I started this photography project so that people could express stories of identity, hardship, and personal growth about their hair, and ultimately about themselves. —Ryan Baker
“I remember thinking I needed long, straight hair to be truly pretty. In many ways, I still do. I’m not sure when or how that thought process came to me. In my household, I was always told how beautiful I was and never had a perm. I suppose the media and other outside influences brought the thought on. Nowadays, I tend to wear my hair completely natural and have received positive reactions. People say things like, ‘Oh, I love your hair!’, or ‘I love your curl pattern!’, or ‘How did you get your hair like that?’ Even these questions anger me sometimes, because I feel that they are really asking me how I got the ‘pretty’ curls, not the kinky coils that many other black women have. Even with all the compliments, I still think to myself, I look better with straight hair.
The other day, when I was about to go to a party, my sister said nonchalantly, ‘Oh, you should not wear your glasses, and you should straighten your hair.’ I thought nothing of it, [because] after all she’s right: I do look better without my glasses and with my hair straightened. Or do I? Why is that? Why do I have to have long straight hair or ‘good’ curls to be pretty? What if I had kinky short hair and dark skin? Would random people still compliment my looks, or ask me how I do my hair, or if it’s all mine and how did I get it to look that way? I want to say yes, that I’m beautiful either way and people recognize that, but I’m not sure.” —Cierra Johnson
“My hair is another medium of art. Some personal features—such as my height, my ethnic and gender identities—I can’t change, but my hair is [like a] creative outlet that is in my control. Being able to present and appropriately express myself in versatile ways gives me comfort and confidence against my adversities.
My hair allows me to embrace my identities, as well as what I used to see as my flaws. Above all, my hair is most likely the single characteristic that balances my happiness because it possesses feminine and masculine qualities, which reassesses the standards of gender expectations and discontinues the gender binary.” —Jex Nguyen
“Being of mixed race, my identity—how I perceive myself and how others perceive me—often relies on my physical appearance. Through the second half of my teens, and now entering my 20s, I am recognizing how my hair contributes to my mixed-race identity.
The decision to stop relaxing my hair was made during the second half of my freshman year of college. As a college student with little time or money to continue to chemically straighten my hair, and recognizing the harmful effects it had on my hair and scalp, I decided that I would focus on growing it out and taking better care of it. The year and a half since my last relaxer has been a learning experience: learning how to stop being self-conscious of my ‘bushy’ hair, as well as learning how to properly care for my non-chemically treated hair. Growing my natural hair has forced me to be creative with my appearance, to try new styles, and to accept my hair for what it is.
My hair made me recognize the various mixtures of race and ethnicity that I have been blessed with. My hair combines my entire heritage, from across the globe. The various shades of brown that are in my hair, with strands of blonde and red (‘ehu’ in Hawaiian), reflects my family and strengthens my identity within myself. Wearing my hair curly makes me feel proud to be myself—my Black, Latina, Hawaiian, and Filipino self.” —Gloria Palma
“When I was younger I had long, big, curly hair. Immediately, I was identified as a Jewish stereotype. People would always look at me and immediately ask me if I was Jewish. It didn’t really bother me until I began to tell people were treating me a little differently. Mostly just jokes here and there. As I grew older, I cut it and it became less a part of me, but every few months or so it grows back and I get those looks again. To be honest, I would never change my hair for the world. I love my curls!” —Nick Hyman
“I thought I was a freak. Pictures had been flying around the internet of ‘Celebrities Without Eyebrows!’ and comments about how important eyebrows were—how without them, these people were ugly, disgusting. I looked in the mirror and drew brown lines over my eyes like parentheses, like a note of exception (See, I’m not a freak). But it never stopped feeling that way. I didn’t have eyelashes either, and without layers of liquid eyeliner slopped across my eyelids, I had alien eyes. Trichotillomania is a deceptive disease, making it look like I had something ‘worse,’ something devastating, but instead was something that people told me I should ‘just stop doing.’
And that’s the thing about Trich. It gets talked about like a bad habit, like casual addiction. Because it’s cosmetic, people act like it won’t destroy your life. But instead, it cuts little unacknowledged notches in your brain, where every time you look at yourself, it’s imperfect. There’s something wrong, and if you just pulled that one hair out, it would be right. But then it isn’t. But then it never is.
No one likes to talk about it because they don’t think it’s important, or they don’t think it exists. Some people don’t even know that pulling their hair is an actual disorder. That it has a name and faces and stories. Instead of learning how to understand and be comfortable in acknowledging the problem, most people with Trich just learn how to hide it. It becomes trivialized to the point that if you have serious Trich, you spend your days feeling ashamed and angry at yourself.
I went to emotional therapy for my anxiety and my Trich, cognitive behavioral therapy, wore gloves, never took my makeup off, tried working out, tried eating better, slept all day. The failure to change fed the depression, and I spiraled. I don’t know when that changed. Over time, I started to pick less, and it got easier. I don’t know why. I wish I had the answer. But the self-criticism never stops. I still feel ashamed about how I look all the time, like I have the power to fix it. When I do relapse and snatch a few eyelashes, I [feel like I] become worthless, disgusting. It’s just that I try not to let it get to me as much now. I take a nap, I try to move forward. It doesn’t fix itself, but it does get easier to live with.
After 11 years of struggling with my own Trich, it’s become much easier to talk about. I like to hope that talking about it helps someone feel more comfortable with their own struggles; that the control in the disorder comes from being OK with it and just doing the best they can.
Now I eat the word ‘freak’ for breakfast, digest it by noon, sleep with it in my gut. It’s just a dumb word, and a dumb feeling. Every night it gets easier to live with.” —Alana Csaposs
Ryan Baker is a freelance photographer based in Northern California, in the Bay Area. Ryan’s work focuses on identity, humanity, feminism, experimental film, and much more. As well as a photographer, Ryan is an activist, cinematographer, and a modern and contemporary dancer/choreographer.