Hair means something different to almost everyone. To some, it’s the bane of their existence. To others, it’s their entire identity. These are the stories of five women in the Ryerson community and their relationships with their hair: the struggles, rebellion, feelings of freedom, a want for change, identity and acceptance all wrapped into one.
One thing that all girls mentioned is that their hair acts as an extension of themselves, similar to the way that some people use fashion to show off who they are. Most of the girls cut their hair short at least once in their life, which usually acted as a form of rebellion when they were younger.
When Julia Nalywaiko was five years old, she convinced her family to let her cut and donate her hair, going from hip-length ringlets down to a little bob. “I thought I was really rebellious for a long time,” she said. “I thought I was fighting the system and that I wasn’t like other girls because I had short hair”.
In a family of women with long hair, Nalywaiko took inspiration to cut her hair short from her older brother. Since she had him to look up to, Nalywaiko says she wanted to be a tomboy and would even wear his clothes.
Nalywaiko says she identifies herself simply as someone born in Canada. Her family is very mixed, so she doesn’t see herself as having a set background. Since she grew up in southern Ontario she didn’t have many hairdressers in her area that had experience with mixed race hair.
“Every time I go to the hairdresser they want me to straighten my hair, they say it will look better straight than curly or wavy like it is naturally,” says Nalywaiko. “That’s why I don’t like going to the hairdresser’s, because they always want to use heat on it and it feels unnatural for me.”
For Natalie Gregor, it’s a whole different story. When she was 14 years old, she decided to get her long hair cut into a pixie cut. With the stresses of high school, she kept cutting her hair shorter and shorter. Gregor says when she was 15, she got to a point where her hair was so short, the only thing left to do was completely shave her head. And that’s exactly what she did.
“It was very empowering to say this is not my problem anymore,” says Gregor. “This is how I look, that’s how I’m going to look and it’s not a problem for me.”
When Gregor was in high school, she came out as queer. She says after she came out, she was just like a gay stereotype. After she shaved it the first time, she decided to grow it out for a year until it hit the length of a short bob when she decided to shave it again. She has now had a shaved head for three years straight.
“I don’t know if I’m being overdramatic saying I will never have another hair style but I genuinely think it has become part of my identity,” says Gregor.
For Sarah Lawless, her hair has acted as a creative outlet throughout her teenage years. At age 12, Lawless started experimenting with her hair. “I don’t dye my hair much anymore, but I am no stranger to box dye,” says Lawless. Throughout her high school years, Lawless experimented with pink, blue, purple, red and aqua.
Sarah has had curly hair all of her life. Her mom has pin straight hair and had no idea how to deal with the curls, so Sarah had to learn how to do her own hair at a young age. When Sarah learned how to straighten her hair, she started doing it multiple times a week. This has changed as she has gotten older and now hardly touches her hair with heat.
“I still have no idea how to take care of my hair,” says Lawless. “A lot of people say ‘I bet you wish you had straight hair instead of curly hair’ but I honestly don’t.”
Annabelle Carreiro, on the other hand, had been praised all of her life for how long and beautiful her hair was before recently cutting it off. Loving her hair had been something she learned from her parents, inheriting her mom’s beautiful brunette colouring and her dads curly texture.
“My hair has always been a key feature in how I define my beauty,” says Carreiro. “It has definitely played into my sense of self, who I was and what made me beautiful.”
Although Carreiro had been thinking about cutting her hair for years, she wasn’t able to work up the courage until this past winter. Carreiro says that when she chose to cut her hair, her hairdresser was very supportive. They raised the fact that a lot of people resist girls cutting their hair, resist that short look associated with independence.
Carreiro says cutting her hair has allowed her to step back and realize nobody else gets to have an opinion on how she defines her personal beauty. It has helped her see that the individual qualities of a person do not define their worth.
“I have to say, I’ve definitely been feeling the power of my choice and feeling grateful for having the agency make the choice for myself,” says Carreiro. “I can still be the girl with great hair, but I’m also OK with it not being the first thing you notice.”
Julianna Bennett has a caucasian mom with pin straight blonde hair and a black dad. Both had no idea how to deal with her curly mixed race hair. When Bennett was younger, she despised her hair. Bennett says she wanted to have pin straight hair like her mom, not the frizzy hair she was born with. Because of this, she would straighten her hair all the time when she was younger. As she got older and into high school, her relationship with her hair got worse. Bennett says she started to feel like she wasn’t pretty and felt like her hair made her ugly simply because it was different.
“I wasn’t fully black so I felt like I couldn’t embrace my hair, but I also wasn’t fully white so I felt like the odd one out,” says Bennett.
Bennett felt like this until recently when something in the media flipped and biracial kids suddenly got more exposure. Bennett noticed more and more girls that looked like her, wearing their natural curls out in public. She went from resenting her hair to embracing it by cutting her own bangs and dying it red.
“I couldn’t hide my curly hair anymore with my curly bangs and red hair,” says Bennett. “I’m fully showing it off.”
Bennett says it’s important not to focus on society’s standards for hair but to focus on what makes you unique and that makes you beautiful in its own way.
With all of this said, no two people will have the same experience with their hair. There’s probably multiple things you love and hate about your own hair but at the end of the day, our hair is a part of us. Our hair is part of how we express ourselves whether it’s a change we can control or a creative outlet, we learn to grow with our hair and in time (mostly) love it. Sometimes it’s not an easy journey, sometimes it’s a lifelong journey but it is one we are all on and there is a bond between women in that.