"I feel like my hair is difficult to manage but it's worth it. I've had to learn to love it in the sense that it's very hard to maintain a certain style, it's hard to get the style I want, but when I find the style I'm happy with, it's something I can resonate with because it's a part of my identity. I do like to change up my look, as much as I can, as much as is manageable. But I find it so helpful in expressing myself and finding who I really am and who I present myself to be."
AYNNICHELLE SLAPPY '20, Perspectives Editor
"I grew up surrounded by colorful minks, colorful weaves, and colorful people. My Mom and my Godmom ran their own beauty salon and a fashion boutique, and they. were. FLY. EVERYDAY. ALL DAY. My images of beauty came from Ed Hardy hats, Roc-a-wear jeans, and any flashy accessory you can throw on to pull it all together. Being extra was being just enough. I remember the first time I was ashamed of my hair. It was 9th grade, and I was fixing my twist-out in my locker mirror when a white girl came to comfort me about the bad hair day I was having. The genuine expression of pity on her face is forever sketched in my mind. That someone would feel sorry for me because of the way I looked, especially when I took so much pride in my appearance, constructed a new type of beauty that I would never lose sight of, and also never be able to achieve. After soul-searching I was able to reassert my own personal identity. I had already bought 3 Aeropostle sweaters, and learned the words to Sk8r Boi. What I realized when I came to Swat, was that everyone wants to be Black anyways, so when you all ask me to turn down my Anita Baker, for your Post Malone, I know that sense of pity that white girl felt for me. I have that for anybody who has ever "sampled" or had a "phase" where they were into my culture.”
Jolleen Opula '21
"Braiding is not only a protective style but also part of my culture as an African. I like trying out new braid patterns and colors."
MARIEME DIOP '18
"I had straightened hair and I cut it three and a half years ago because I realized that I didn't know what texture my hair was naturally. One day, I woke up and looked at myself in the mirror and thought, "I don't want this anymore," so I went to the bathroom and just cut everything off. People acted really badly. They told me I didn't look good, that I looked like a man. Now that it grew and that it's long and I don't look like a man anymore, it's interesting because I almost want to cut it down again. Short hair really allowed me to be myself. It gave me character and really let me shine."
LINDSEY NORWARD '18, Editor-In-Chief
"I absolutely love my hair. Even on the off-chance I decide to straighten it, in a few hours, my hair moves back up towards the sky as it’s meant to be. I’ve had my hair straightened, braided, bantu-knotted, but I think I love it the most when it’s just out and curly. Because it reminds me that no matter how versatile it is, how adaptable it is, it’s always boldly and vividly itself. No matter how much I’ve ever denied its coily, winding glory, it has continued to prove that its luminescent nature cannot be contained. It’s like the equivalent of finding my way back home despite being given wrong directions along the way. My hair is my eulogy for the countless years I spent growing up, brainwashed, wishing I was someone I now never want to be—someone desperately trying to fit in. The beauty in black hair, for me, is how confrontational and unapologetic it is, just like me. We can do so much with our hair. The possibilities are endless. And I think that’s a reminder of my blackness, a reminder that my life, my humanity, can never be confined to anything other than unabashed love, courage, and autonomy. No matter what style I put it in, my hair is like the sun in the nighttime, patiently waiting to rise again. And even if I’m not ready to embrace myself in that moment, it’s as if this looming destiny to self-actualization is always near.
IBRAHIM TAMALE '20
"The reason I have so much hair right now is because it's Winter and it's cold, so I'm growing my hair out to keep warm."
KEYANNA ORTIZ-CEDENO '19
On doing hair publicly on Swarthmore's campus:
"When I first came to Swarthmore, my hair was in braids. My freshman year the first time I had to take down my braids, I was in the bathroom late at night and sitting on top of the bathroom counter. My hair was in a giant pile on the sink and my roommate came in and saw all that hair and me pulling it out of my head, and she started screaming and was ready to call 9-1-1 because she thought something horrible was happening. I think that moment really influenced how comfortable I was doing my hair around non-Black people. For most of my time at Swarthmore, I've felt as though I really needed to hide when I'm doing my hair, whether that meant braids, twist-outs, or deep-conditioning my hair. Doing black hair is a very beautiful and complex process, but for people who don't understand it and haven't been exposed to it, I suppose it can be intimidating. I didn't want to have to explain to people what I was doing every time I was doing my hair. And I didn't want to add on to stereotypes about black women's hair, particularly as it pertained to weaves. I grew up in a predominantly white and Mexican town where people often hoked and mocked black women around weaves. Even doing basic things in the bathrooms in the dorms at Swarthmore, you can see people looking intimidated or even scared. When I would put my natural hair in a ponytail, there was this freshman last year whose eyes would dilate and who would immediately walk out the bathroom when she saw me. It was never that I was ashamed of my hair, because I love my hair. However, I didn't have the energy to have that conversation with people every time I was just getting ready in the morning. It would have taken less time and energy to do what I was doing and allow that to be an educational experience for anyone who was walking through, and that's really the point I'm at right now. Taking a leave of absence from Swarthmore last semester has definitely helped. I feel like it's mutually beneficial for me to carry myself throughout my day with the same confidence others have the privilege to do. I just came to the point where I realized I didn't want to structure my day around other people's ignorance. It's not my responsibility to teach them, but it's also not my responsibility to protect this reality in which people don't have to interact with blackness in the same way we have to interact with other cultures in our daily lives."
On hair symbolizing cultural authenticity:
"When I came to college, I took the opportunity to engage with not only my blackness, but also with my Latina and Indigenous roots, and I joined SISA and ENLACE. There are very complicated histories and current complications around Afrolatinidad and black natives. It's easier to be seen as a legitimate Latina or legitimate native if there are elements of me that look mixed. And it's a horrible thing to say. I'm not multiracial, but I am multiethnic and people assumed my braided, looser hair was my natural hair when I first got here because I put myself in these spaces like Multi and ENLACE and SISA. And in this context, I suppose people saw me as this light-skinned, mixed girl with loose curls. And that's not an identity that I took pride in and of itself, but I did worry when it came time for me to take down my hair. When I took my hair down, and people saw I have tight curls, I found the legitimacy I had built up in these spaces would disappear. It's more difficult for people with "blacker" features and darker skin to assert themselves as multicultural or multiethnic. Also, there is this very strong perception of what it means to be black in America that is not inclusive of other cultural identities. It's hard to embrace other parts of myself without people thinking I'm trying to seem less black or "exotic". Asserting that I am Latina, particularly as a light-skinned person, is seen as me trying to identify with a different side of me to distance myself from blackness. It's being caught in between a rock and a hard place,. For me, it's me acknowledging the existence of my other family members. It is interesting the ways in which hair or the lack thereof symbols authenticity within cultural spaces."
CHRIS PRECISE '21
"My hair means a lot to me as a black American, a black person, really. I really like everything I can do with my hair, it is so versatile and I'm doing my best to take care of it so I can grow it out nicely. It's something I take pride in and something I've become less apologetic for having."
MAYA HENRY '20
"I feel like I'm in such a different place now than I used to be. I love my hair now and I love wearing my hair out and talking about my hair, especially with black women and femmes. The process of doing my hair is a time for me to take one or two hours out of my day to focus on myself instead of running around from place to place. I feel this way especially during this time where I'm thinking of Black History Month and claiming a country, claiming a place, and thinking about this place and feeling like I don't know where I come from and what we used to do with our hair. Black hair is something that I know people have always been doing, we've always had to do something with this and that makes me feel really connected to something larger than me. It's also a big connection of spirituality for me, just the routine and the process really grounds me and gives me time to take care of and focus on myself. That's something I didn't allow myself to do growing up. I always wore my hair in twists and kept it back and I didn't want people to really look at my hair or me, and now I feel like I come out with my big ass fro and I'm like, "HI!" and I love it. It makes me feel like myself and it makes me feel connected to other people. It makes me feel good and joyful. And I never thought I could have something like that, so I'm really grateful."
BRANDON EKWEONU '20, Poetry Editor
"I cut my dreads just because I felt like changing it up. It felt really weird taking them out, but I'm really loving it. It's pretty dope. I've been learning very recently more about what it looks like to take care of my hair type. I'm excited to kind of do things for my hair that I never thought I could before. I felt like I never really had any models for what my hair is supposed to look like besides all cut off. The dreads were a big change for me, all free-form and all crazy, and now I don't know what I'll do with it, but I'm really happy to be able to experiment with it and play with it, and try out different styles."
ZARA WILLIAMS-NICHOLAS '19
"Once when I was back home in Jamaica, I was a part of this personal development class where the teacher asked us what we liked most about ourselves. I said my hair. At the time my hair was growing very quickly compared how fast I thought it was going to grow, and I was really proud of it. When I stood up and said that everyone was laughing at me, and I couldn't understand why and it set up a whole complex that I had about my hair. I've come through this whole journey starting before I came to Swarthmore, and finally now I'm starting to like my hair and the things I can do with my hair and experimenting around that. I'm really starting to find myself as a whole and I'm really thankful for that."
JOY GEORGE '20
"I started going natural, actually, by accident. I used to relax my hair from when I was seven years old onward, and I also didn't realize how heat and hair worked. When I got introduced to heat, I would straighten my hair every single day, trying to get these wand curls, and basically frying my hair. The conception of beauty to me was straight hair because I was always around white and Latinx people. I just thought that was the standard of beauty I needed to subscribe to. My left side got a lot shorter than my right side due to straightening it, and I didn't want to cut it, so I decided that summer, before my sophomore year of high school, to just stop adding heat to my hair. It was great! I just decided to continue with not using heat by accident. I remember my mother's friend owned a salon where I used to get my hair relaxed. I let her know I was going natural when she came over one day, and she said, "When that phase is over, let me know and I'll relax your hair for you". My reaction was, "So you think this is a phase?" In my experience, my mom has not been very supportive of my hair, and hearing that also from a professional stylist whose is a black woman not supporting my decision was frustrating, but it was also a challenge. I felt like I would prove her wrong and take care of my hair and stay out of her salon. That narrative of straightening hair to be deemed beautiful, professional, or desirable, is one that is jarring when it's perpetuated by black women themselves. But I decided to go on an exploration with my hair. YouTube videos became my best friend. I used to watch videos of lighter-skinned and white women when I was younger, and of course, the techniques I used to do my hair so I had wondered why they weren't working. Going natural, this was the first time I was exposed to the black hair community on YouTube, seeing what porosity and elasticity and different types were, and I realized I could do it by myself, but not really by myself, because there's a community of people already doing it. I've put all my own money towards buying natural hair products and have only been to a natural hair salon to cut my hair for senior year. Since then, I've been natural for four years now. My hair has really become who I am. It is very unruly, very big, very larger-than-life. At one point of my life, I thought my hair grew straight out of my head. It's hard to describe the relationship I have with my hair now, because it's so new, but I wouldn't have it any other way."
AARON HOLMES '19
"I've had my hair long, short, and I've always enjoyed mixing and matching. It's a work in progress, but I enjoy being able to have different styles and always being in control of it. Its meaning is always in flux."
BARBARA TAYLOR '18
"My hair means a way to be comfortable. I wore my hair straight until college and my freshman year I started wearing my hair natural, and it was a way to be comfortable with my skin but also with my identity. I went to a mostly white high school where it would be weird to wear what my hair is now, to being able to be comfortable wearing my hair around this campus. Being comfortable in my own blackness led to wanting to explore what it meant for me, and learning how I connect to blackness."
TINUKE AKINTAYO '18
"Black hair, doing black hair, is a very beautiful skill because it represents artistic expression and freedom. For me, it's very therapeutic. When I'm doing somebody's hair, especially a black woman's, I feel like there's this sort of bonding thing that happens. They may not necessarily feel it, but for me, it's relieving and I feel stress-free. I can just make patterns and designs and do what I want to on their hair. I can do whatever I want with black hair, and that's the freedom with black hair and having kinky and curly, any type of textured hair. I feel like I can do a lot with it, and I notice normally people feel like they can't do much with their afro, but to me, it's just a world of possibilities! You can do anything with it and that's what I love about black hair and doing black women's hair. The bonding process is also really nice, getting to know everyone on campus while they just sit in the chair and chill out and we're just talking. I think it's an experience I wouldn't get if I was doing some other type of hair texture. It's also so nice talking to people about their hair experiences. A lot of people come into my chair with different textures, stories of getting relaxers when they didn't want to when they were young and now going through this whole process of transitioning, it's always nice to hear stories like this. And it's always nice to help people figure out what they want to do with their hair in terms of taking care of it."
DAKOTA GIBBS '19
"For me, my hair is a form of expression. But it's beyond that. It's a statement, a statement of defiance. It's a statement that I don't need to play by your system, and I can be who I want to be even in spaces where you think I can't."
ELYSE O'BANNON '20
"When I was at home, my mom always would do my hair. When I went natural, she would twist it out for me and I'd sit between her legs as an 18-year-old, and whenever I'd come home to visit, she'd ask if I wanted her to do it for me again. It was really nice, something we would always do together. I would look good at home, but when I got to college, I didn't know what to do with it. So I had this idea of what natural hair was supposed to look like, but no real skill or plan on how to do what I thought it should be. Sometimes, I look at my hair and I love it and I think it's the coolest thing ever, and I can't imagine doing anything else with it, like straightening it or cutting it all off. I love the way it looks and I love the way it makes me feels. Other days, it's tangled, and dry, and it's doing the weird thing where it's kind of dreading but kind of not because the clumps are just massive, and I just can't stand it. But I feel like that's the thing that no one tells you about being natural. It's a journey, it's a process, and you don't love it all the time. It isn't great all the time. And for a large portion of the time, I don't think you know what you're doing, and I think that's okay."
GABRIEL STUGER '20
"The problem I have seen me and my sister go through for years is just finding the right product to put in your hair. For me, shampoo isn't that really important, it's what goes in after that. Some kind of smoothie, mouse, leave-in-conditioner. Right now I have three kinds of oil and cocoa butter in it to put in afterwards. So I think one of the struggles is definitely finding the right product to use, to keep it how you want it to be."
BRYTON FETT '18
"I only recently learned to love my hair. I always thought of it as being challenging and tricky to deal with, and hard to style. A lot of that probably came from being in a sphere of whiteness for a lot of my life. Now I feel a lot of happiness when I look at myself and know that this is who I am, and I feel really happy to know that I can embrace my hair and love it, because it's a part of my identity."
ALEXIS RIDDICK '20
"When I was younger, my hair was mostly in braided styles until about 8th grade. I became more interested in people romantically, and I started worrying about whether or not my hair would fit a beauty standard. I decided to get it straightened. I had heat damage, and a lot of us know that story. It was really YouTube people that got me into appreciating my hair out. I remember the first time I looked at it in the mirror after I took my braids out and I thought, "Wow, curly hair really does do something other than being in braids or straightened!""