Don’t Touch My Hair

At 17, sitting on my parents' front porch.
At 17, sitting on my parents’ front porch.

Don’t touch my hair. My hair is ground zero in a cultural war that insists on perfect bodies, perfect hair, a culture war that privileges the straight and the white and the undamaged. The docile. The normal.

But my hair is not docile or straight.

My hair falls in wild, big curls. Not the kind you see on TV commercials. No, my friend. Those are generally curls that someone spent hours perfecting–glossy, symmetrical, and fake. My curls are natural, which means frizz and flyaways and wishing the rest of my hair would look like that one perfect curl in front.

When I was young, my mother tried to tame my curls, to straighten them with a round brush and a hair dryer and sheer will power. She’d pull half (or all) of it back and pin it up with a hair-bow bigger than my head, likely one made by my grandmother. My hair was never entirely smooth though, and if it was humid outside—-which is basically always in lower-Mississippi where I grew up—-my hair turned into a great big frizz ball. “Medusa,” a boy in my elementary class called me.

I was in the sixth grade when my brother decided to get married. I was to be a junior bridesmaid, and my mom took me to a local hairstylist. She cut my hair and coaxed the big natural curls out into the open. I looked at myself in a mirror, and I didn’t think that was my hair. It couldn’t be my hair, that long and wild and beautiful mess. It was, though.

In the seventh grade, during what can only be construed as a moment of temporary insanity, I cut my hair. I don’t mean a little bit cut—I mean that my hair, which had been past my shoulders, was suddenly so short that it just grazed the tops of my ears.

I punched the only boy I’ve ever punched that year. It was the day of try-outs for our junior high dance team, and I was very nervous. I’d never tried out for anything before, and all my friends were trying out, too. I’d fixed my short hair so that it was pulled away from my face, as per tryout instructions. In science class, the boy behind me whispered “who’d you let mess up your hair.” I turned around and punched him in the stomach, surprising everyone in class, including myself.

In high school, one of the basketball coaches was my health teachers. He was young and handsome, but there was something I didn’t like about him. One day, he asked me if I “had a little sister” in me, if that was why my hair was so curly. It was the first time, but not the last, that people would ask about my race, assuming that my curls were something that fit into categorical boxes of White and Other. Even now, when it happens it surprises me as I think through the invasive nature of the question and all of its implications.

I dyed my hair for the first time when I was 17, choosing bright highlights. As a college student, I colored my hair most every natural color, and several unnatural ones, too. I learned for the first time how to

embracing
At 31, Mardi Gras 2014

straighten my hair without the frizziness. Straightening irons, I discovered, were the key. Good ones. And my straight hair got attention, turned heads that were accustomed to large curls framing my face. Reactions tended (and still do) to vacillate between “oh, why did you straighten it” from the self-professed curl admirerers, those who would like to have curls themselves, to “you should always wear it like this.” But at least no one touched it. When my hair is curly, people can’t resist touching it. Close friends, mere acquaintances, and even strangers have, at various points in my life, just reached over, pulled one my curls so that it stretches to its full, straightened length, and then let it go, all for the pleasure of watching it spring back into a curl.

As I’ve gotten older, moving out of college and into graduate school and now a married woman in her 30s, fewer people have reached out for those strands. A 30 year old woman commands more respect than a 10 year old girl. She has more control over her body, at least the parts of it that aren’t being legislated.

And she can say, loudly “Don’t touch my hair.”

 

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54 Comments

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  1. Oh, wow, this made me laugh a little, mainly because I can relate! I mentioned about it in my post, feel free to read, it’s just at the start 🙂

    Anyhoo, I can’t believe that strangers would touch your hair. People do touch mine as well at times, but they’re people I know.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s also like when they touch the bellies of pregnant women (I have observed this before and then experienced it myself when I got pregnant). I always thought it’s funny that when someone gets pregnant, suddenly, others can simply reach out and touch her belly without even asking if it would be alright to do so.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. YES! This is such a weird thing to me.

          I didn’t have the rounded, obviously prego belly when I had my son, and I didn’t get a lot of that—but man, oh man, have I seen it happen!

          Liked by 1 person

        2. I got those, but at least it’s from people I know. And I didn’t really mind because they were doing it out of fondness for the yet-unborn child. Sometime ago, I wanted to write about my experiences during pregnancy, and that included the touch-the-belly thing, but I didn’t have the time until I lost the baby last March. I suddenly lost a bit of interest. However, I am still keeping that in my list of things to write about.

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  2. I love curly hair! I wake up early just so I can curl my hair every other day before leaving for work. 😀 The most I can get are limpy waves. SMH. My little girl has curly hair, she’s 4 and I keep telling her that hair hair is beautiful because here in our country, almost every girl is obsessed with super straight hair. I hope that she would grow up loving her curls. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. ‘at least the parts of it that aren’t being legislated’ … This, makes me want to throw things down over the border at those ‘legislators’.
    … my daughter-in-law and granddaughter have your kind of curls, and both have experienced the same kind of personal space invasion. I don’t get it … but then I’m also not the sort of person who rocks up to a pregnant woman and starts fondling her stomach! Humans are a weird species.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I love your curls! Just wanted to get that out there. I can absolutely believe people will touch your hair, your baby bump, your infant and several other body parts, not that infants/children are parts. When working with small children they will often touch my light blonde hair, no problem. They are simply exploring. But adult should know better and I do not mind telling them so.
    As for the teacher, we can compare horror stories sometime. I have never had questions about my racial identity. I have been asked wildly inappropriate things by teachers, pastors and other adults. Thanks for letting me sound off on this thread.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. A lot of this comes down to issues of personal space and consent—and by the time a person is an adult, they should understand those rules, which is why I find it so much stranger for an adult than a kid to reach out for my hair or a baby bump or a newborn.

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  5. I’m kind of obsessed with my hair, and I’m too far gone to think that’s entirely a bad thing. 😉 But I went from sort of brownish blonde unremarkable to very, very red just before I started college about 3-4 years ago. It makes a strange amount of difference in how I’m treated, and people comment on it ALL the time. Usually positive. I’m now “the one with the red hair” and I like that.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m a little obsessed with mine, too. One of the annoying things about people touching my hair is that they always leave it frizzier. But it’s really the only feature I’m terribly vain about, so pffft. lol

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  6. I’ve learned things about you today I never knew. Like that you punched someone in the stomach in school. I never did that. And you must PM me the name of that coach. You should have put the quotes just around “sister” instead of that whole sentence. It took me a minute to get that, but the quotes around the one word would have made it instantaneous.

    Far as the hair-touching goes. Not something that I’ve had to deal with, but Vicki has plenty of stories.

    You are quite the beautiful creature. The photo of you at 17 you led with is nice. That was a good call.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Why thank you.

      The punching incident didn’t make it to the principal’s office, so I don’t even know if Mom knew that until she read this. lol The teacher pulled us aside and asked what was going on, and when I explained she reprimanded us both and made us sit far away from one another instead of sending either of us to the office. There was some white privilege in that incident—if I hadn’t been a little white girl whose mother worked at the school, I’d have been in more serious trouble, I think.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, there’s lots of privilege in that story, and also you have to think about the year it happened.

        I’d have been jailed many times in my teens and 20s, if I weren’t white, didn’t got to an all-white private school for the last six years of high school, or had just been born 15 years later.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m one of those people who has straight hair that goes limp in the heat. When I was younger I wanted it to be curly (and went through that perming phase), but now I’m at peace with it. I can’t believe that people just came up and touched your hair. Actually, I can, but yick! I wish we’d do a better job of making people understand that hair is no different than the rest of your body — it’s personal. And we should support our kids when they tell people to back off!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. You know, I think if we were to start allowing kids to say “no” more often when they’re young, we wouldn’t have as many issues with consent when they’re older. We muddy the waters by telling them that there are people they can’t say no to, and then no doesn’t mean as much when they’re older.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Too true. Supporting “no” would also help kids have consistent boundaries with everyone, even those who are close to them. I feel this is a really important message, since there are too many kids who are abused by those who they know well.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. I had bright red hair as a young’un. People were constantly wanting to touch it in public and my mother, narcissist and such, encouraged it. Ugh.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ugh, I’m sorry. I found it even more frustrating when I was a kid and the person was a grown-up, because it didn’t feel like I could say “no, don’t touch my fuckin hair.”

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    1. hehe….My hair has probably been the same color as yours at some point. It’s honestly been every color but blonde, mostly because I would look silly as a blonde. Have people tried touching your hair a lot?

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Painfully relatable, especially when I straighten my hair and have people tell me “I should always wear it like that” or cry out loud about “changing my identity.”

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Whoah! I can’t believe that teacher said that to you!

    I think hair is very personal. I have no idea why, maybe because it is such a defining characteristic.

    My parents made me get a short “boy” hair cut when I was in 6th grade because I was a tomboy who didn’t care much for hygiene and shampoo. It was awful. My hair grows REALLY slowly so it didn’t get to an acceptable length for three years. I have actually cried over some bad haircuts in my lifetime which is not something I’m proud of.

    As for people touching your hair? I can’t imagine touching anyone’s hair that I’m not closely related to. I’m a touchy kind of person, but no. Not even a kid. And I would be quite annoyed if people were constantly touching my kid’s hair.

    And I think your curly hair is beautiful.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hair IS very personal, and more so for women, because it is a status marker for women in a way that it is not for men.

      I can’t imagine touching anyone’s hair, either. But I’ve seen it happen. People are fascinated by hair that is WAY different than their own.

      And yeah the curls are beautiful. My hair would do that at one time. Probably would not now, because I am older and have had it sort for so long. It frizzes a lot on the humid days, though.

      Am also agog at the Health Teacher. Not a story I’d heard until I read this post.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. I tend to think of hair as a really personal thing, too, especially for women.

      My hair grows pretty quickly, so I’ve never been afraid to cut it or color it or do something new with it—of course, that’s resulted in some comical styles. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I admit I’m one of those people who struggles to resist reaching out to touch the curls on someone’s head. Anyone’s. Curls are like magnets to me.
    Both of my sons have audacious curls and even they don’t like mom bouncing their curls. *Sigh*

    Liked by 3 people

  12. I’ve always envied the curly-headed-ones. Even though I know the challenges and trials (hair is really one of those “grass is always greener” kinds of things, isn’t it?) my own hair is so perfectly stringy and straight — there is NOTHING I can do to it, and the only way it holds a curl is with about 10 pounds of hair spray (yet, still gets the frizzy craziness in the wrong weather).
    I am always amazed at the lack of respect for people’s personal space and the invasive questions and comments that people seem to think are acceptable…. so not okay.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. I think that women are very much “attached” to their hair and how they wear it…much more so than any other part of their body. In my family (and with a lot of other women) hair is our identity…kind of our definition. From the length to the color; from curls to straightness; pulled back or hanging loose; it is something we deal with every day and we tend to have a little more control of our hair than of our weight or our boobs or other parts of our body. If we don’t like it, we can cut it off and start over or we can color it or perm it. I’m very much into my hair. I don’t fuss with it but I won’t let anyone tell me how to wear it or what I should do with it. No one controls my hair but me!

    Liked by 2 people

      1. It definitely became a part of mine. I had Shirley Temple hair until about 3rd grade, when a lice epidemic forced my mother to give me a pixie cut. I was not mentally prepared for the shocked looks I got at school the next day. Girls that had often braided my hair while waiting for the bell actually CRIED when they saw how short it’d gotten. Every since, I’ve been petrified to cut it that short again. (And now, due to an illness, it is falling out at an alarming rate, and I hate taking showers…)

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Oh gosh, what an experience….That’s a mess! And sorry to hear about the illness. I have a difficult time imagining myself without my hair; I know that’s terribly vain, but my hair is all bound up in identity, or maybe my identity is bound up in hair, I’m not sure which—either way, it’s fascinating, both on a personal and cultural level.

          Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I agree—I think it’s largely about control. Our hair can change faster—and more cheaply—than anything else we have. Lots of women change their hair drastically after a break-up, and I think that’s directly connected to the ideas of controlling our own changes and our own identities.

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  14. I literally can’t believe that teacher’s question. Inappropriately nosy only just begins to cover it.
    I’ve always thought curls would be kind of fun though. (Yes my hair is very straight. )

    Liked by 2 people

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