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“It’s just hair.”

That was my defense, my justification to the widened eyes and dropped jaws. When people asked how I could do it - how I could go from my socially acceptable, shoulder-length hair to a mohawk - my response was always the same: “It’s just hair.” In my innocent, unassuming mind, a change, although admittedly drastic, in hairstyle couldn’t have possibly resulted in a change concerning how I was perceived intellectually or socially. That notion was quickly proven wrong.

If it was “just hair,” my mother wouldn’t have avoided looking me in the eyes for the next few months. If it was “just hair,” cashiers’ gazes wouldn’t have followed me as I entered their stores. If it was “just hair,” I wouldn’t have been treated any differently in the first place. However, all of those things did happen, and consequently, the mohawk came to mean something else entirely.

Every other aspect of myself had remained constant as those locks were shorn - I didn’t develop a rebellious or disrespectful attitude, my grades didn’t drop, nor did I lose sight of my intellectual pursuits and academic goals. My mohawk did not excuse me from any of my self-imposed obligations to succeed as an accomplished student or an integral part of my community. It was quite the opposite: by expressing any harbored insubordinate desires through the harmless outlet of a simple haircut, I stifled those same desires in other areas of my life. I knew that my choice of hairstyle said nothing about my academic achievements, my manners, or what my mind was capable of.

Although I, myself, was aware of this complete lack of internal change, others didn’t catch on as quickly. Suddenly, because the sides of my head had been shaved down to a thin layer of hair, I was viewed as a less competent student - teachers became skeptical of the work I handed in, forcing me to work harder to accumulate the same grades I could have easily gotten before. My good behavior was no longer accepted at face value. I had grown up accustomed to automatically gaining an adult’s trust through my respectful and inoffensive demeanor. Once he or she saw my mohawk, though, my demeanor was seen as a ruse, a sneaky attempt to deceptively woo him or her, and the concept of trust deflated.

As these people came to know me better, they rethought their first impressions. They saw me listen to authority figures, take direction without complaint, and respectfully voice my opinion. They also watched me analyze literature, prove hypotheses, and take pleasure in pursuing my education. They may have reformed the image they had constructed in their own heads, but that initial doubt has permanently altered the way I perceive myself. My hair does not define me, and to judge me based on something so inconsequential is a mistake.

In the end, “it’s just hair,” anyway, and there are more parts to me than strands on my head.



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LucyInTheSky This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jan. 11, 2013 at 8:25 am
Wow you are an amazing writer and prove a really great point. I was judged the same way after dying my hair black. Thanks for writing this amazing essay, i'll show it to some people and hopefully rid them of ignorance. keep writing!
 
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