Celebrating difference: hair is more than just hair!

March 23, 2023

Collage created with images selected by Roxy. Photograph by Jorge Fakhouri Filho at Pexels.

Roxanne De Rossi-Leslie explores how her hair shapes her identity

Growing up I’ve been forced to confront my differences and to find a ways to stand proudly within them. I was born in north London 19 years ago, raised by my Caribbean dad and white mum.

Despite mixed-race people making up an increasingly large proportion of the British population, there are still taboos and misconceptions surrounding us. Navigating my identity as a biracial, second-generation immigrant is complex.

It can be confusing trying to live up to the expectations others hold you to, and to create the ‘correct’ identity. One thing that comes to mind is my hair journey and the significant part it has played in shaping my identity.

I have thick coily hair but, especially when I was younger, a lot of my friends had straight hair, and I wanted so badly to have hair like them.

Be it school photo days, school plays or any other event, my hair and what to do – or not do – about it was always on my mind.

I was terrified of the damage that straightening or relaxing my hair would do. The few times I did use straighteners it never lasted more than a couple hours. Styles I had planned for days turned out frizzy, misshapen, undefined or overly complicated every time.

My hair was always the culprit in me being late to things. I often felt under pressure trying to keep my hair in a certain style to fit in and often found myself improvising at the last minute.

From a young age I developed an aversion to going to the hairdressers. Stylists had no idea where to start

I dreaded the attention that wearing my curls in a ‘fro invited. This kind of ‘attention’ usually involved unwarranted touching and uncomfortable jokes. This was enough to discourage me from wearing my hair out for a long time.

I have memories from primary school of the girls in my class getting their hair done in slick buns, plaits and half up half downs. I remember the awkwardness and disappointment of sitting in the chair when it was my turn and getting the sense that the stylist had no idea where to start.

From a young age I developed an aversion to going to the hairdressers. Most of the hairdressers in my area specialised in white hair and only had pictures of white models in their salons. I used to think I had to have my hair straightened to get it trimmed as none of the hairdressers knew how to cut my hair in its natural state.

My hair was a struggle to manage and a source of insecurity but some of the best resources I found to support me were online. Through studying endless hair blogs, Instagram accounts, and YouTubers like Alyssa Forever, I slowly taught myself how to properly care for and comfortably style my hair.

As I got older, I met new people at sixth form with similar hair to me. They gave me recommendations and could relate to the difficulty of maintaining natural hair.

Through all the tangles, sore arms and useless products, I have finally got to a place where I know so much more about my hair and I’m not afraid to try new styles. It’s still an ongoing and at times expensive journey but now I love my hair and am proud of how far I have come with it!

There are too many stories of black and mixed-race children having their education disrupted because of their hair

There are so many new and exciting styles I had never thought were possible and I’ve learned that the potential for cool styles for coily hair are endless.

My advice to people who may be struggling with their differences is that there are hundreds of nuanced communities for everyone, everywhere. Whether it’s online or in real-life you will eventually find people who share your experiences and can support you.

I think that more could be done in schools to diversify education at an earlier age, not only to make people feel less alone but also to prevent bullying and hate. If in my school years I’d learnt that my natural hair was beautiful then maybe it would have saved me a lot of heartache and taken less time for me to accept it and learn how to manage it.

There are too many stories of black and mixed-race children having their education disrupted and being discriminated against because of their hair. More must be done in schools and by the government to protect black children from feeling ostracised or discriminated against.

Everyone has their differences. We can learn more about each other through being interested, asking questions and with the internet at our fingertips. Let’s embrace our diversity, so we can develop deeper connections and empathise with each other.

Roxanne is a college student studying English Language, Sociology, and Philosophy. She loves reading and writing – as well as learning about society and how its structure affects people. She is always looking to educate herself further and hopes to channel this into her writing in the future.

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