By Sade Adewunmi
Photographed by Hanna Cormier
This article has been adapted for the web from our Outsider Issue.
When I walk into a room, my hair catches everyone’s attention. The vibrant hue and unfamiliar texture bring all eyes on me, as many wonder who I am and how I got my hair to do something this extraordinary. Before I even open my mouth, my hair speaks for me. My hair tells you that I am bold and brazen. My hair exclaims that I am the adventurous type, the creative kind and a bit different than everyone else. My hair is my statement piece, and it is the perfect reflection of who I am.
Red symbolizes both power and seduction. The way in which power can seduce, and how seduction can lead to power, is harmonious— my ruby red hair best allows me to harness that energy every day. As I step into the world as an African American woman, my red locs best represent who I want to project. Dying my hair was the change I needed; when asked if I will ever go back to my natural hair color, I always answer, “No.” I could never imagine returning to such a boring look. I feel freer with this color; compared to my typical brown hair, this color marks a change in how I see myself. Rather than working to fit into someone else’s lines, I embrace the carefree girl that I aim to be. The color of my hair speaks to my personality and my essence.
When I was younger, my father’s girlfriend of the time put extensions in my hair, and when my mother saw me she was furious. She didn’t want me to grow up believing that I needed to change my hair to be, and feel, beautiful. She never wanted me to straighten, press or put fake hair in my own; she wanted me to embrace the beauty of my natural hair without needing things that didn’t belong to my heritage. In eighth grade, I decided to permanently stick with my locs, and ever since, my hair has been introduced to new hairstyles that I could not do with my naturally curly hair. My locs have given me the confidence that I exude today; my hair has influenced so much of my personal style, and although my hair can be seen as outlandish, I have grown to stop caring what people think and how they may view me. This confidence has been infused within my everyday life, and if my hair has taught me nothing else, it is that I must do what I wish with my life, and throw away the preconceived notions that people may have about me.
I constantly deal with my locs being misidentified as dreads, and there is definitely a difference between these two styles. Although dreads and locs start in the same way as twists, locs require maintenance and care to keep the hair healthy and neat; whereas dreads require no management. There is a clean and distinct difference in the management of these two styles. In the seven years I have had my locs, I have stopped trying to correct and educate people on the difference, as it has become too exhausting, and I feel as if people would never truly grasp the difference. My mother, on the other hand, always corrects people when they call her locs dreads.
Growing up, I only ever saw two other African American women with locs: my mother and my sister. I did not see other African American women with hair like mine, or even similar in rarity, until I came to the East Coast. But even on the East Coast, my hair is still seen as unconventional and untraditional. Nevertheless, my locs allow me to express my heritage and background without words or statements. My locs are a familial statement piece, connecting us to one another as well as to our African American heritage.
I become uneasy when people compliment my hair, wondering if they even know the name of what they are commenting on, or if they only like my hair because they have never seen anything like it before. I do like the attention, but sometimes I feel like an exhibition piece: something for people to point at, stare at and grab at in a way that can make me, and my hair, feel like an object. And yes, my hair may attract an eclectic variety of people, but I can never know whether people are drawn to my hair because of true wonderment, or as a new fascination for them that will soon fade.
I could not think of changing my hair to fit any desired mold. There are people that have judged me simply based off of my hair, and there have been people that have told me I should take my locs out—but I have always held the same motto: I will not change my hair to fit anyone’s mold. It is in the moment we stop focusing on what others will accept or deem appropriate that we can truly start embracing ourselves and loving our appearance. The color of my hair affects me from the clothes I choose to wear to how I style my outfits. Since the red hue is the most eye-catching part, I try to style my wardrobe in a way that won’t draw attention away from my hair color, but rather accentuate it. I have learned which hairstyles look best with certain outfits, and I have even begun experimenting with accessories in my hair to enhance my already-bold look.
My hair, unlike clothes, is always speaking for me. My red locs are aspirational because they project the person I desire to become, as well as remind me to never settle for ordinary. I exclaim to the world that I will not hinder and confine myself to a stereotypical mold; I will defy these conventional standards and rebuke the notion that I must look like everyone else to be beautiful.
I will continue to project the bold and powerful woman that I am today. I love standing out. I love my hair.