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Embracing the power of my curls

November 12, 2021

This piece represents the opinion of the author.

Every year, my Halloween costume has something to do with my hair. I’ve kept my super-curly hair cut just above my shoulders since middle school, which is the prime length for costumes such as a mad scientist, a lion or a bush. I always pick my hair out for these costumes, and I even spray dyed it green last fall to blend in with the bushes around campus. Despite the fact that I could pick my hair out to Afro-like proportions any day of the year, I’ve always chosen to reserve the style just for Halloween. I once sent a photo of myself with my hair picked out to a good friend who has an Afro that’s legendary in our diverse Shaker Heights, Ohio church. “It’s almost as good as mine!” he responded enthusiastically. “Why don’t you wear it like that every day?”

The truth is, despite naturally having very curly hair (I’d peg myself at about 3B or 3C for my fellow curly-haired people), I worry that by picking my hair out I’d be appropriating a culture that is not my own. I am three quarters white and one quarter Lebanese on my dad’s side of the family, and generally speaking, I’d consider myself white-passing, despite the opinions of a few people who’ve thought I was biracial or looked “vaguely worldly” (whatever that means). Growing up, my loving mom cared for my hair the way she cares for hers: by brushing it out each morning and trimming my bangs to lie flat across my forehead. I briefly had what she calls a “halo of curls” as a toddler, but when I started to brush my hair daily, my curls weakened and frizzed. I only started figuring out my “curly girl” hair routine when I got a shorter, more manageable haircut in middle school.

Over the years, I have discovered Eco gel, once-a-week washing and Black salons in my home city of Cleveland, which have given me some confidence in styling my amazing hair. At the same time, in high school, I would occasionally have classmates in my predominantly white private school come up behind me and touch my hair without asking. Worse, I have been stopped by airport security in Reno, Nev., Anchorage, Alaska and Minneapolis and had white security officers run their fingers through my curls under the guise of “protecting airport security.”

Despite these off-putting experiences, I have embraced my natural hair as a key part of expressing my passionate and extroverted personality. I am known both within my family and at Bowdoin for my hair, and I have grown to love it. In Maine, the only state where my one-quarter Lebanese heritage genuinely makes me feel like a POC, I have not yet found a hair salon that I can trust to cut and layer my curls (please let me know if you have recommendations!). While I still feel a sense of appropriation or imposter syndrome about wearing traditionally Black hairstyles, even though many work better on my hair texture than common white styles, I know that my favorite haircuts will always come from Black salons.

For now, I’ll continue to embrace my curls while searching for a stylist in Maine who can handle my hair. However, I’ll still continue to dream about going to a salon on Mayfield Road, just ten minutes from my house in Cleveland, where every other storefront is home to talented Black stylists who could work their scissors-and-Eco-gel-magic and confidently mold my hair into an expression of power and beauty.

Adele Metres is a member of the Class of 2024.

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