.

I wondered what took me so long. My hair was healthier and stronger than ever, and while most people complimented the change, others still asked whether my hair was clean, real, or fake. My grandma, always the head member of the hair police, asked me if she could pay me $50 to press and iron my hair back to “nice and normal.”

2005: While riding the metro in D.C., I felt a strange tug. I whipped around to see a white man in a business suit standing behind me with a smug look on his face. “I’ve always wanted to touch that kind of hair and wondered what it felt like,” he said, oblivious to my disgust.

A few months later, I was flirting with the gorgeous, shaved-head son of a family friend when he asked, “Do you always wear your hair in braids or locks? Do you think you will ever change it? You’re so pretty, so I was just wondering if it will always be like that—you could be even prettier.” I responded by rolling my eyes, laughing, and sniping: “People with no hair shouldn’t tell people with hair how to wear it.”

I realized then that my new style was a great litmus test for evaluating dating prospects. If a guy was going to try to change my hair, he was probably going to try to control me in other ways. If he was superficial enough to tell me how to style my hair, he was probably lacking the depth I was looking for in a partner.

2007: I was racing to a graduate school class at NYU when a homeless man began his catcalls. When I ignored his compliments, he began serenading me: “You dirty-dreads bitch, oh dirty dreads.” I ignored him in the moment but went back to my apartment raging inside. I went over and over all of the things I wished that I’d yelled at him, and then felt guilty about giving a random street harasser so much of my precious time and energy.

A few weeks later, the radio host Don Imus called Rutgers University’s mostly black women’s basketball team “nappy-headed hos” and I once again felt the weight of the culture of racist misogyny that fills our streets and our airwaves.

2010: When I heard Sesame Street’s natural-haired brown Muppet girl sing “I Love My Hair,” which includes the lyrics “Wear a clippy or in a bow / Or let it sit in an Afro / My hair looks good in a cornrow!” I wished that I had such a tune to hum when I was a child. Joey Mazzarino, the head writer of Sesame Street, told NPR that he produced the segment because his adopted Ethiopian daughter “wanted to have long blond hair and straight hair, and she wanted to be able to bounce it around.” It made me sad to see how little had changed for African-American girls since my days running around with the towel on my head, and grateful that this man, for one, was encouraging his daughter to love her natural hair.

2011: A friend’s five-year-old son looked at me with big blue eyes and asked, “Mia, why do you wear your hair so crazy?” I pointed to his wavy blond hair and said, “Well, why do you wear your hair so crazy? I love my hair.” He smiled and said, “I love your hair, also.” I told him that I loved his curls, too.

2012: Even though having dreadlocks seems more mainstream now—I see more people than ever before wearing them on the streets and on TV—I still get tons of questions about my hair from young women of color who are contemplating going natural.

I am still frequently asked the following questions:

Q: So…how long have you had your locks?
A: Eight years.

Q: Is it all yours?
A: Yes.

Q: Can you wash your hair?
A: Yes.

Q: It looks really clean. Are you sure it isn’t braids?
A: Yes. It is really “clean” and it is not braids.

Q: Can I feel it?
A. Maybe, if I like you. No, if I don’t.

Q: What does it feel like?
A: Hair.

Q: Does it hurt? [Often said while tugging at one of my locks without asking.]
A: No. But yes, if you pull it hard like you just did.

Q: Have you ever had difficulty finding a job because of it?
A: No, not that I know of.

While I still get these questions pretty frequently, I am less bothered these days by how other people respond to my hair. While the world hasn’t changed that much since I started dealing with my own internalized racism, I have shifted my attitude to embrace my hair rather than resist it.

It’s still a challenging choice to make, but nowadays there are many supportive and dynamic online communities and spaces for women transitioning to and maintaining natural hair. I keep visiting these sites to hear about other women’s experiences with going natural, because their stories give me hope that we are (slowly but surely) getting better at accepting beauty in all its forms.

The days when my hair defined me are over, but my ’do still reminds me of the changes I’ve made, the growth and the pain. My awesome dreads represent my hard-won liberation from expectations, judgment, self-hate, and racist and sexist conditioning. For that, I am grateful to my hair. Today, as Rookie writer Danielle says on her personal bio page, I wear it natural “on purpose.” ♦


  • MissKnowItAll April 9th, 2012 7:05 PM

    If it helps, You’re hair only makes you more loveable :)

  • emilybelle April 9th, 2012 7:19 PM

    This article was really beautiful, not to mention eye-opening. I’m not black, but I used to have a few dreadlocks; people certainly treat you differently based on how your hair looks. I cut mine out because they became hard to take care of, but I’m sure yours are gorgeous, Jamia c:

    PS. Lisa Bonet is SO FINE. I aspire to have hair like hers one day!

  • kitafee April 9th, 2012 7:22 PM

    When I had chemo people always commented on which of my wigs they “liked best” and sometimes it seemed a little insensitive! It’s annoying how people think your appearance is there to be judged openly!

    In the end it’s what makes you happiest, not what other people want you to look like, i’m glad you’ve found something comfortable that you love x

    • Jamia April 9th, 2012 10:04 PM

      Sending healing vibes. Hope you are healthy and thriving.

  • Allison April 9th, 2012 7:24 PM

    I love dreads! On women especially, and of all races. I really wish I could dread my hair….Hopefully someday I will. White girls with dreads get even more lip than any black girl with dreads I’ve met (including a close friend who has beautiful dreads!).
    I just find them wonderful looking.

    • neenah April 10th, 2012 4:37 PM

      So true! I had lovely locks for a few years (before one that had merged together out of 5 smaller locks started distrupting my sleep) that I adored. I thought they were fun (still do, even though now I just have regular white girl hair). I was always getting asked when the last time I washed my hair was. The worst I ever got was when I was applying for jobs and at one location I went to shake the hand of the owner. She backed away from me with her hands up and said “just set the application on the counter.” I was so shocked by her reaction. I took the application with me telling her in no uncertain terms to fuck off. I still sort of hate that lady.

      • tallulahpond April 16th, 2012 6:24 PM

        Good for you, what a stupid old bint. I’d have said the same too.

  • tinklebot5000 April 9th, 2012 7:28 PM

    AHHH!!! I LOVE dreads! I have black AND white friends who rock the dreads look :) I’m so glad you wrote this.

  • lari April 9th, 2012 7:38 PM

    This was the best thing I’ve ever read about hair, thank you <33

  • Anna F. April 9th, 2012 7:40 PM

    LISA BONET HAS NOTHING ON YOU, JAMIA (not that beauty is a competition and you are both wonderful lovely women etc etc).

    Anyway, this is beautifully written. And I agree with the consensus that if a man (or woman!) can’t deal with your dreads, they sure as hell don’t deserve you.

  • immissworld April 9th, 2012 7:41 PM

    I stopped trying to straighten my curly hair and I get so many compliments. It feels a lot better too. I love it natural!

    • Marguerite April 10th, 2012 7:44 PM

      My friend is planning on shaving her hair this summer to let it grow naturally too.

  • willow April 9th, 2012 7:43 PM

    Rookie, I’m so glad for this article. Representing the experiences of girls from all different social locations and experiences is so important and I’m glad to see you think so too :)

  • Katherine April 9th, 2012 7:45 PM

    When I was seven, I wanted cornrows so badly because I thought they looked beautiful. I still wish I could pull them off, but I would look weird because I am Caucasian and have light brown hair.

  • youngfridays April 9th, 2012 7:46 PM

    dreads are so cool, I wish I could pull them off… maybe one day haha

    • Jamia April 9th, 2012 9:10 PM

      YES! You can pull them off! “)

  • Sphinx April 9th, 2012 7:53 PM

    This is awesome.
    What really makes the difference isn’t what your hair looks like, but how you carry it. If you feel good about it, it’s perfect,no matter what other people think/say.

  • ladylaurenia April 9th, 2012 7:53 PM

    Can I just say this article was SO inspiring. It came in just the right time, too. I’ve had braids all throughout the school year and I got them taken out this past Easter weekend. I was kind of embarassed at first to go back to school with my hair because it is MUCH shorter than the braids I had. I didn’t wanted to be bothered by friends and peers who will probably ask all these questions about hair. But this article gave me a newfound confidence! I’m only in a sophmore in highschool and I’ve been through perms, relaxers, braids, pressed, etc. But by the time my hair broke in seventh grade I had it cut really short. Since then no chemical treatments for me; my hair has been in braids. So I took it out this past weekend and it was SO thick! I had a huge afro and it grew longer! Anyway, I’m prepared now to face whatever questions I may tomorrow (we have a holiday…ha ha) and this was just a great article. I can remeber at age five BEGGING my mother for a perm. Sad. I only wish you would’ve shown us a pic of ur dreads

    • Jamia April 9th, 2012 8:50 PM

      Thank you!!! Your hair is beautiful no matter how you wear it! Here’s a pic of my hair it is longer now but you can see the texture etc-

  • maureen7 April 9th, 2012 7:56 PM

    I live in an all white town, and I’ve done my hair in braid extensions and dreads since I was about 5. I can honestly say that at least 3 times a week someone I do not know will touch my hair and ask those 8 questions. I used to get annoyed, but now I feel like I’m just educating them. At least they’re learning something new, right?

  • Hayley April 9th, 2012 7:57 PM

    I didn’t know anything about black hair…that was really interesting!

  • KinuKinu April 9th, 2012 8:08 PM

    this is so wonderful.

  • dearmia April 9th, 2012 8:13 PM

    Love this article! I’ve had thick, curly hair all my life. When I was in middle school, I’d straighten it all the time. But it was so hard to maintain, since it took forever to get straight! But now I’m all natural. I still get people who say “What does your hair look like straight?” or “Can you come to school with your hair straight? I want to see it straight” Ugh it’s so annoying. I always tell them “If you want to spend over an hour straightening THIS hair, then go ahead”

    Besides, I realized that my natural hair makes special. People can spot me in a crowd because of it! Hah

    • Jamia April 9th, 2012 9:00 PM

      YESS!!!! I have had that question too–can you come to school with your hair straight/what do you look like with it straight. “(

  • Maialuna April 9th, 2012 8:23 PM

    My parents (though they and myself are all white) have both had dreadlocks for almost 20 years. If I mention that to anyone though, they just stare at me with a confused expression and the words that almost always come out of their mouths are, “…Your parents… are… black?” I wouldn’t be surprised if some people asked that, people will be people, but everyone? It’s getting old.

    So many younger African American guys with dreads come up to my mom and given her compliments on them. Not really girls as much. Or white people with dreads.

    I heard a friend of mine (not a friend anymore) make a nasty comment about a girl two years younger than us at our school who wears her hair in an afro. Let’s say that’s one of the reasons I don’t really have connections with her anymore.

  • Jamia April 9th, 2012 8:24 PM

    Thank you so much! My heart is bursting–thanks for your kind affirmations. Sending love to you and your beautiful hair!!!!xx

  • humblemisfit April 9th, 2012 8:25 PM

    This is quite inspiring. Almost every day I wake up and I’m thinking to myself, I hate my hair. I really want to go natural and lay off all those painful chemical treatments and the dreaded hot comb, to have “good hair” and be like everyone else.

  • Laia April 9th, 2012 8:43 PM

    i can’t believe the things people say to other people! and I agree, I wish we got to see a picture of your rad hair now!

  • Jamia April 9th, 2012 8:47 PM

    humblemisfit–thank you! when its time comes when you are ready it will come and you will feel an amazing sense of power and liberation. trust me. your hair is beautiful no matter how you wear it. xo

    • humblemisfit April 10th, 2012 10:05 AM

      When that time comes, I’m so ready for it. Thank you a ton, you’re my hair positive role model! ^ _ ^

  • Tyknos93 April 9th, 2012 8:48 PM

    I’m seriously tearing up. Black Hair is a BIG THING. My dad has had locs for over 10 years and my brothers have HUGE beautiful afros.
    I recently started wearing my natural, well I stopped straightening it. It was hard work but I love how it looks natural. Most of my family did not. Especially my grandmother. She made slave remarks and said it made me look “uncared for”. My dad who doesn’t have the most “conserative” hairstyle either cracked jokes as well. Eventually though everyone just got with the program.
    In Atlanta there are so many women who are also going natural so there isn’t a shortage of inspiration!!!

    I’m now getting ready to cut off at least a third of my hair which is almost waist lenght. Thank you—your article was so inspiring.

    • Jamia April 9th, 2012 10:11 PM

      Sending love–my other grandma–not the one i mentioned in this piece told me that my hair always looks like it needs some grease in it because dreads look dry. sigh. I love them both but they both prefer the permed do’s. The sad part is that they like that my hair is long now. Before they hated it because it was locked and short.

  • Kathryn April 9th, 2012 8:51 PM

    I happen to love the look of natural hair. My cousin’s friend who I met once had the prettiest afro ever!! I’m white and live in a largely white area, and now that I think of it, I don’t know any African-American girls with natural hair (who go to my high school, anyway). So weird that people feel the need to give their criticism and opinions on the way everyone looks. A new girl recently came to my school and for that whole day I was constantly hearing people talking about her looks.

  • KK April 9th, 2012 8:53 PM

    This reminds me of “I Am Not My Hair” by India Arie

  • Isa April 9th, 2012 9:02 PM

    Thank you for this beautiful article! Only just recently have I been able to come to terms with my naturally kinky hair after a couple years of harmful relaxer. We were all born with certain quirks that make us special yet it can take us years to finally realize what beauty we’ve been given! Natural is always better!


  • Erika H. April 9th, 2012 9:06 PM

    I begged my mom to let me get a relaxer so my hair would be straight like all the other girls in my 5th grade class. After lots of whining (and help from my dad), she finally took me with her to the salon. I liked that I looked like my older cousin, but I hated everything else about it especially that I couldn’t scratch my head the day before any hair appointment and that I couldn’t play in the rain with my friends. I had a hairdresser sort of like yours too who told me all the same things. When I was 14, I discovered Nappturality and decided to begin transitioning. With a little nudging, I convinced my mom to do it too! Last year, when I was 15, we both cut our hair and had a mostly positive response. My grandpa still says we look like “ni**ers” though. We’ve learned to ignore him. I love my curly fro too much to let any negative comments change my mind! Basically, this was my long winded way of saying “me too.”

    • Jamia April 9th, 2012 9:39 PM

      what is up with the grandparents hating on our natural hair? i see there is a trend here–i guess its a hold over from the “politics of respectability” and I guess I now how the privilege of wearing my hair natural because people can’t legally prevent me from getting hired because of it etc… the history is so sad…

  • faithdarwin April 9th, 2012 9:09 PM

    It’s so strange how much we associate our hair with our femininity and beauty. I’m white, but I still remember being a child and desperately longing for long, shiny locks; I used to do the pillowcase thing too. I didn’t have any interest in barbies in general, but one of my friends had this one barbie with this long, reddish hair, and every time I went over to her house I would ask to play with it simply because I was obsessed with the idea of having that kind of hair. When I was in middle school, I used to get made fun of for having frizzy, unkempt hair and I remember on the few days when I when I would go get it professionally straightened so that it looked shiny and perfect, people treated me like a completely different person. Nowadays, I sport a super short pixie cut. Personally, I feel more feminine and confident than I ever did with long, frizzy hair, but I also feel that having short hair has a definite impact on how I am treated as woman. People use hair a social determiner. Long, blond, shiny = feminine, white, “ideal.” Dreadlocks, cornrows, afros = “other,” strange, exotic. Short hair = unfeminine/ lesbian. It’s horrible, but it’s definitely an interesting thing to think about from a feminist perspective.

  • Caden April 9th, 2012 9:10 PM

    I have super thick and curly hair. So every day for the past few years I have completely straightened it and wear a full head of straight hair extensions. Oh and I also due it. Your article has really made me re-think all that and why I do it. Thank you!! :)

    Ps I bet your hair is gorgeous

  • Rachael April 9th, 2012 9:18 PM

    This article was SO GOOD. I’m white, so it’s not nearly the same, but I get so much crap from my family over my frizzy hair and thick eyebrows. When I was a kid I thought my thick hair was pretty but I finally internalized all the comments and started feeling like a failure as a woman because I can’t figure out how to tame it. It would be so much worse if strangers started commenting on it too–I couldn’t even imagine! You’re so awesome for choosing the style that was right for you and not listening to what everyone else had to say.

    • Jamia April 9th, 2012 10:02 PM

      Rachel, Thank you so much gorgeous!!! PS. I still get the occasional comment for having thick eyebrows–I sometimes thread them but don’t obsess like i used to. Frida Kahlo help me embrace the think hair and the brows–and when we get really old, we’ll still have brows when everyone else’s are thinning out. “)

  • Mariana April 9th, 2012 9:18 PM

    dang, i didn’t even realize how big a stigma dreads held for some people. personally, i always thought they were really cool, and i’m jealous you can pull them off!

    one thing i notice when people (african-american, girl friends of mine) discuss what to do with their hair is that some girls are comfortable with their natural hair but like “changing it up” and getting weaves, etc. because they want to. it’s kind of like how many girls wear makeup not because they’re insecure about their looks but because they like playing around with colors and expressing their style in different ways (which they do just as well without makeup, too).

    still, obviously, this article brings up a massively important point and discusses a problem many girls face, and jamia does it amazingly.

  • Mags April 9th, 2012 9:19 PM

    God. Some people are awful. I can’t believe the things that people have said to you. I mean, do they honestly think it’s okay? Holy cow!

    I just saw your picture and I’m not saying this to kiss your butt but I think you are gorgeous and I really like your hair.

  • Jamia April 9th, 2012 9:23 PM

    Sending love to you all and to all of your tresses. Thanks for the love!
    Here’s a song I dedicate to you courtesy of Willow Smith: “)

  • impromptulove April 9th, 2012 9:24 PM

    This post is lovely. For everyone going pro-white-people dreds, read this, mmkay?

    • pialuna April 10th, 2012 8:09 AM

      That’s an interesting post. I’ve been reading a lot about cultural appropriation lately and also stumbled upon discussions about dreadlocks. I think it’s really important that people inform themselves about the cultural meaning of their hairstyle, clothing etc. I also wish that people weren’t so easily offended by non-black dreadlock-wearers, since dreadlocks have been/are worn in many parts of the world, including India, Tibet and ancient Europe.

      • callie April 10th, 2012 2:00 PM

        thats a lovely and mature reply to that article, i was about to post a stupid angry reply! i do think its really important for people to understand cultural signifiers, but at the same time I think that saying white people wearing dreadlocks is bad is just really crappy. because not all people of African descent are Rastafari, and some white people are, and dreadlocks have never been specific to the Rastafari movement. To generalise along racial lines is never a good idea!

  • Adrienne April 9th, 2012 9:24 PM

    I love this so much! I love your confidence and I think you are so beautiful!! I can’t believe how rude people were to you. :(

    • Jamia April 9th, 2012 9:43 PM

      Thank you so much! Right back at you bella!

  • kitterfly April 9th, 2012 9:31 PM

    This article was fantastic!

    It’s really crazy how much other people’s opinions can dominate your decisions, regardless of how you honestly feel.

    I’ve always been /okay/ with how I look (and longed to have either really, really dark skin and dreads or wavy red hair), but more often than not I find myself wishing to be completely racially ambiguous… what /I/ like and how I wish I looked has nothing on how much I wish people would leave me alone.
    (And what I have to deal with’s nothing compared to all of the ignorant or just plain awful people you’ve shared in this article… As much as being a blonde girl in an almost completely asian school SUCKS, we do live in the birthplace of Barbie…)

    I’m so happy that you decided to let your desires dominate your actions and stop listening to everyone else (and not just because I would kill to have your hair).

  • Claire April 9th, 2012 9:37 PM

    I can’t imagine what your experience has felt like, what with everyone around you judging you so harshly on something so natural and beautiful – your hair! My frizzy Jewish hair is a pain on a lesser level – even my classmates think they’re being helpful by ordering me to iron my hair or go to a salon. I finally chopped it all off last year, but even as it’s growing back, I’m comfortable with it.

    P.S. Lisa Bonet rocks my socks! Denise was always my fave on the Cosby Show, and as a little white girl, I wanted to look like her :-)

  • Christi April 9th, 2012 10:23 PM

    This is an awesome article! Your negative experiences remind me of a couple of months ago when a random girl at my school asked me “Why don’t you straighten your hair?” It’s hard when another African-American looks at your hair like its the ugliest thing they’ve ever seen. But, like a true thug, I patiently answered her rude question and kept it moving. I hope everyone can get past judging one another and worry about their own selves. The world will be a much more positive place! :)

    • Jamia April 9th, 2012 11:46 PM

      YAY to keeping it moving! “) Make those haters your motivators!

  • 062131 April 9th, 2012 10:56 PM

    Incredible article! It makes me so happy that you eventually did YOUR THING. 
    I don’t live in the US, so the things people say about your hair are not exactly the same here, but there’s a similar pressure. My hair is naturally very curly, and I like it that way, but I’ve been keeping it straightened for a long time. I first did that because I thought it would be easier to take care of it, and, well… I just never knew what to do with it. No one would ever tell me what to do with it. Magazines, tv, there was never a “role model” for that (which is so sad and so wrong), so I just had it chemically  straightened. 
    Recently I’ve been thinking about that a lot, and decided I want my natural hair again and I AM GOING TO DO THAT, no matter what.
     Although it’s not as bad as what you’ve been through, I know how some people can be mean about it. I have an uncle who always tells me I look so pretty now, that he’s glad I don’t have that awful hair anymore, that it’s “black people hair”, as if it’s a problem. It makes me so angry and, at the same time, so sad for him. 
    Uh, sorry, this is quite long and I can’t guarantee that my english is any good when I’m sleepy, or that I make any sense, but I had to say this is an amazing article and thank you thank you thank you for these words. <3

  • janeeyre April 9th, 2012 10:59 PM

    jamia, you’re GORGEOUS. seriously.

    i have straight soft strawberry blonde hair cut into a shoulder length bob and i would pay anything to have an afro, hair just can’t get any better than an afro.

    • Jamia April 9th, 2012 11:43 PM

      thank you love. i love strawberry hair. i bet yours is gorgeous “)

  • 09Dreww April 9th, 2012 11:22 PM

    This is so wonderful it nearly brought me to tears! I am a girl of mixed race (my dad is black and my mom is Korean) and my hair has baffled every single one of my hair stylists. I remember the first time I got it professionally straightened (for a 6th grade dance) the boy I had a massive crush on told me that I looked “so much better with straight hair” and that if I kept it straight he “might like me back”. That comment (as small and silly as it was) caused me to hate my natural hair for years. I’m a sophomore in high school now and I have grown to love my naturally wild curls and it’s so inspiring to hear that women like you are encouraging girls like me to embrace natural hair!

    • Jamia April 9th, 2012 11:44 PM

      so glad you are loving your beautiful natural curls and thriving. its his loss! “)

  • unefillecommetoi April 9th, 2012 11:28 PM

    gosh you would think that people in the US aren’t as racist as people in other countries and then you realize it’s this big social awful thing. i’m from mexico but some of my relatives have beautiful hair like yours and I can’t believe how they reject it. One time my mom told one of my aunts that her lovely curls looked like Diana Ross’ and the next day my aunt cut it all off. I see a lot of girls on the street with dyed blonde hair and/or a chunk of make up to make their skins lighter, and racism isn’t even a subject discussed in Mexico, like it didn’t even exist. On tv, everyone is light skin and blabla.
    Anyway, if I had hair like yours I’d grow a ‘fro like Esperanza Spalding’s and stick flowers in it like that girl from Hair:

    • Jamia April 9th, 2012 11:45 PM

      I’m a big fan of Esperanza Spalding too “)

  • TheAwesomePossum April 9th, 2012 11:48 PM

    Aaaahhh thank you so much Rookie for this post!! I have a kind of similar experience but it didn’t take me as long to go for it. I’d started to distance myself from my friends and became a lot “weirder”. The pressure was still there but I was in a place where I was much more comfortable with doing my own thing. I’d always loved the look of natural hair (albeit the “good kind”. Whatever, I’ve gotten over that complex) and so I just went for it despite having next to no clue on how to care for it. Luckily, I’d never relaxed my hair but I did have to transition from heat damage after years of flat-ironing. At first, I wanted to get locks, but my mom brought all of these cousins in to convince me not to. They all pretty much told me that people would think I did drugs, that I was a Rastafarian, and that I was dirty and unhygienic if I got them. I still hope I can get locks one day, although it’ll probably be once I’m in college since my mom is completely opposed to it.

    As far as the grandparents’ reaction, my grandpa honestly doesn’t care (lol) and my grandma is just kind of like “Mmmm…. and you go out like that? And other people like it? Oh oh.” (all the while patting my head) She’s never outright told me that she dislikes my hair but I know she’d prefer if it were straight. It’s kind of hilarious actually.

  • SparklyVulcan April 9th, 2012 11:54 PM

    I think accepting your hair is the most symbolic outward sign you can have of accepting yourself. I have unruly curly hair and over the past year I have come to love it. It’s my beach hair. :) Other people want to straighten it or atleast make it into perfect Taylor Swift curls, but I like how well my hair represents me. So I don’t change it.

  • Jamia April 10th, 2012 12:12 AM

    ChescaLocs has a great video about Parents and Dreadlocks for any of you considering making the shift:

  • SweetThangVintage April 10th, 2012 12:37 AM

    This is so great! My brother keeps saying he wants to find a girl with dread locks, he’s working on growing his hair out to get some right now.

    I would love to dread mine but I think it would get in the way of speed skating because I have to use a league approved helmet. :p

  • fancyythat April 10th, 2012 12:55 AM

    Although I am white, I remember begging my aunt to bread my hair in three braids like my African American classmates, when I was in kindergarten. I thought having lots of braids with beads were fun and cool. I didn’t understand why it was such an odd request (I still don’t). My family still talks about how I wanted “black girl hair”. Really enjoyed reading this article, you have beautiful hair!

    • fancyythat April 10th, 2012 12:56 AM

      Braid my hair*** not bread it… although that does sound delicious…

    • kirsten April 10th, 2012 1:41 AM

      I totally did too! I wanted braids with beds on the end SO BADLY.

      I adored this article.

  • ometembe April 10th, 2012 1:24 AM

    This was really touching AND a great, relevant read. I’m an Indian girl with really curly hair who felt at odds with my natural hair for years, and did all I could to have it long and straight and “typically” beautiful. I keep it short and curly now, and I love it like this. Thanks for your words!

  • Jenay April 10th, 2012 1:24 AM

    Being a black female with braids I can totally relate! I’ve had almost all the hair styles in the world (except for weave) I get racists comments on how my hair looks all the time. I grew up wanting to have bone straight hair like all my friends, so I got a relaxer and all most of my hair fell out. Now the perm has grown out and my hair is completely natural with long black braids and I love it more than ever. I still get ignorant remarks and I’ve been called Moesha more times than I can count (which isn’t so bad!) at least I’m happy! Thanks Jamia

  • Ayla April 10th, 2012 4:01 AM

    My mother is a has wavy hair and made me hate my curly, springy hair as a child.
    Thanks to my dad, I have very curly hair and my mother planted the idea that my hair was unmanageable, that there was too much of it and that it’s far too frizzy.

    For the most part she was just at a loss as to how to tame it because I hated products that were stronger and for “African American” hair, mostly because of the scent and how it would weigh my curls down but products for straight hair wouldn’t hold my hair down and made her curse while ripping a brush through my hair.

    It also wasn’t easy not having a proper example or role model living in the Netherlands, but by the time we moved to the caribbean and everyone complimented me on the texture of my hair, I started experimenting and reading up on my hairtype and now I know my curls and know what they need and I feel that my hair is prettier than ever.

    Though it took affirmation for me to realize that my hair is indeed beautiful, I, now wouldn’t have my hair any other way.

    Especially not since I just got a sidecut and love the weird looks over the combination.

  • whodatgal April 10th, 2012 4:07 AM

    To Jamia, not that beauty matters really, but you look gorgeous with your dreads and don’t let anyone tell you other wise! This article is definatley one of my favorites on ROOKIE- So inspiring…xx

  • homouscheesecake April 10th, 2012 5:56 AM

    i’m really tempted to dread mine now. i told my mum this year i am NEVER relaxing my hair ever again. I’m mixed race and it just feels so fake and it ruins my hair, why not just love the hair i was given and should naturally suit me? why would i want to destroy that to make other people slightly more comfortable with themselves?
    what you were describing as well, the backhanded comments “you could be prettier” is so true. it does my head in!

  • kate s April 10th, 2012 5:59 AM

    YES! as a white woman with dreads i hear all kinds of things. people of all colors say stuff like “white people shouldn’t have dreads.” i want to shout at them: you’re being RACIST right now! do you know? OR my hair does this naturally!! but usually all i need to say is “you know that’s racist, right..?” that usually shuts them up.

  • hollysh April 10th, 2012 7:31 AM

    Lovely article. I was doing a cursory jaunt through the internet today and stumbled across Beyoncé’s new tumblr-like website, which features a lot of personal snapshots. Along with more glamorous shots, there are quite a few pics of her with no makeup and natural hair! She looks awesome and I’m so happy that even though she does the “nice hair” thing most of the time, the public can still get images of her being natural. Hairspiration, maybe?

    Link here:

  • Jamia April 10th, 2012 8:38 AM

    Thank you Jenay, I’ve heard the “Moesha” one more times than I could count too. Sigh. So glad you are loving your hair!!!!

  • Ilona April 10th, 2012 8:43 AM

    This article is amazing!
    I know its not the same, but i’m white, with jewish/ eastern european descent, and I have frizzy dark hair, and people have always been amazed by it. I straightened it once, and everyone was like ‘oh why don’t you wear your hair like that more often’. And like you, I guess it just inspired me to wear it freeeee and natural :D
    Thank you so much for this article!
    By the way, your dreads are beautiful!

  • hannahkthrn April 10th, 2012 9:15 AM

    Beautiful, beautiful story! Thank you so much for sharing.

  • jenaimarley April 10th, 2012 10:06 AM

    Jamia: you, your hair, and your article are all absolutely stunning.
    The documentary “Good Hair” is a really interesting exploration on this subject. It talks a lot about the beauty/hair industry and the ways of enslaving women economically and ideologically to the idea of white hair is beautiful and professional and necessary.
    There is also a really beautiful and devastating part in the amazing novel White Teeth by Zadie Smith about one girl’s person struggles with her Jamaican hair as well as the racism and sexism that are still rampant in our society, no matter how subtle or overt.

    Like @janeeyre I would do anything for an afro. And I actually do want to get dreads at some point (I have red wavy hair)–my mom used to have gorgeous red dreads at one point, but I’ve come up against a lot of hate or “ew why’s”. Also my sister has super super curly hair and I’m so jealous but she doesn’t understand how lucky she is in my eyes and is always complaining and straightening it. Hopefully at some point she’ll realize her natural gift!

    Thank you!

  • LittleMinxErin April 10th, 2012 11:05 AM

    So good to hear!
    I’ve spent my life hating my super-curls, even though I frequently receive positive feedback about my hair.
    All I wanted was long, swingy straaaiiiigghhht hair. That’s the only way to beautifful, right?
    I started seeing this square-jawed, ruggedly handsome, All-American guy, who should clearly be dating Malibu Barbie. He got so annoyed by my attempts to tame my hair! I’d show up with sleek, carefully cultivated curls, and he’d immediately muss it, fluff it, frizz it and make it do all the things I’d spent tons of time fighting. Then he’d step back, smile to himself and tell me to stop ruining my hair.
    I got the message and I wish I had gotten it years ago.

  • Runaway April 10th, 2012 11:57 AM

    My hair is super straight. I’ve always got compliments from other people about how soft and straight it is…but I disliked it for a veeeeeeeery long time. It’s so boring! xD I just couldn’t understand why my friends with pretty, curly or wavy hair would want to have straight hair like mine.

  • O. April 10th, 2012 12:18 PM

    Thank you so much for sharing your story.

    Last summer, I got my dad to shave all my hair off after I realised the damage using relaxer for four years had caused my hair and the extent of the chemical burns I had on my scalp.

    The rest of my family completely freaked out, claiming hair is the beauty of a woman, saying I looked like a boy/slave etc. which is a load of rubbish, especially as I have a really feminine face. They still make comments about my ‘egghead’ (turns out my head is pretty symmetrical) and tell me that my shoulder length, straight hair was so beautiful but I couldn’t care less because shaving my hair off is the BEST decision I could have made.

    It has completely transformed the way I see myself and I raised £300 for Mind, the UK’s mental health charity :) I used to constantly live in fear of the unknown and shaving ALL my hair off, not knowing how it would turn out was a pretty extreme way of facing that fear! I’m still scared of taking risks but I know now that I’m capabale of taking them and that I don’t have to live up to other people’s expectations.

    I now permantently have a No.2 as I realised I love having short hair (practically no effort!) and it really suits me.

  • Kriszta April 10th, 2012 12:33 PM

    Hi! I’m a Hungarian girl, and I must say that I’m very happy that I found this site, all the authors and editors and desingers and, frankly, all of you make a fantastic job! Thank you for sharing your experiences and for opening my eyes! :) Here in Hungary there are not many people of color (especially where I live), I personally haven’t talked to anyone of African descent who lives here, (sorry, I’m not 100% aware of the politically correct expressions*, I really do not mean to offend anyone), nor is trans- or homosexuality very widely accepted (and we could go on with this list…), and I think it’s a great thing that you help me to become more aware of the diversity of personal experiences and to realize that the universe does not revolve around my sheltered self. :)
    Jamia, thank you for sharing your story, it was very interesting to read! It was actually the first time I’ve got first-hand information about this topic… Thanks!


    *(Please, someone help me with the politically correct expressions (of all kind), because i don’t know which internet source to trust! Thanks!)

  • Loudandproudmag April 10th, 2012 12:35 PM

    In 2009 I dreaded my hair! I wanted to do it since I was 14 after i finished school I was fianlly able to do it! I had a similar prejudice situtation with my family too especially with my sister and grandmother! But i’m grateful my parents loved the idea from the start! I loved this article!

    • O. April 10th, 2012 1:00 PM

      Just went on your blog and your dreads really suit you :) You’re so pretty.

  • keirydeary April 10th, 2012 1:14 PM

    Yay Jamia! I loved this piece, and I love your hair! You’re beautiful inside and out, you inspire me so much <3

  • stellar April 10th, 2012 2:22 PM

    whoa–a person’s body is *never* ‘public property’ …u might consider pointing that out

  • B. April 10th, 2012 4:57 PM

    I have completely straight hair and it is the most boring, plain thing in the whole world. I am SO SO SO jealous of your hair, it is AMAZING

  • shjaron April 10th, 2012 6:25 PM

    Thank you SO MUCH for this article. Not only did I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, and loved every bit of it, but it also allowed me to see things through a new perspective I had never even pondered before.

    This has to be one of my favourite Rookie articles. The only thing that upsets me is the fact that you, Jamia, don’t have a mini bio on Rookie or further link I can stalk you on!

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. This was beautiful, absolutely refreshing and such an eye widener. I had never even once thought about how marginalizing an issue such as hair can be, or how rude/annoying/disappointing people can be when behaving towards it, at times even without realizing. But I am grateful that you took such an issue and wrote such an article about it. I’d love to apologize for everyone who made you feel less than you are because of it, but I know it’s not my place to.

    I would have loved to see pictures of your hair throughout the years, but they weren’t necessary. Your words were perfectly enough.

    I also enjoyed this quote very much: “But then one day I decided that I was done attaching my self-esteem to what other people think I should look like.” Will keep it in mind.

    • Jamia April 10th, 2012 7:02 PM

      Thank you so much! “) If you want to check out our Rookie staff bios you can see them here: Thanks so much for the love–sending it right back!

  • isabellehungryghost April 10th, 2012 7:00 PM

    i dont know why people always do such a big deal with hair. it just dead cells hanging around your face. i didnt went to the hairdresser since ages. my hair growes, and i wash it if it feels greasy. thats it.

  • ShakespeareRules April 10th, 2012 8:28 PM

    I loved reading this. I’m mixed race and I guess I’ve kind of struggled most of my life about having hair that was ‘different’. It’s dark brown, curly and frizzy, and supper thick and long.
    I used to want to just have hair that was just ‘black’ or ‘white’ because it seemed more normal. But i embrace it now, more women and girls should read this because there’s nothing better than feeling happy
    with who you are. I know it sounds soppy but it’s true!
    Thank-you so much for writing this. Xxx

  • VictoryBelle April 10th, 2012 9:26 PM

    First off I gotta say this is a fantastic piece! I pity that poor girly on the train at the beginning, hopefully the boy comes to his senses and realises how stunning dreads, fros and natural hair in all different shapes and sizes can be! You’re obviously a v inspiring (and i saw the photo, v beautiful!) lady!

    I have a question, so books like the Happy to be Nappy one you mentioned seem like brilliant books to be giving to kids of any race or colour, but I don’t know how to feel about the term nappy hair. This could be an incredibly stupid question and I would HATE to accidentally offend anyone by asking, but i simply dont understand. Is that truly an acceptable term to use? I just think it automatically sounds like they’re implying some kind of insult. I mean its just hair isn’t it? Why does there have to be the adjective there? And if it an adjective needs to be there for distinction, isn’t there a more appropriate one? What I’m worried about is giving a book like that to my little white nephew and him then using the term in a situation where it unintentionally offends someone, or a situation like that anyway. Is this an instance of trying to reclaim an insult and make it something positive?

  • Jamia April 11th, 2012 8:39 AM

    VictoryBelle Thank you so much!!! There are many different feelings people have about the term and there has been a lot of controversy surrounding who uses it–in my personal opinion context is important–so for example, for bell hooks using the word “nappy” to reclaim the term has different meaning than racist/sexist shock jock Don Imus.

    Still, there are people who think the word has too much negative history attached to it and would disagree.

    Here are a few pieces you might want to read to determine where you stand on this:
    Origins of the word nappy

    Rihanna Reponds to “Nappy Hair” comment:

    • VictoryBelle April 11th, 2012 6:34 PM

      really helpful reply, thankyou! I agree with you about context. It does feel like the kind of word that if it applies to you you can use it freely, but if it doesn’t the negative history is a little too weighty.

  • Jeanie April 11th, 2012 11:36 AM

    This brought me to tears. Probably one of the best pieces I’ve read on Rookie so far <3

  • Jamia April 11th, 2012 12:48 PM

    Thank you so much Jeanie <3

  • Nicte April 11th, 2012 3:31 PM

    I loved this article. I have super straight hair and last year I let it grow to donate it and as soon as I made the cut people starting saying crazy things to how I didn´t look like myself and how it was so weird to see me out of the conventional pretty girl with long hair stereotype and it made me think a lot about how awful it is that people judge you on such simple things and not what we have in our heads.
    Thank your for telling your story but mostly for rocking what makes you feel awesome!

  • jasmine April 11th, 2012 6:22 PM

    wow! i think you look gorgeous and i absolutely love your hair! i’ve always wanted to go natural. maybe i should just do it and stop over-thinking it.

    • Jamia April 11th, 2012 11:17 PM

      merci xx DO IT! “) you won’t regret it and your hair will breathe…

  • leh. April 11th, 2012 10:52 PM

    It’s incredible to know that there are so many other people who struggle/have struggled with this. I’ve had the exact same experience my entire life, and I chemically straightened my hair for seven years. I stopped when I moved to college in nyc.

    I felt very confident about it for a while but recently I’ve been having trouble with the idea of my frizzy, puffy curls. I was actually going to give in and get my hair straightened this weekend.

    After reading this, there’s no way I’m going to do that! It’s ridiculous how much pressure we feel to look a certain way and I’m glad to see there are others fightin’ the same battle. Thanks Jamia !

  • Jamia April 11th, 2012 11:17 PM

    Leh, I’m so happy to hear you’re join to keep your beautiful curls!!! My hair is so much healthier now that I leave it alone and only put natural products in it–essential oils, aloe, etc. It grows so fast now and everyone always says it smells good. If you’re looking to get a good natural style in NYC check out this salon: or they will hook you up. PS. I only do Khamit Kinks for special occasions though because they are expensive.

  • bethleeroth April 12th, 2012 8:42 AM

    What a great article! Bravo!

    Although I am Caucasian, I was able to relate to this because people have been telling me what to do with my hair for forever. As a woman, it seems we can’t escape people telling how we should look, especially to “please men.” I have unruly wavy hair and I’ve been going grey since I was 16 years old. I spent years dyeing and straightening my hair trying to be “presentable” or “acceptable”. I finally became comfortable enough with myself a couple of years ago to chop my hair off super short and let it be the shocking silver grey it has become and just bask in what is comfortable and natural for me. I was amazed at the reactions I got, and I experienced the same shift in my dating expectations : I realized the good ones weren’t going to ask when I’d grow out or dye my hair. I’m now back to dyeing my hair but it’s on MY terms, and I don’t feel that my self-worth is tied up in how my hair looks compared to how the beauty-industrial complex thinks it SHOULD look. :)

  • Jamia April 12th, 2012 11:07 PM

    beth–silverfoxes are gorgeous! “)

  • mysocalledlife April 13th, 2012 10:01 AM


    This article is amazing! I am a Caucasian woman, but babysitting for a 4 year old colored girl for a year now has brought up these issues. She is adopted, and the rest of her family is Caucasian. I was surprised while reading your account of yourself as a child- it is alarmingly similar. She puts long scarves on her head pretending to have long hair and speaks of the desire to have long straight hair. I want to be a positive role model, so I try to encourage her to love her hair just how it is. I wonder sometimes if it is detrimental that she does not have anyone similar to her hair & skin type close to her in her life. I wonder what I could do to be a more positive role model. Any suggestions would be appreciated ! Thanks again for such a thoughtful article!

  • ConsiderMeLovely April 13th, 2012 6:03 PM

    Such a beautifully well written timeline!! As a 26 year old African-American woman raised and living in the South (Texas to be exact), with dreadlocks that I’ve been growing for a little over 7 years, I completely relate tot his story. I am so glad you have come to love that beautiful hair of yours and in sharing your story, have opened eyes, expanded minds, and educated those reading who may know nothing of such an experience.

  • icyvi April 13th, 2012 9:02 PM

    sooo i know white girls saying ‘i love black hair!’ is problematic in so many ways, and doesn’t solve any of the tensions you’ve faced in arriving at your current relationship with your hair.

    but…um i really do love black, nappy type hair. i think it’s gorgeous. i hope the barriers that keep people from feeling natural in their own skin/hair/bodies all come down. and you’re helping to do that, so good on you.

  • yaella April 14th, 2012 3:45 AM

    I’ve had my dreads for nine years, they are a source of freedom and strength. I love them and see them as one of my first feminist acts. With the the whole world, (what is with those hair policing grandmothers??), telling women and girls what to do with their hair I knew from a young age that I had to do something about it. I wanted to cut myself out of that oppressive system, of spending inordinate amounts of time, energy, and money obsessing about my hair to please the outside world with my appearance and negate my own desires. I loved dreads aesthetically and I knew that the maintenance involved suited my values and lifestyle. I put myself on a dreadlock mission and after years of begging my parents, I finally got locks when I was 15. Everyone was shocked and I got a mixed bag of positive and negative comments. Almost a decade on and I still get those same 8 questions. It can be annoying to be asked questions all the time, but at the same time I feel blessed to be queried. It gives me a chance to talk to new people, to open up out of my naturally introverted self, to educate, and spread my deep love of dreadlocks.

    It doesn’t matter what race you are or what hair type you have, I think everyone should consider or appreciate dreadlocks. Dreads are a deep seeded part of the human experience. Lots of people from lots of cultures have locks and I think it’s great!

    I love this article, thanks so much Jamia for sharing your beautiful story about self love <3

  • FroggiesMama April 14th, 2012 10:12 PM

    I love dreads on all races! The only reason I don’t rock them myself is I don’t have the guts to cut all my hair off if I ever get tired of them.

    I am white and I went to a middle school where the majority of the students were African-American. I remember being so jealous of my friends with braids, how beautiful their hair looked and all the things they could do with their hair. My neighbor was jealous of mine.

    I was born bald and when I got hair I grew it until I could sit on it but it was so fine. I remembered hearing my mom talk about how it should be thicker and how she wished my hair was curly like my little brothers. When I was about 7 I had it cut off to thicken it up and cried for a week or so at how short it was. Now I can’t grow it too long because of it’s weight. In high school I got a perm and immediately hated how it looked by the end of the day. Since 2005 I’ve been trying to straighten my hair back out after only one perm. It’s neither curly nor straight any more and I miss what it was. Now I have a daughter, 4 months old with a head of hair except for her bald spot she rubbed in the back. I want her to love however her hair turns out, curly and kinky like daddy’s or straight as a bone like mommy’s was.

  • sweeteelou April 14th, 2012 10:31 PM

    I loved this article. I’ve grown up around great natural hair influences. My aunt has dreads and my good friend has gorgeous, flame red dreads. I straighten my hair usually, but I’m never afraid to go all natural(:

  • adriennelee April 15th, 2012 7:43 PM

    It’s unbelievable the comments people think they have the right to have.

    Or the fact that so many people think that beauty is confined to such a small ideal.

    I also hate it when people complain about a certain part of their own appearance when there’s nothing ugly or wrong about looking that way.
    For example, someone complaining about their own “nappy” hair, skin color, weight, whatever, makes other people with those characteristics look at themselves critically as well.

    Wake up people! There are so many kinds of beautiful!

  • tallulahpond April 16th, 2012 10:23 AM

    I LOVE afro hair! I really wanted hair like that ever since I discovered Macy Gray. It’s so beautiful and unique, if I was lucky enough to have hair like that I would wear it in an afro all the time and never straighten it. It’s so gorgeous.

  • atephos April 17th, 2012 5:16 PM

    i really relate to this, thank you so much for writing this(:
    i’m not black (actually a waifish gangly teen white girl) but my hair is natural in the sense that it’s really thick and has fat curls that frizz up easily. i cut it all of because of how frustrated and self-conscious i was about it back in middle school to a little pixie cut that i wrestled with (shockingly very high maintenance, haha) and hated until the beginning of this year, going through multiple cycles of growing out only to get frustrated and give up and cut it all off again because of how people would comment on how i looked with grown out ‘natural’. it’s grown out now, down to the nape of my neck, and it looks great. thank you for sharing your story!

    p.s. my personal hair idol is brandy in brandy cinderella. (:

  • thelittleandroid April 17th, 2012 6:33 PM

    Loved this article so much, it even had me all teary at the end with what the boy said to you. Good for you for finding the power to stay true to yourself and bask in all your natural beauty. Such an inspiration. <3

  • oddrey April 19th, 2012 12:31 AM

    i love this post. thank you for sharing. hair is so rooted (can’t pass over the pun..) in people’s character and how they present themselves to the world. i hated my hair throughout most of my life. thick as straw and just as straight. hairdressers would always say how difficult it is to cut “asian” hair. on top of that, i’ve had white hair since about elementary school. something in the family genes…

    starting at a young age, i begged to dye my hair so my white hairs wouldn’t show. it was a hassle to retouch the roots and damaged my hair. then i got a perm so i could have curls instead of boring straight hair.

    i’m through with all that now. i thought it would make it easier but really, its just a pain. i love my unique streaks of silver and my straw hair. natural is the way to go.

  • taybird April 19th, 2012 11:46 AM

    My boyfriend has these cute little dreads that I love playing with. He used to have long ones that went down to his shoulders. He could throw them all around and tie them back in a pony tail. Until… one night, one of his friends got drunk and cut them off. Needless to say they aren’t friends any more.

    As a white girl who grew up in China and has only ever dated outside her race, I’ve learned sometimes it’s best not to ask questions and just accept things as they are. I love sitting watching a movie and spending hours playing with his dreads. If he had short hair I’d love it too.

    Like they say, it’s what’s on the inside that counts.

  • LolalikeCola April 20th, 2012 2:00 AM

    This is such a brilliant article thank you for sharing your experience.

    I can’t believe there is such hair hate out there, my own hair is my chameleon for me whenever i feel like crap or feel like I need a change it turns a different colour or gets all cut off, being able to do what you want with your hair is oddly so liberating that I don’t know what I’d do if I was so discriminated against for it.

    I think dreads, braids and ‘fros look brilliant and am so glad you were finally able to feel comfortable with your hair and its uniqueness.

  • MinaM8 April 21st, 2012 6:38 AM

    I think natural hair (especially afros!!) is gorgeous! Kind of sad how society can actually standardize beauty this way (even through hair). Beauty is meant to be diverse! Especially for hair :)

  • backyardvoodoo April 23rd, 2012 5:49 PM

    ahhh thank you for writing this! My best friend is black and stresses SO MUCH over her hair, is it ‘nappy’ or too curly and if it looks or feels like mine (a white girl). I’ve always told her that her natural hair is perfect and beautiful, but maybe reading an article like this will show that idea in another light…. THANK YOU

  • Erykaneisha May 5th, 2012 11:30 PM

    I was almost in the verge of tears when reading this article. I REALLY appreciate everything you had to say. I am a Latina that doesn’t have super straight hair. The texture of my hair is curly/nappy-like. And I’m honestly okay with it. I love it. Yet it’s a bit irritating how I only get hair compliments when I straighten it & not when I have it care-free-wild-child-beautiful-I-AM-A-WOMAN natural. I’ve learned to become comfortable it but I think more people should not absolutely favor it, but rather accept it as another form of beauty; natural beauty.

  • Nerdy J May 15th, 2012 12:45 AM

    this needed to be written, and i’m so glad i found your post on the rookie site! i just watched the sesame street video for the first time and i teared up watching it. also, i’ve had my dreadlocks for 8 years too and i’ve had every single one of those questions asked of me. i love it when boys i date have the good sense not to make a big deal about my locks or when they tell me dreadlocks are sexy. swoon. i’ve also dealt with my grandpa trying to find hats to put on my head whenever i went out with him (in public, he blames my crazy hair style on me being from san francisco. he lives in alabama and is very traditional).

    i also love how you responded to the comment about thick eyebrows. my eyebrows never do what other people (or i, for that matter) want, the little rebels. frida kahlo helped me deal with people’s constant need to refer me to waxing salons, too.

    finally, in response (or at least partly in response) to the comment made by don imus, did you ever watch joshua bennett’s “10 things i want to say to a black woman” ? it’s brilliant! check it out:

    lots of love from wellesley college and from the sf bay area <333

  • Jamia May 21st, 2012 9:05 AM

    It gives me so much delight to read all of your hair stories. I’m writing a piece right now for a book that is being written right now about women of color, race, feminism, and social media–i’m writing about online communities and natural hair politics. Thanks for inspiring me with all of your stories and love! xx MWAH!

  • dustyrose June 1st, 2012 9:35 PM

    This article made me cry. I had honestly never considered that people would be so hateful about hair. I mean, I got made fun of as a kid for having hair that was always in giant tangles because my mom wouldn’t have enough time after two hours of trying to get them out, but I always thought that I got made fun of because people thought I was a slob. My hair is really thick and just huge and I’ve been made fun of a lot for it, but I always thought that was just regular pettishness. I never thought how awful it must be to have not only that, but racism tied in to comments on your appearance. It just never would have occurred to me to even think any of the things that were said to you. You are amazing and brave and just awesome for doing things your way. It’s inspiring to hear about and makes me feel better about my own “huge” hair.

  • Simalcrum June 2nd, 2012 11:27 AM

    This was an awesome story! :D GURL, KEEP THEM AWESOME DREADS. I remember when in elementary school people always told me to keep my hair up whenever I wore it up, THEN people told me to keep it down when I wore it up, so I just threw caution to the wind and cut my hair till below my ears, and everyone was horrified and told me I looked way more beautiful with longer hair. -_- I really don’t like it when people tell me what to do with my beauty (in a mean, forceful way) XD

  • evalavendar June 2nd, 2012 10:04 PM

    This article was AMAZING. I’m so glad you’ve embraced your natural hair! And that muppet video was perfect in every way! This article kind of inspired me to get a few dreads now! I’ve been wanting to for a while. My hair is dirty blonde and semi-wavy and it’s just getting so boring! I love dreadlocks, and I’m becoming really interested in the environment/environmental activism and I think getting a few dreads would just be awesome and look awesome and I just love NATURAL STUFF.

    xx Eva

  • meowool June 3rd, 2012 11:10 AM

    I used to be bullied for frizzy hair. (my dad has afro type if he grew it longer) I used to get annoyed when straightening it, as it’d take around 2 hours and the next morning it would be slightly wavy. I kinda regret having my hair cut short. (It was really nice and wavy, then it turned into a triangle shape!) I’m brit white so family with afro-type hair is a bit wierd. When you get out of school, people don’t judge you as much based on your appearance, I’ve found from my extended family. XD

  • anisarose June 3rd, 2012 1:37 PM

    My older sister’s freshman roommate had thin dreads that formed a bob and I always loved the way it looked. Before seeing her, I didn’t like dreads that I considered them to be dirty but I think I was influenced by the kids at my high school who have dreads— the white girls who do a lot of drugs. This post was beautiful and I love reading about the (seemingly) little things that influence a person’s personal perception.

  • AlexWho June 11th, 2012 11:11 PM

    Wow! I think I’ve been ignorant to a stigma against natural hair. I’ve just always found natural hair, whether it be dreaded, an afro, or any other style beautiful! I didn’t at all realize the enormous pressure girls/women feel to relax/change their hair. I’m sure your hair is absolutely lovely!

  • jubliantlyjamia June 12th, 2012 1:29 PM

    omg wow MY name is jamia, too! ive never met anyone else with that name! even this article practically describes exactly what i went through with my hair as well. I also went to prodominantly white schools and lived in the south and the west, so ive also had my fair share of racsim and hate. even my family has picked on me for my hair and looks, only i was criticized for being “too lightskinned” with “good hair”. im only 16 but i transitioned to natural for 2 years and i have been natural for 1 years. i dont have dreadlocks but i usually just wear it naturally curly or in twists. i truly cant beileve i saw this story that relates too me sooo much from my name to even similar experiences!!!! :)

  • Jamia June 20th, 2012 10:51 PM

    jubilantlyjamia–it took decades for me to find other Jamia’s. its a rare but lovely name that i like more and more as i get older. “) thanks for your thoughtful comment and congrats on going natural–its amazing isn’t it?! xo

  • llamalina June 27th, 2012 4:50 PM

    i love this! sometimes i wish that i could wake up with an afro, even just for one day. having an afro looks like so much fun. but unfortunately, i’ve been cursed with stick-straight asian hair that can’t hold a curl for more than an hour. :’(

  • allier June 29th, 2012 7:26 PM

    I love this article! I used to straighten my hair every day, just because people would say I was prettier. Now, after soooo many early morning and burned ears, I’ve realized my natural “electrocution-y” hair makes me unique :) I still do my hair if I feel like it enhances the vibe of an outfit, but its not to be pretty looking. Thank you for this article; I’m glad I’m not alone on then hair journey I’m embarking on.
    (PS: I’m dyeing it red in a few days. Thank you, my so-called life)

  • Elusive July 1st, 2012 7:05 PM

    This was such a sweet article. It made me look at hair in a way I’ve never done before- someone can actually be racist about what you do with it?! I’m sorry, I’ve spent a lot of time living abroad, studied in all kinds of schools with every race on the planet, had (and still have) friends from every spectrum and such blatant racism I’ve never seen. I remember the first person with dreadlocks was actually a white friend of mine in 8th grade- he showed up one day and his previously long, brown hair done in dreads. No one ever, EVER said anything to him. Myself I have always admired hair in it’s beauty and that thing your classmate called ‘catton-candy hair’- I’ve always thought of one of the best thing to have, seriously. It looks so good.
    I’ve got this wavy mass of black hair and I’ve done so many things with it – grown it past my shoulders to almost my waist, cut it so short that after that Dad came and buzzed my neck, dyed it a few times, had a bob and in general nobody tried to harass me. I got the ‘lesbian’ comment a few times, from my mom even, for my almost-buzz-cut, but that was the worst. I’m sorry for the long post, but I am passionate about hair and every person’s right to wear it as they seem fit and that someone, ANYONE, would subjugate you cos of your ‘DO is UTTERLY ridiculous. Of course, I live in Europe and I guess we have different prejudices here. Want I want to say is- Jamia, I love your writing; girls, raise your chins and go with what FEELS right.
    And if a boy tells you to change your cut cos you’re ugly with it, kick him in the nuts for me.

  • Jamia July 5th, 2012 12:01 PM

    I LOVE YOU ALL! Thanks for all of the beautiful rays of light you have been sending to each other and to the world. I am so humbled by all of your comments and emails and think you are gorgeous, beautiful, stunning, amazing, radiant, powerful, fierce, HOTT, striking, lovely, ferocious, FINE, strong girls, young women, and allies.


  • ViolentDreams July 23rd, 2012 2:23 PM

    Wow this article was really good, i dont have african hair but the struggle of hair styling is so universal. secretly i just want to shave my head~

  • stellar August 1st, 2012 8:38 PM

    wow. it’s amazing how people assume they can tell u how to think and feel about yourself and what is your own business.

  • ♡ reba ♡ August 3rd, 2012 7:44 PM

    i’m 15 and have a large natural afro, i’m sick of strangers touching my hair and making (sometimes rude) comments about it, i never know how to ask drunk people at festivals/gigs not to, i never even thought about just HOW disrespectful it was, just annoying. and most fashion/beauty magazines give afro’s no attention – even the black hair mags i have are all about perms/weave, so i HAD no clue what to do with my afro and no confidence in it…

    but this article seriously re-affirmed my love for my hair, you are fab and strong and inspiring… this turned into a long ramble but if you read this thank you so much this article meant so much to me xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx