Beyond every braid, curl, loc, and strand is a sacred story for women of color—and even though it's just hair, there's so much more than meets the eye. This story is often disregarded by strangers who don’t share the same narrative as us. Oftentimes, people are fascinated by the vast diversity of black hair, which in turn, garners unwarranted attention. In many cases, their miseducation solicits alienating questions and discriminatory treatment that has the potential to derail our self-confidence and personal growth. Unbeknownst to those less-educated about the subject, black women's hair is not an object. Whichever style we choose to wear is deeply rooted in our ancestral identities but it does not define our humanity.
Many women of color carry natural hair stories. Whether the stories stem from a small-minded question or partial comment, these instances are far too common. Most of the time, our scenarios go unsaid and are discussed within our own sister circles. Instead of being kept in the dark, I wanted to shed light on our experiences. We received an overwhelmingly positive number of responses from women willing to share their stories with us.
Read on for 30 of the most powerful natural hair stories below.
"If you're familiar with the dynamic of a Hispanic household, you know that straight hair is good hair and wavy, curly, or kinky hair is 'pelo malo,' or bad hair. Nowadays, things are changing for the better. However, textured hair has yet to be accepted as 'normal.' "Eso es la moda ahora," or "that's the style now" is everyone's favorite line when asked why my hair is so big and curly. My hair is not a fashion statement; it is a part of me in the most literal and figurative way possible." — Janibell Rosanne
"I've never understood the notion that black women's hair doesn't grow. 'Are these extensions? It's just so full.' I've witnessed people analyze my tresses in shock that a woman of color can have hair that not only has length, but also high density. Hair like mine is not a rarity and as more women of color continue to place emphasis on healthy hair, it's becoming the norm." — Blake Newby
"At a nail shop in Richmond, I got asked if my hair was real, and I decided I was just going to lie about all of the questions. I had long box braids. She asked me if my hair was real, and I said yes. She asked how long it took, and I said eight hours. And then she asked how much it cost, and I said 30 dollars. They started freaking out and continued to make comments about my hair. At first it was just funny to make up a story, but when they kept talking about it with each other during my pedicure, it was awkward. It made me feel like I was on display." — Aasha Benton
"When I was a junior in college, I shaved my hair off; and in the process of attempting to grow it back, I got faux locs. The locs were long and heavy. I worked in an administrative office for my university, and my boss had never seen my hair braided. She proceeded to ask me if I took showers regularly because she didn't understand how I could get wet if I had so much hair on top of my head. I had to explain that I used shower caps to maintain my hair and not get the braids wet. It was a very demeaning moment, and it happened in front of other students that worked in the office. That's just one of many instances where my natural hairstyles have been demeaned by non-black women." — Lauriel Cleveland
"I feel like I've had so many encounters with discrimination or pure ignorance from strangers toward my natural hair that it's hard to keep track. A lot of the feedback I get is mostly positive, so it always outweighs the negative, but I will get random strangers reaching to touch my hair without permission, assuming that it's fake or a wig, or asking if it's all my hair. I remember a few years ago, I was at a Christmas party, and I was talking to a group of people who were mostly Caucasian when the conversation shifted towards my hair's texture and volume. It started off as just plain curiosity and a few compliments here and there, but then all of a sudden five different hands were reaching toward my hair and petting it. They were saying remarks like, 'Oh it's actually soft,' and 'Wow, it doesn't feel like I thought it would.' I felt so uncomfortable. There was zero regard for my personal space or the fact that you can't go around petting strangers on the head like a puppy. It was so disrespectful. Now whenever someone says something about my hair, I automatically back away because I can already feel them wanting to grab it without permission. I also had an older woman in an airport come up to me and say, 'I had to come look at your hair from the front because from the back it doesn't look good, but from the front, it looks interesting.' At the time I was with another friend of mine who also happened to have curly hair. Then, the woman turned to her and said 'Oh, you have interesting hair as well. Are you friends because of your hair?' [insert eye roll here]." — Bianca Alexa
"I had an instance where I walked into a fitness studio after having my hair blown out. Immediately, my instructor insisted on touching my hair in awe. Although it was a harmless gesture, I felt as if I were a pet. I've been left feeling as if my identity is embedded in my hair. In my best India Arie voice, I want people to know that I am not my hair." — Mominatu Boog
"A few weeks before my undergrad graduation, I went to visit my college department advisors to finalize details and review my portion in a video highlighting my communication program. Before showing me the video, my advisor made a comment saying she did not recognize me because I had my hair in a puff and no longer the braids I wore in the video. She continued to pause the video to inquire about my curls, asking if this was my 'end of the year' look and saying my hair could look this way because I was 'only going to graduate school.' What she did not know was that I was attending the online program for one of the top programs in the nation as well as interning at a notable news station in two weeks. Nonetheless, I let both advisors know that I would not tolerate this commentary as I had friends and mentees in the same program. I requested my removal from the welcome videos and spoke with the head of the department. The style of my hair does not take away from my accomplishments, nor does your opinion define my beauty." — Brea Finney
"I felt uncomfortable with being natural for the first time when I entered a 9-to-5 office. Not to say I didn’t have family members who occasionally shaded my decision to chop off the dead weight that was my permed tresses, but a 9-to-5 brought a different kind of discomfort. I was a month in at my new work home and decided to take out my sleek bob. The receptionist who has a history of making underhanded racist jokes asked me if I had a long night. This was after I entered the building with my freshly-washed and twisted natural hairstyle. This question was followed by my black female co-worker, who shyly asked me when I was going to get my hair done. Then, my white male co-worker announced to the whole office that he thought my hair looked great—I didn't ask for his opinion. Overall, this is an experience that comes up at work more than anywhere else. I've learned different methods to maneuver my way around questions judging my hair. During this time, I was already enduring an internal battle, trying to find myself attractive while rocking natural hairstyles. This personal challenge, combined with working with people who don't value natural hair, was hard. My confidence levels have definitely risen, but the battle of hair acceptance still continues." — Mellisa Scarlett
"While I was in Philadelphia, I walked inside a restaurant to get some food. I had just gotten my hair done the same day, so it was on fleek. I walked in to pick up my order, and a non-black waiter asked if I was wearing my real hair. Even though it wasn't, I said yes because I'm honestly tired of getting the same question. He then says, 'Very pretty, most girls around here don't wear fake hair, and it's ugly." So, I asked myself, 'If I would've told him it's not my hair, would I be ugly?'" — She'Neil Johnson
"I wasn't at the forefront of the natural hair movement until 2012 when I caught the wave. For years I wanted to cut out my relaxer and reacquaint myself with my natural hair, but after being discouraged in college for not having a 'good hair' texture by my hairdresser, and doubting that my face could handle a TWA (teenie weenie afro), I suppressed the feeling. But in October of 2012, [amid] a post-weave removal—bed of half-naps and half-relaxed split ends—I finally came to terms and told my hairdresser to 'just cut it all off.' She did it. I sent a selfie to my boyfriend, and he hated it. My moment of self-exploration and self-expression became a commentary between him and me on how involved a romantic partner should be in the decision to adjust your hairstyle. I was hurt and confused, and what's worse is [it affected] my self-confidence. Singularly addressing the fact that I, a 25-year-old woman, who could always style her hair with the quick bend of a curling iron, needed to learn what her strands looked like coming out of her head, was challenging enough. Layering in the unsupportive boyfriend didn't help." — Isata Yansaneh
"My hair has always been a topic of discussion, so hearing outrageous comments is not new to me. The one I hear the most is, 'Is it real?' Then, without warning, they proceed to check my scalp for tracks. My first time being signed to a modeling agency, the bookers thought I was two different models and only wanted to sign me with straight hair because they believed black women's hair can only look one way. In my opinion, black women's hair is like the petals of flowers, differing in all shapes, sizes, and colors. My hair is a reminder of my roots from my ancestors, and I'm very proud of its versatility. We are not packaged Barbies that only come in one style." — Renee Bhagwandeen
"My strong Creole roots are in Louisiana. Hair texture has always been a big deal in my family. The finer the hair, the better. So when I decided to go natural, you can only imagine the response I got from them. However, it wasn't until I interviewed for a job [in 2017] that I truly saw how much my natural hair would be shunned by my family. Before I interviewed, I talked to some members of my family so I could get some interview advice. Their overarching suggestion was that I should not wear my natural hair to an interview because it can be intimidating or make me stand out in the workplace. I was shocked that my family would say I had to change who I am to get a job. This showed me that in 2017, our own people [didn't] even think [we were] good enough." — Diamond Jones
"I think by the time I was in high school, I was very used to hearing people, both black and white, tell me I was lucky I had 'good hair.' People used to run their hands through my hair and, if they couldn't easily rake their hands through, they'd say, 'It's nappy, but it doesn't look nappy, which is good.' It felt like a slap in the face to my black mother for anyone to claim that I was lucky I didn't inherit a feature of her's (in this case, thick, kinky curls). It turned out to be pretty devastating to both her pride as my mother and my pride in my blackness. It wasn't until I began acknowledging those comments as insults and vocalizing my disgust in them that I began to feel more positive about my identity and regained a protective role in my black womanhood." — Leanna Commins
"Once, while at a car wash, a man approached me and asked me to take off my turban. He explained that he wanted to see if I had 'good hair.' I felt extremely offended that his pursuit of me depended upon my hair texture. This man didn’t know how offensive his actions were. How could he? He had not grown up being indoctrinated with Eurocentric beauty ideals and messages that alienated those with coarse hair. I never fit into the box of Eurocentric beauty, but as I grew older, I realized I didn’t have to. My natural hair, kinky and coarse, has never been glamorized in the media or society. Over the years, I developed a tendency to question my self-worth and the value of my hair. 'Am I only pretty with a weave in my hair?' It’s unfortunate to me that my black brothers are the ones criticizing my hair the most. At one point, I [decided] to embrace my natural hair. To help myself along this journey of self-love, I had to repeat positive affirmations to myself and reassure myself that I was enough and that my hair does not define me, contrary to what the media tries to insinuate. I know that there is no such thing as good hair, every curl pattern and texture is beautiful." — Regine Christie
"I was at my corporate job sitting at my desk in an open floor plan space. My white male co-worker yelled across the space and said, 'Hey, is that horsehair?' in reference to my long box braids. I was really embarrassed and speechless. I couldn't believe that my hair was just compared to an animal. Looking back, I'm not embarrassed anymore because the only person that should have been embarrassed [was] him." — Alysia Bebel
"I decided to pay a visit to my friend after volunteering my time as a host for a television pilot. Being that it was my first show, as well as my first time being on camera with my natural hair, I was a bit nervous because it would be the first time people would see the 'real me.' Luckily, I received nothing but compliments on my coily curls, instilling a newfound confidence and reassurance within myself. When I stopped by my friend's place, she began to ask me if I went on air with my hair styled the way it was (its natural state) and proceeded to tell me that it looked dusty and unkempt. I hid my hurt beneath a smile and shook it off, only to deal with an insecurity that would plague me until I reinstilled confidence to be comfortable with who I am. I receive compliments from strangers daily, and she's the only person who has made me feel insecure about being in my purest state." — Brittany Antoinette
"I was at LaGuardia Airport minding my own business as I washed my hands in the restroom, and an older white woman came up to me to express how much she loved my braids. I kindly replied 'thank you' and proceeded to try to leave the bathroom—but she wasn't done discussing my hair. She began asking question after question like, 'Is that all your hair? Is it heavy? How long does it take to do? How do you wash it? Where do you get those beads (meaning my gold hair cuffs) from?'' I tried to be as polite as possible and answer all of them as she continued to treat me as if my hair was the biggest phenomena she'd ever seen. Then she asked the question I hate the most: 'Can I touch it?' My body cringed as I heard the words come out of her mouth. I handed her a braid so that I could make this whole experience just be over. She stared at it in awe and thanked me for being so nice to her. She then reassured me that she wasn't racist, just curious. I ran out of the bathroom with so many questions running through my mind. 'Do I go around asking white women can I touch their hair because it's different than mine?' No, because that's just weird and rude. I also question what type of vibe I give off that makes people think that it's okay to just ask me to touch my hair—because it's not. This is just one of the many frustrating, uncomfortable, and bothersome experiences that I've had with my hair." — Jasmine Hart
"I remember during my days working as a stylist at a retail store during one of my college breaks, a co-worker asked me [if it's] possible for my hair to grow past my shoulders. That wasn't the weirdest part—she then went on to say, 'I never see black women with long hair that's their own. It's always like a wig or something.' I had to enlighten her that there are plenty of black women with long, healthy hair, and many times when you see women with naturally curly hair it's shrunk because of the texture or they may be wearing extensions as a protective style over their amazing crowning glory. Her statements didn't make me feel horrible personally, because I care more about the health of my hair than the length. But, it did enlighten me to the fact that there are many others who unfortunately probably think the same way [she did]." — Jacqueline Yates
"Being a brown girl in corporate America has definitely been one of the most interesting and eye-opening experiences. Having worked at my company for a little over three years now, I can think of countless moments where co-workers commented on my curly afro or tried to touch my natural hair in amazement. I recently decided to try out braids as a protective style alternative and was met with more curiosity than I felt comfortable with. One instance, in particular, I was cornered and double-teamed by two co-workers who were perplexed by the metal jewelry that my hairstylist added for a little more 'edge.' As one asked questions like, 'Wow, how long did that take?" the other coworker began to touch the jewelry as if she were trying to take it out. I immediately swatted her hand away and said sternly, "You can look, but do not touch my damn hair." I think I might have scared them a little because they both looked shocked that I responded with such an attitude. I can't imagine what made them feel like it was acceptable to corner me to ask questions and touch me like I was on exhibit at a petting zoo." — Jamie Williams
"Over the summer I worked an internship that would hopefully turn into a full-time offer following graduation. It was a very high-pressure environment where impressing superiors was imperative. One of my supervisors insisted on commenting on my hair every chance he got. If it was wet, he would ask how long it would take to dry. If it was dry, he would ask why it's so much flatter when it's wet. When I wore it in a bun, he once asked me if all my hair was 'secure and intact?' Waiting on a much-needed offer, I was in a situation where I was forced to bite my tongue. Finally, during my last week, he had the nerve to reach out his old man arm and touch my hair. I dodged his arm swiftly and gave him my most raw and immediate reaction, which was a severe side-eye. He instantly apologized, as my reaction showed him that his action was not OK." —Raven
"I never saw my mom with straight hair. Her hair was always dreadlocked, shaven, or kinky. So I thought that my hair was beautiful. That foundation allowed me to interact with the outside world in a much different way. As an actor, I've been told to straighten, straighten, straighten my hair by white directors. I've been told my hair is ugly and too kinky and that I could be beautiful if I would manipulate my curl. But what I know is that the gravity-defying curls that lay on my head are being held up by ancestors because I am their greatest dream." — Sekai Abeni
"I remember when I first went natural, which wasn't for any other reason than that I wanted to try a hairstyle in a magazine and the model had coarse hair. My high school friend and I were planning a day out and she suggested we go hang out in Central Park. "But where [are] we going to sit?" I asked. "The ground," she replied, to which I scoffed. "What? I thought you liked that sitting in the grass stuff," she said. I'm not a fan of outdoorsy things, so it's annoying that people instantly assume I'm some sort of tree-hugging nature girl simply because I opt to wear my hair in its curliest state." — Stacy-Ann Ellis
"I was once told that I needed to wear my hair in a more conservative way because I was going on national TV. I realized that meant I had to go from a curly fro to straight-and-pressed hair. To this very day, I'm shocked that people still care about how women of color present their hair. I never hear of other races being told to wear their hair in a certain way to look 'presentable.'"— Nana Agyemang
"When I was in middle school, the teacher asked the girls who had long hair to raise their hands as part of a lesson plan. When I raised my hand, one of my classmates replied, 'Yeah but you don’t really have long hair, it's more like a bird’s nest of a mess.' It made me feel insecure and less than the other girls in my class with traditionally long, straight hair." — Rachel Gordon
"When I was in middle school, I constantly got asked by the same girls what I was mixed with because I'd wear my hair in big, curly ponytails. It wasn't until I was older that I realized that I was being complimented. I think that speaks to a lot of the ways young black women are conditioned to think about our hair. Blackness is so versatile, and just like our skin, ranging from shades of sweet honey to rich like the earth beneath our feet, our hair is beautiful in all its forms, whether it's relaxed, braided, slicked-back, or natural." — Sydnee Monday
"Growing up without my mom, and in a predominantly white area, I always felt different than other girls. My hair became one of my biggest insecurities. My dad would bring me to the African hair braiders in Brooklyn to get box braids as a protective style—that made me feel like such an individual. It was that one thing that no one else had. As a former ballerina, it is standard and expected to have your hair brushed back in a tight bun. One day before class, my babysitter put my tiny individual braids in a bun and what happened next stayed with me forever. My ballet teacher, Ms. Sonya, questioned why my hair looked the way it did. She said I looked like Medusa, and I was barred from class until I took my braids out. I remember feeling embarrassed and sad that I was singled out for my hair being different despite it being in the parameters of a ballerina bun. I didn't understand the extent of her insult until I looked up a photo on the family computer of Medusa. Medusa was a monster in Greek mythology and described as a winged woman with living venomous snakes in place of hair. I went home and told my dad what Ms. Sonya said, and he was livid. He immediately called the dance studio and schooled her on protective styles for black girls. Despite my being 9-years-old, I was not going to let Ms. Sonya's ignorance plague my view of box braids. Box braids are something I hold near and dear me. They represent originality, individuality, and black culture across the diaspora. For any little girls reading this that are made fun of for braids or feel different because of them, your style of choice binds you to all of the beautiful women across the diaspora for generations preceding you, and there is power in that." — Darnelle Casimir
"My dreads were always viewed as different. We didn't see a whole lot of other kids wearing them, and for so many of my elementary years, I remember kids making fun of me. They called my hair such nasty names. When my parents were going through a divorce in fifth grade, my dad cut my dreads, which became the start of my natural hair journey. I got a perm in the sixth grade and then decided that I didn't like that my curls were dead when they were relaxed and straightened. So I grew it out by getting my hair pressed until all of my chemically relaxed roots were gone. By high school, I grew to love my hair. However, I don't care what anyone has to say because my identity is not in my hair. I wear my crown of hair the way I do because it's how He made me, and I won't be ashamed of it. " — Zuleika Spears
"I personally love changing my hairstyles up, from wearing it natural to having a weave. What I dread are the questions at work about the different changes. I don't like to even come around my white co-workers the first day of a new hairstyle because they always overanalyze it as if black women's hair isn't as versatile as theirs. From the 'Wow, new hair' to the 'So, what'd you do to get it like that?' these questions take the joy away from a long-awaited silk press, a new long weave, or just a simple twist-out. To be honest, it makes me hypersensitive about my hair and what style I choose." — Kali Stewart
“The notion of wearing a protective style during summer gave me anxiety. I was afraid of being judged by the people I work with. For the first six months in my role, I wore my natural hair straight, in a very sleek and tidy bob. At the time, I was the only black woman on my entire team, so I felt a responsibility to set the example for how 'presentable' black women can look. Silly, I know. The summer months approached, and I knew New York's humidity would be no match for my hair. So, I decided green ombré box braids would be a great summer style. Worry immediately started to creep into my mind. Would I have to explain the style to my co-workers? Would people want to touch my hair? Would people misunderstand the style and label me 'ghetto?' I remember on my first day, one of my co-workers came around to my desk to get a closer look at my hair. She walked around and examined my hair like I was some strange object. She hovered over me and said, 'It's so cool, can I touch it?' I kept it cute and gave her a stern 'no.' Many weird comments and questions about my hair followed by my team. I left the office that day feeling like some kind of case study. It was really difficult to process the reactions. It was a bit disheartening, but I decided I wouldn’t let it stop me from expressing myself with my hair. I've changed my hair to two other braided styles since." — Shelby Christie
"It was the third day of my junior year at SUNY Plattsburgh, which is a predominately white institute, and I was heading to work for my regular shift at the library. There happened to be two older white women on the elevator with me. Within two seconds, they began bombarding me with questions and comments about my hair. At the time, I had large jumbo braids as a way to maintain and protect my hair for the first quarter of the semester. They began with: 'You're so beautiful, honey. Where are you from?' Then, they started to ask more invasive questions and finally began to actually touch my hair. 'Your hair is beautiful, and so long. How long did it take you to do this?' While it was happening, I was at a loss for words, so I just stood there awkwardly with a crooked smile on my face. On the inside I was angry, but it can be hard to express that without being labeled as 'an angry black woman' or 'intimidating.' I recited Solange's 'Don't Touch My Hair' song in my head the whole time. I felt as though I was some sort of exotic toy, and what made it all worse is that I couldn't correct them in the moment. I was left voiceless, which upset me because I knew so many other black women have experienced the same thing." — Chelsea Asare
Ed. note: Quotes have been shortened and edited for content.
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