By Caroline Shaheed
“Nice hair, did you see a ghost?!” That’s what a homeless guy said to me a couple years ago as I was walking down Church Street. It made me laugh to myself, but comments about my hair weren’t always funny to me.
My hair is brown, intensely curly and impossibly thick. My nickname in public school was “Poufy.” That name was given to me by a boy two grades older than me. People used to ask if I lost things in my hair, and one went so far as to stick a quarter in it to see if it would come out. It was one more way I felt different than the kids in my school.
My skin is not white, as most of theirs was. I have olive skin, brown eyes and I tan very, very easily as I am 100% Egyptian. I say this with pride, maybe a pride I didn’t have as a kid who was born and raised in London, Ontario, which used to seem like the whitest place on Earth.
Some people see me and say lovely things about my hair. Other people act like they never to have seen anyone different than themselves. “Oh that’s so cool!” they exclaim. “I just want to touch it! It’s basically inviting me to touch it!” I assure you: my hair is NOT inviting you to touch it. I do not want your paws grabbing at my tresses. I’m not a stuffed animal and grabbing at my hair and asking where I come from, is a terrible conversation starter, FYI.
My hair doesn’t blow in the wind. It’s not silky smooth and you most certainly cannot run your fingers (or a comb) through it. My hair is not as seen on television. I rarely, if ever see a representation of myself in a fashion magazine and I’ve looked. Hair trends simply do not apply to me. My hair does what it wants, when it wants.
My mother wishes I would just straighten my hair and “look decent”. My hair is unruly in her eyes, untamed and that of wild creature. It’s a common thought in the family: all the women in both my mum and dad’s families straighten their hair. In Egypt, women with curly hair pull prod and process their locks with chemicals so they too can have that desirable light reflecting, wind blowing, head tossing, run-your-fingers-through-it straight hair.
The first time I had my hair chemically treated was on a family trip to Egypt, when I was in grade 5. My mum was tired of trying to tame my hair—she’d actually broken brushes while trying to get through the knots every morning at the breakfast table. Everyone thought I should get the treatment, my dad, my aunts, my mum, and of course, me. I wanted the easy-peasy straight hair my friends had.
So I sat in chair and had women pull my hair with a force I had never felt before, then smear a foreign cream on my head. It burned. I thought it was going to sear straight through my brain, and I began screaming, squirming and crying all at once.
When the excruciating pulling of my hair and burning of my scalp and eyes finally ended, I was surprised there was any hair left on my head. But there it was, shiny and straight. My mum and dad finally thought I looked decent. I liked it of course, but I always knew it wasn’t really what I looked like. But hair grows and the curls came back. I struggled with them for a long time, but then I started to listened to the people who told me how beautiful my curls are, and I realized they were right.
I don’t battle my hair anymore. I no longer want to look like everyone else. Now I like the mess on top of my head, it’s what I am supposed to look like. The occasional straightening is more out of boredom, and curiosity to see how long it is. Some guys think I look “gorgeous” with straight hair, but I feel like a faker. One guy in particular thinks I look much better with curly hair, which could be why he gets to be my boyfriend. It took a long time, but now I see that my curls are part of my personality. My hair grows how it grows and I’ve grown to like it.
I finally learned to stop fighting my hair, stopped trying trying to tame it into submission and just let it do what it does best. It’s curly, it’s big and it’s mine.