Hair Stories: (Tatianna)

Interview by Carolina Meurkens

Photography & Creative Direction by Collin Pullum

Wardrobe/ Styling by Anika Ghirnikar

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, we interviewed Mixed Mag’s Editorial Assistant Tatianna Jefferson.

I come from a Black-African American background, enthusiastically. I am from Dayton, Ohio- that’s where I would say I learned the iconic symbolism of Black hair, what it means to the individual, and furthermore, the whole space you occupy. For me, it was in elementary school at Jefferson Montessori, where I learned about and embodied the classic hairstyles that every little Black girl had; multiple ponytails, twists, braids, all of the above- fastened with a barrett and “hair bob”, as my Dayton family called it. Alternatively, we called them “cabbobles” in Arizona, which would be my second home after years of visiting from ages six to twelve. The desert is a whole different thing for curls like mine, and up to that point, I did not really know that I had the curls that I do. My hair was relaxed when living in Ohio, it was just easier that way- and I wouldn’t discover protective styles for myself until late high school.

Baby Tati the hair bobs and barretts

In Ohio, I had what they would call good hair. Lots of it, thick, strong, I was not tender headed (girl, yes I was, I was just tough enough to not cry after enough times). I could sit for long complicated braids, stylists loved doing my hair, though there was a lot of it. I 1000% think that relaxing it was not necessary, especially with how young I was- but it was truly the cultural thing to do. That all changed when I moved to Arizona and was hard pressed to find Black hairstylists that were on the wave length I was- that weren’t going to break the bank on top of it.

My dad was very much about going natural, and so it was a push to get me to a point where I was comfortable enough to give that a try. My hair was always straightened and relaxed, so I was always used to a flatter and smoother texture. I was not ready for the amount of learning it would take to upkeep curly natural hair, but I was lucky to grow up with and be a huge Youtube girly, so learning how was not as hard as it was for all of the other women of my family. My step mom had long dark chocolate wavy hair and it was so hard for me to learn what to do with these curls and coils. Luckily, she was invested in learning how to take care of our hair, but living in AZ with a lot of friends with smoother textures was hard sometimes.

My confidence and comfortability with my hair depended on where I was. I was aware in Black spaces like the salon and even at home, that I had what they called “good hair.” I had lots of it and I liked having a routine day of the week sitting with my mom or aunt while they decided what to do with it. Perming and relaxing my hair at such an early age really shaped how I viewed how to do my hair for a long time. Living in AZ and having a mom with wavy hair was hard, and on top of that, I had a lot of friends that had pretty much straight hair. When I did make other Black friends in high school and I had built enough confidence after some years of learning from the natural hair community on Youtube, I decided to do the big chop. I heard things like, “no, you can’t, your hair is so pretty and long” and my Gram (dad’s mom from Dayton) was so pressed about me having long hair.

Feb 2012, after the first big chop!

The stubborn air sign in me decided I definitely had to cut it short. I was also into Rihanna at the time. It was liberating in a lot of ways and I am so happy that I had the confidence to do that. After that the flood gates were open for me, I was super experimental with my hair. I dyed it red, blue, you name it. Youtube Uni taught me how to do box braids and I did those once in the summertime- it was a fun time!

Growing up around Black and white people, I noticed the difference in how my hair was perceived, specifically when I met my extended family on my stepmother’s side. It was clear through the questions I was being asked that the way my hair was done was very different from what they had ever seen or were used to. That would actually be a theme that I would have to get used to in AZ, because I was largely around white people. I had people put things in my afro to see if it would get lost in school, all kinds of things. I just got used to leaning into jokes like that because otherwise I would have been fighting everyday. I had this guy at a concert once that was walking through the crowd, stick his hands into my afro and touch my scalp, talking bout “I love your hair!!!!!” It was jarring, but not new behavior. People see an afro and lose their sense- and I get it, when it’s different, it’s a spectacle, but it’s also just hair and this is how it lays. The irony is they ask if its real when you straighten it. You just have to laugh, cause otherwise again you’d be fighting all the time. I will say having my grandmother and her sister speak so much life into me and affirm my hair in all of its forms (Gram came around to the big chop, I looked good, she couldn’t deny it!) was a driving force for me then. You couldn’t tell me nothing when my Auntie CJ would answer the phone, “hello gorgeous!”

This has been a long journey and labor of love to understand how to take care of my hair. I have a sensitive and dry scalp, so its been a time trying to figure out what works for me to keep that at bay- and what doesn’t (begrudgingly). Recently through some very gentle suggestions from my partner and the will to change, I have developed a more regular washing and cleansing routine and it’s definitely made the difference. You should wash your hair- not every day, but like more than once a week- especially if your scalp is dry. I also learned how to do more protective styles post college and I love the versatility that my (our) hair has! Its given me ways to feel more affirmed in myself as a Black woman (as a gender questioning person as well.) I also started coloring my hair again during the pandemic and it was truly one of the best choices I’ve made. I embody a sense of self when there is color in my hair that is only comparable to choosing a new character in a video game- like this was meant for my person, spiritually.

I’ve been discriminated against and experienced privilege for my hair. Hearing that you have good hair early on will do something to a little one- and so it was hard to disentangle myself from that. Cutting my hair off was the stamp on my hair anarchy. I wanted to take control. But honestly, the discrimination was really subtle- the covert part is what makes it so difficult to see. High school was a weird dichotomy of people telling me not to try things with my hair because it would make me not be as pretty, and then when I grew it out again, but was around more white people, I was Foxy Cleopatra, I was this beacon of jokes- what can we get lost in Tati’s afro today? It didn’t feel like the end of the world at the time- but no less uncomfortable, bothersome, and objectifying. I have worn my hair in Erykah Badu-espue turbans and had people would go, “your hair is so fascinating,” or “what an interesting look”- its like being in a museum. I get that it’s eye catching, but my goodness, can we work on the way we address people? Fascinating?! Its not really the compliment you think it is. Their face didn’t read, “fascinating, I like it!” The energy I felt was maybe more, “fascinating, and my space isn’t the one to do that in”. I can handle so much, you know. But in the same vein I have had an easier time in some ways with navigating certain spaces because of how my hair looks and the texture of my curls (plus other things that give me privilege.) Its hard to deal with the microaggressions because over time they build into resentment and rage that is hard to describe- but I have been lucky. I can see that in a lot of ways, too. 

Loving my hair looks like not being afraid to try something new, trusting that no matter what, it’s just hair, and it will grow back. I’ve spent time thinking about how I would’ve treated my hair differently in the past, but something I come back to that brings me inner peace is that… I have good taste! I have never done myself wrong when it comes to a look that I have tried. Maybe that’s the Gemini rising in me tooting my own horn (Aquarius sun too, its gusty over here.) Truly though, I have leaned into different looks and the energy that brings. It is fun and I feel lucky to have some privilege to do so. My parents nurtured my hair whims, which definitely helped too- but I was pretty determined when I was in high school to feel different (as a baby gay does), so it was gonna happen one way or another. 

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