Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Student Embarrassed When Friends See Real Hair

DEAR HARRIETTE: I have been wearing my hair straight for many years, even though it is naturally curly. I’m now a student at a relatively conservative, mostly white school, and it may not seem like a big deal, but one way I fit in is by wearing my hair like my classmates.

The other day we had a terrible, unexpected rainstorm. I got caught out in the rain, and, needless to say, my hair turned -- it became curly and frizzy. I didn’t have a hair tie or anything, so I was exposed. It was awful. I felt so uncomfortable. My classmates had a million questions about my hair, and, of course, they wanted to touch it. I wanted to die. It’s not that I’m pretending I’m not black, but I didn’t want to draw attention to my differences through my hair. How should I handle this? -- Hair Sensitivity

DEAR HAIR SENSITIVITY: When my daughter was in middle school, she never wanted to wear her hair curly because nobody else at her school had curly hair. It took her moving to a new school where there was more diversity for her to fully embrace what I had been telling her all along -- namely, that she is blessed with hair that she can wear in many different styles, from curly to straight. She should embrace that flexibility. And so should you.

Rather than hiding away your natural hair, learn how to style it in more than one way that will showcase who you are. Be proud of your uniqueness. This change in attitude will help others to respect your differences as well. Allow your hair to be an icebreaker in conversations. You can absolutely reserve the right to tell people “hands off,” even as you more willingly share stories about your hair and your cultural experiences that may be different from theirs. Learn to laugh about getting caught in the rain, and include that story in your repertoire!