5 Life Changing Lessons I Learned from a High School Haircut

metal scissors on blue background to depict lessons i learned from a high school haircut“Sarah is brave,” whispered the girl at the back of my high school math class.

I’d never considered myself brave or particularly courageous. In my head, those adjectives were reserved for people who rescued kittens from burning buildings and other fictional personas like Indiana Jones.

But having one of my peers call me brave simply because of my choice of hairstyles?

I let that idea simmer in the deepest parts of my teenage brain. In high school, I chose to stop using chemicals to straighten my hair. I simply let it grow from my head the way it naturally grew from birth.

The way it naturally grew from birth.

And I needed bravery to do that?

To let my hair grow the way it naturally grew from birth?

It baffled me in some ways, but I did understand why my classmate would consider my hairstyle choice to be an act of bravery.

When we don’t fall in line with cultural norms, we run the risk of social punishment, either in the form of bullying, alienation, rejection, or something worse.

My hair in its natural state defied cultural norms, especially for women.

It was short and nappy.

Some women might get away with one or the other, but daring to don a do that was both short and nappy at the same time was sure to get a girl ostracized.

But it’s what I wanted.

And that’s what this post, no, this entire blog is about–living the life you really want.

So, in many ways, this post is bigger than anyone’s afro. It’s about hair, but it could just as easily be about any natural inclination you have, however mundane, that goes against the social grain. We all know that friend who pretends to hate/love something just because “everyone else” hates/loves it. (Yes, I like the Twilight movies, and I don’t care how many “cool” kids claim to hate them.)

We all (you and me and everyone) long to do things that might break some unspoken (or spoken) rule.

“Every man in this family is either a doctor or a lawyer.”

“Real men don’t dance.”

“Good women stick with their husbands no matter what.”

“Pretty girls have long, silky, straight hair.”

“When you submit your will to someone else’s opinion, a part of you dies.” ―Lauryn Hill.

I got my fair share of teasing, insults, and well-intentioned disapproval because of my hair throughout high school and beyond, but I’d decided that my freedom felt way better than the acceptance of others who were too afraid to break free themselves.

And from that high school experience, here are five lessons I’ve learned that I hope will encourage you to change hairstyles, change careers, or do whatever’s on your heart.

1. A little social punishment won’t hurt as much as the pain of knowing that you’re not free to be yourself and live the life you really want.

2. Whatever decision you make, people will get over it. If they don’t, then get over them. “Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”

3. Some people who haven’t found the courage to do a certain thing will try to put down those who have.

4. Courage develops over a lifetime, but only if you work at it.

5. Being yourself is a lot more fun and a lot less work than trying to be someone else.

What did high school teach you about courage?

15 thoughts on “5 Life Changing Lessons I Learned from a High School Haircut

  1. Three words here, Sarah: bravo, bravo, bravo! I certainly can relate. I wore a “Jherri Curl” years after it was considered “in style” because it looked cute on me and was easy to maintain. And let me tell you–seemed everybody had an opinion ’bout it. 🙂 Courage can sometimes be hard to cultivate. But this is what I’ve truly discovered: when you do acquire it, you’ll respect yourself in the morning. 🙂 Great post!
    Jennifer Brown Banks recently posted..The 4-1-1 Announcements & News You Can UseMy Profile

    • Glad you can see where I’m coming from. Great point about respecting yourself in the morning. It’s a good feeling when you have it and a bad one when you don’t.

  2. I wish, how I wish, that wisdom had been available to me when I was in high school. You were brave and you deserve a lot of credit for that. I didn’t learn how to be brave until I was ever so much older, but I totally agree with your 5 lessons, especially #5: it’s so much more fun, and so much less work to be yourself.
    Kathleen Caron recently posted..how to rebuild a shed in five easy stepsMy Profile

    • Thanks Kathleen! Regardless of when it happens, developing courage is always a blessing. Even now, I still find that my courage occasionally falters. We must keep working at it! 🙂

  3. John Crutchfield on said:

    I’d like you to come share a message like this with my high school girls next year. They really need something just like this.

    • I’d love to talk to the girls at your school! Teenage girls is a demographic that I’m always trying to reach out to.

  4. What did high school teach me about courage? I don’t know. That is a good question. I was a confused adolescent who partied, played way too many video games, and went to an all guys Catholic high school. I think the biggest thing I learned is from being a leader on a retreat and to share myself and not be ashamed of it.

    I’m glad you had the strength to grow out your hair. : D
    Sebastian Aiden Daniels recently posted..Am I gay, straight or bi?My Profile

    • Sometimes the journey is a mysterious one! But sharing yourself and being unashamed is definitely a great lesson to learn.

  5. The western culture really puts pressure on women with respect to their hair, and it also stretches into the Caribbean. Yet I have met many African women with beautiful natural hair. I guess you really have to be brave to go against culture.

    I can relate to the social punishment as being a writer in Trinidad and Tobago is considered weird, especially with my genre of interest. The most typical response I get is, “You write your book, brother.”
    Jevon recently posted..Pump Yourself Full of Nutrients to Get Rid of Writer’s BlockMy Profile

    • Well I’m glad that you have the courage to put yourself out there as a writer! It’s still intimidating to me sometimes to tell people I’m a writer.

  6. You are the brave person I wished I’d been all through my life . . . It took me nearly 50 years to step into my true self and if I was being fully honest, I’m still not truly where I want to be several years later.

    You’ve written an important piece for girls, young women and even older women over 50. Hair is just one piece of the puzzle. I read the Elle post by Johanna Cox and related to it not because of my hairstyle choice but because of my age. After I turned 50 I noticed both men and women viewing me differently. It’s rather startling.

    I tell young women all the time, “develop the best parts of your inner self because we all age, we all loose some hair, we all get old and through it all you’d better damn well like who you are inside and feel you have value or you’ll be miserable.

    • Thank you for sharing your insight! I too am a work in progress, but we all are, right? I love your advice to young women, and you’re absolutely right that it’s not just hair. It can be anything depending on the person.

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  8. Ashaki on said:

    Hi,my name is Ashaki and I’d just like to say that this blog really spoke to me. I’m currently in the 10th grade and I’m dying to big chop my hair and just rock the 3 inches I’ve obtained, but my mother is strongly against that. She’ll always try to change the topic, or persuade me into getting a perm , because”my hair will touch the floor”, and this makes me extremely angry. While I do want to express myself and show her that I’m a very strong individual that knows who she is , I don’t want to hurt her feelings. How should I go about a situation like this without trampolining all over her authority as a mother?

    • Hi Ashaki! First, I think it’s fantastic that you want to go natural and that you respect your mother enough to consider her wishes.

      My first suggestion would be to try changing your mother’s attitude about natural hair. Many women don’t understand that natural hair can be just as attractive, stylish, long, neat, manageable, clean, professional, etc. as any other type of hair. You can start by showing her this pinterest page of beautiful styles: http://www.pinterest.com/glorisabel/natural-hairstyles-style-inspiration/

      If she wants your hair to be long, explain that natural hair typically grows longer, thicker, and faster than chemically straightened hair. AND even if you go natural, you can still straighten your hair on occasion without using a permanent chemical.

      I think this is the strongest strategy I can recommend at this time.

      Another option is that you can wait until you turn 18, but you sound so eager, it may be very difficult to wait that long.

      Finally, I’m not sure what your relationship is with your mother, and that plays a big part in how you would approach the issue. But you may consider explaining to her what it means to you. Maybe even offer alternatives that she would consider to be worse. (Well, mom, at least I’m not . . .).

      Although my mom encouraged me to go natural, I know MANY girls and women who’s parents were totally against it, but ultimately go on loving them anyway. 🙂

      I hope this helps.

      Let us know if you make any “headway.”
      Sarah L. Webb recently posted..Are You Doing Enough to Help Your Child Deal with Colorism?My Profile

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