Growing up with curly hair was not fun, partly not knowing how to manage my hair and partly because I was a really ‘shy’ kid at school and around people in general. So ‘shy’ I could hardly talk or make eye contact with people, rendering me an awkward person. Instead I loved to sit at the back of the classroom, right beside the wall (if I was lucky near a radiator in the colder months), away as much as possible from everyone’s graze. For me the idea of sitting in the middle or front of the classroom made me feel uncomfortable and vulnerable to prying eyes. In hindsight this sounds dramatic and silly. I was just ‘shy’ right? Fast forward 10 years I know I wasn’t just a ‘shy kid’ but someone with social anxiety. My anxiety made me so anxious; I started secondary school I was too scared to go up and pay for my own lunch or even bus fare, I’d plead friends to just ask for me. On 3 separate occasions, to me bursting into tears in front of a classroom full of unprepared peers and teachers when doing a presentation or performance that was less than 5 minutes long (traumatic times!)
These led me to the labels of ‘shy girl’ ‘awkward’ or even ‘weird’ to some (mainly myself).
Now knowing this was social anxiety, really put the puzzle pieces together as I got older. Growing up it not once ever occurred to me thought anything was wrong, but I knew my responses weren’t normal. Even now I feel uncomfortable putting that label on it (a question about our discussions on mental health in general). Alongside these years of anxiety, I consistently tied my hair back in plaits and ponytails. My mum didn’t know how to care for my hair without it turning into a crazy bush, so I scraped it back because it seemed like the most logical ‘solution’ to both our problems. You can read my hair story here and growing up mixed here.
If you’re wondering where curly hair fits into all this, my hair was my other defining characteristic. I was the ‘shy girl with curly hair’. My hair was a source of attention that I did not enjoy receiving, I was different and that was not a good thing in my eyes. It wasn’t until later I was to find a ‘solution’ by relaxing my hair.
Relaxing my hair brought a lot of positive comments, new attention and I even started to feel like I fitted in better. It was a funny thing because now that my hair was flat, I looked more like everyone else, people didn’t ask to touch my hair like I was a zoo animal and so I didn’t feel that anxious with my hair out anymore. This is what eased me in when transitioning to my now natural hair; my curls gradually came back, first limp and then more voluminous as I found the confidence from online inspiration and naturally evolved.
However, the anxiety never left me… I don’t know if it ever really has but what I really wanted to share was the breakthrough I made when I first got highlights.
I had dyed my hair before, but never a lighter colour. Going lighter was something I wanted to do for a long time, but the prospect of looking radically different made me sweat. I dreaded changing my appearance too much and as someone who was stereotyped and defined by their appearance, the whole thing was a bigger step than it may be to most people. You might think this doesn’t make sense since I relaxed my hair, but I went from having hair tied back to straight hair. I got a little attention at first but then it waned. My main problem was that I did not like standing out. Ever. But my curly hair always made this difficult for me to do so. I received comments like “I found you in the crowd because of your hair!” when I very much am trying to avoid them in the crowd.
Eventually something happened, or something changed, but as I have developed I care less about what other people think. This is the best thing about growing up. I got my highlights in my second year of uni and proceeded to enter a new phase of positivity and love which gave me new found confidence. I then got my hair lighter the following months and people now called me blonde. I made a major change that a couple of years ago would have made me sweat through my shirt and instead it has made me feel more like myself than before!
I chose this picture as the main centrepiece because it is completely me, big hair, big smile and next to my bestie! <3
I wanted to share a story about a small change that actually tied to a bigger on-going theme in life. And how, when I went for it, I felt more comfortable being me . I still have those moments of the intense-sweating-through-shirt and please-don’t-notice-me moments I tend to not talk about this or address such things with anyone. But I wanted to share and offer another, who is reluctant to change something about themselves in fear of the ‘gazing eyes’ a piece of online inspiration and encouragement. Because if you do you will come out the other side more confident then you could possibly think.