I remember coming out of Logan Airport in Boston feeling happier and colder than I’ve ever felt before. This was because I finally got to meet the America that was being shown to me on TV and experience what it was like living in it. But the weather felt different and unfamiliar to me due to the different weather I was brought up with in Nigeria, which is mostly like summer in America. Snow was new and felt foreign to me. I started my schooling in America as an eighth grader in middle school. Although I knew the schooling system was going to be different from that of Nigeria, I did not expect the difference to concern looks, especially hair. Being raised in Nigeria, I didn’t think much about my appearance because I had always had to cover my hair with a head tie and make sure my clothes fully protected every inch of my body.
After coming to the United States, my grandmother told me that I had to change my hairstyle to fit into American society. My expectations of having a professional do my hair were crushed when I found out my sisters would be doing my hair, since getting it done by a professional hairstylist is very expensive. This made me feel very uncomfortable with my hair, and I felt like an outcast. My hair had unprofessional sew-in weaves, and compared to the naturally long and curly hair every girl in my school had, my hair was noticeably different. I sensed that there was something missing in me that everyone else had.
One day in school, a girl started pointing and laughing at my hair and making rude comments about it to her friend. My hair was done by my sisters and it was their first time doing extensions, so it looked messy. I felt so angry and sad because I felt like such an outsider.
After going through this experience in middle school, I was determined to find self-confidence in my hair, even though I felt uncomfortable. Through the help of various programs I attended during my freshman and sophomore years, I gained confidence from hearing a phrase said in a leadership workshop, which was “No one defines you. You define yourself.” It took me a while to understand what that phrase meant, and by the time I had figured out what it meant, I found myself already embracing the part of me that was unhappy with my hair. The part of me that wasn’t confident enough to bloom out and had to hide because I believed I wasn’t good enough for society. I embraced this broken part of me and built my confidence to accept my hair for what it is.
I used to only go out in public if I had extensions in or a hair tie to cover my hair. But now I realize that if I don’t feel comfortable with myself, I won’t be comfortable with anything I do and I’ll never be happy. I also learned that if I focus on satisfying others, I will never satisfy myself. Realizing these things helped me find self-confidence.
Looking back at my eighth grade self, I would now say to her, “Don’t let any- one or society define who you are.” Learning from this experience, I hope to change society’s views on hair, especially in the Black community. I also hope that younger teens out there are able to learn from my experience and build their own self-confidence because no one can help you see your own beauty except for you.
© Victoria Adeyemo. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team through this website and we can put you in touch with the young person's teacher.