Photography by Joana Meurkens, Interview by Carolina Meurkens
In a society that values whiteness and one’s ability to approximate it, hair can be a battleground. In Hair Stories, we wrestle with what it means to love yourself through your relationship with hair and others’ perception of it. Through interviews with our editors, contributors and community members, we journey through what beauty means in different cultures and the narratives woven into our locs. Where do our hair preferences and grievances come from? What does our hair tell us about our family history, our culture, our people? In this series, we interview and photograph people from different diasporas, to get the root of their hair story. We ask them; what does your hair symbolize to you?
This month, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kimber, fellow co-founder of Mixed Mag who will be continuing the hair stories series while I’m on maternity leave. Her hair journey tells the story of coming of age as a biracial woman, finding confidence in her curls and the stories they tell.
“In school, it seemed like the “prettiest” people had straight or relaxed hair. White Eurocentric beauty standards were celebrated, and I realized that the hard way when I straightened my hair for the first time in high school.”
I’m mixed race (half-caucasian and half-Black). My mother and father are both from the United States, the East Coast and the Midwest. I grew up in New York City. which is obviously a huge melting pot, but there were still Eurocentric standards pushed onto myself & most other children, especially when going to predominantly white schools.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve found myself becoming more comfortable and confident with my hair, however it was a journey of learning and relearning how to love it in all its curly glory. I remember being aware of my hair from a young age. Not only from memories of extreme discomfort as I sat in the bathroom with my mother while she brushed my hair before school, but because my hair wasn’t like most of the children I was around. In school, it seemed like the “prettiest” people had straight or relaxed hair. White Eurocentric beauty standards were celebrated, and I realized that the hard way when I straightened my hair for the first time in high school. “You’re so beautiful!” “You look so much older!” “You should always straighten your hair!”
But sometimes my hair was perceived as beautiful by other classmates. Or maybe fascinating is a better word… some people at school would ask to touch my hair. I wasn’t really comfortable with it, but I was also a very shy kid who didn’t know how to stick up for herself and didn’t want to come off as overly sensitive or rude.
Because I took ballet class after school, I was always getting yelled at about my strands of my hair being loose in my ballet buns. I had wild curls, and in the ballet world, they were perceived as a nuisance. I was constantly put on the spot by teachers as the “bad example” when it came to hair. It was embarrassing. But the older I got, the more I appreciated my curls. I start playing with length and color. My bangs have been my biggest confidence booster. I got them almost three years ago after a break up and they’re one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I love my bangs, I love how it makes my hair fall, how it encourages me to take risks! It sounds silly but it brought me closer to realizing my Bad Bitch self. I love my hair!
I keep my hair routine really simple but one thing I do to prevent tangling (because I get some of the gnarliest knots ever) is braiding it every night before bed. But other than that, I keep everything about my hair really simple. I condition every day, shampoo my hair a couple times a week and during the summer I put in a small dollop of apres-conditioning cream so the humidity doesn’t get to it.
I have become more adventurous in some of the styles I put my hair in recently. I’ve found some really fun clips and barrettes in Rite Aid! One of my new favorite things to do is this little 90s’/y2k moment. I’ll take two small sections of my hair, one of either side and tie them up in miniature ponytails. Then I take my Rite Aid butterfly clips and attach to the top of the ponytails. Boom, she fell right out of a Delia’s catalogue.
“The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve become comfortable and confident in my hair, and I know that people pick up on that. But I’ve witnessed some of my friends face discrimination in their workplaces or among their white peers when it’s come to their hair.”
I’ve definitely been on both sides of the coin when it comes to privilege and discrimination. I’ve been taunted, teased and ridiculed by adults and children about my hair. I’ve also felt privileged. The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve become comfortable and confident in my hair, and I know that people pick up on that. But I’ve witnessed some of my friends face discrimination in their workplaces or among their white peers when it’s come to their hair. I mean, the fact that many hair people on movie sets and TV shows don’t understand 4A/4B/4C hair but go to school to learn how to do hair, have all the resources and tools to learn about many types of hair… like really? It’s 2021 and you still can’t figure out how to be of help to BIPOC/POC actors that don’t have 2A hair? Okay.
Something that helped me come to accept and LOVE my hair was straightening it. Something about hearing people take note of me in ways that they didn’t when I rock my curls 364 days of the year fueled this passion in me to make people love my curls the same way they loved my straight hair. My curls are beautiful. Hair that isn’t within Eurocentric standards is beautiful. I am committed to celebrating my hair the same way others celebrate straight hair. I’m proud of my mane.