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“Did You Cut Your Hair?” How our backgrounds guide our thoughts and interactions

Have you ever had one of those days when everything looked good on you?

Outfit. Fit great in all the right places. Shoes. Matched the outfit perfectly. Accessories. On point. Skin. Glowing with no breakouts. Hair. Perfect.

Then… one comment from another person, about your appearance, causes you to reevaluate your life and worth. You go from feeling FLY to totally deflated in a matter of moments.

Forgive my blind optimism, but I believe that most people don’t intend to destroy your self-esteem.

It’s my belief that our backgrounds and experiences guide the comments we make and the way we receive feedback from others.

Sarah - A spunky, compassionate, ambitious 23-year-old college student

Since childhood, Sarah and her sister were known for their sparkling blue eyes, rosy cheeks and kind smiles. However, Sarah disliked her long, straight, thin, dusty brown hair. She was cute as a button to onlookers, but she envied the Shirley Temple curls and textures of her other classmates.

On special occasions, Sarah’s mother took them to the hair salon. The first such occasion was their aunt’s wedding.

Sarah was overcome with jubilation. Mom was allowing her to get her first ‘real’ haircut. When Sarah’s mother would go to the salon for a cut and color, she always returned transformed from everyday mother and wife to a glamorous woman to be ogled. Sarah was eager for her own transformation. Her hair was cut into a layered bob. It was bouncy, full and lovely. Sarah enjoyed the way she looked and felt. She especially appreciated the numerous compliments she received.

Tameka - A brilliant, shy, yet inquisitive 22-year-old college student

Tameka has striking almond shaped brown eyes, smooth Hershey’s milk chocolate brown skin and a reserved smile.

Tameka is the youngest of 3 siblings. Her older brother and sister resembled their father with caramel complexion and long, thick curly hair. They were a close-knit family surrounded by love, but Tameka felt being the only darker skinned child with course hair resembling her mother’s, somehow made her less special. Mom’s head was crowned with luscious thick dreadlocks and dad was biracial with wavy black hair worn pulled back in a ponytail.

Growing up, Tameka loved purple and was often seen in a cute girly outfit and braids (with extensions). She desired long hair like her sibling. Historically, the black girls with long hair were perceived as ‘prettier’ in school.

Throughout Tameka’s high school years, she nurtured her hair by wearing styles to promote hair growth and using hair lengthening products. It started as self-care, but almost became excessive.

While in college, Tameka decide to take down her braids and have her natural hair straightened. She was excited to see how ‘long’ her hair had become. Still believing that longer hair would make her more valuable. Tameka was pleased with the finished result. Shoulder length, shiny, full and bouncy hair. She felt sophisticated and glamorous, like a cross between Michelle Obama and Gabrielle Union.

Tameka and Sarah were friends and worked together at the campus library. Sarah had never seen Tameka without braids. Tameka was overcome with excitement to show off her new look.

Sarah stated, in awe of Tameka’s gorgeous new hairdo,

“Wow, did you get a haircut?!”

Tameka was crushed and immediately reverted to that insecure little girl. Reassessing her self-worth and immediately planning to go back to her braids with extensions. She allowed herself to feel unattractive for the remainder of the day, although she received positive attention from many others.

Sarah’s perception of Tameka’s hair as beautiful and exciting, prompted what she believed to be a compliment. She’d always admired the versatility of Tameka’s braid styles and was even more impressed by this new look.

Both girls’ backgrounds turned a simple exchange into a negative interaction that could have destroyed their friendship.

Fortunately, these progressive young women talked it out, seeking to understand each other’s perspective and gaining insight through the experience.

I have been ‘Tameka’ on more occasions than I’d like to recall. Yes, I am ashamed to say that I’ve allowed societal views of beauty and others’ comments to impact my self-worth and mood. I now realize that I was plagued by my own baggage from the past and the same may be true for others.

  • Explore how your background impacts your interactions.

  • Acknowledge the experiences that contributed to your current mindset, without allowing them to be a hindrance.

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