Home Mental Health & Well-Being My Hair, My Identity: Here’s the Story Behind My Unapologetic Curls

My Hair, My Identity: Here’s the Story Behind My Unapologetic Curls

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To be honest, what other people think about my hair is usually awesome or terrible. However, what really matters, in my world, is how I experience it.

How I have been experiencing who I am has been changing significantly this year. Much thanks to the training that’s now more boosted by the now more global shift of the Black Lives Matter movement. My personal well-being did not expect how this would change how I see myself.

If you don’t have time to read this, I can tell you now in short that it has enabled me to become more of a fierce person. It impacted my own self-acceptance

Let me share with you a little about my upbringing: As a mixed-race child, I internalise many messages. I was the daughter of a North African mum and a Caucasian dad. And the messages I’ve received about who I am weren’t subliminal but rather direct and clear about my ‘wrong genes’ which I inherited from my North African parent. But please do not blame her! This was a result of generations of prejudice which resulted in that language.

Hair like mine was deemed ‘loofa’ (dish sponge) and hence were clipped (like the wings of my self-belief) into a boy-haircut my entire childhood. After much begging I was allowed to attempt and grow it – only to suffocate with any straightening treatments under the sun at the time. 

Side fact: Even today, professional women are required to execute their curls or glaze them with products – to look Caucasian. 

‘Defective’ is the term still used at my home to describe my hair. Ugh. Tragically, the more life-threatening impact of this perception of genetics has been my life battle with athlete’s anorexia and orthorexia. That body-type-shaming society poisoned throughout my childhood blinded me of seeing my beauty. Instead, obsessive exercising and starvation sculpting were put in place to control how I look. My dangerous behaviours put my body and heart in harm and depleted my brain, my thoughts. My pinnacle as a model would be then deemed mediocre, as runways demand height, hence I am forever deficient.

‘Cover up! You might bother people’s eyes’ ingrained in my soul. 

As a child, the truth was decided for me. As a child, normal was determined for me.  As a child, real was dictated to me. 

How powerful is the impact of our self-perception on how we show up in life? Our actions. The paradox is that my story, in pictures, was hung at the United Nations General Assembly’s opening event on diversity five years ago. Following that, Harvard University nominated me for their annual public service award, and still, I am still afraid to publish that photo book. 

It is how I see myself that affects my actions. Determining what is possible, or not. Still hindered, that picture book still stored in the back of my closet, me yet living in hesitation. Ta-da! A tornado of vocal colourful lives. Black lives illuminate my next chapter, one little giant step on the moon, to a full walk with pride. 

What I realised is that control over my mind was kidnapped when I was young. The ‘truth’ which I was told in the past, constructed my experience of ‘reality’. And the impact of that perception doomed unsuitable to strive for best. Instead, I reached to be mediocre, apologetic, powerless, poor, hungry. Victim. Blaming the world around me. My past. My circumstances. My trauma. Getting angry at an unknown entity called ‘society’ that will forever be greater than me and I am destined to oblige. 

But here is the point: ‘trained to be a slave’ apparently became my subconscious excuse to not be in action. ‘Not my fault, but my circumstance’. That is what my mind says whenever I am afraid to shine like the sun. 

This conversation in my head allows me to stay small. So here I am to say to me:  Wake uuuuuuuuuup! Life is happening now!

All the rest doesn’t exist. I am the one. I am the one who is holding on to the story of my mind.  Now I get that blaming my circumstances only leaves me powerless, and doesn’t allow me the action or making a difference to anyone. Agh. 

‘Society’! I am sorry for judging and blaming you for everything. Now I get that when I am at my strengths, I am able to be an active agent and enhance your virtues, society. Behold! I take the ownership over my life as I hum calmly at my child self: those stories were lies; they aren’t real. They were made-up and I am the one who can write my next step. 

As I put these stories aside, I clear space. In this new space, I choose. I am committed to practising and here I am creating something new. I am the change I want to see. I know now that there is nothing in the future, nothing! Nothing besides my actions who I choose to be.

Automatic negative thoughts I’ve ingrained all my life still naturally come up. However, each and every time I will choose again my new choice, over and over. I create my next action. That victim way of being will not shape the future I want. So I declare that: ‘I take responsibility for my perception of myself.  Life is uncertain but I can always choose who I am – in the face of anything – any circumstance.

Who do I choose to be? I am a force of nature. Who I choose to be is self-valid. Unleashed. Direct. Certain. Assertive. Free. Playful. Confident. Curious. Present. A Celebration. And what that makes available? A celebration of being in love with myself. 

I used to cover it up, now I am present to the wind blowing in my hair and to that pleasure. I used to be hindered and blindly submit to authority. I’m now certain with my PhD and the directions which I’m taking with it. I’m valid and direct now. I used to be ashamed of it. Now I’m playful and do happily invite my friends to touch my hair.  I used to be apologetic. Now I’m assertive in intimate relationships; I know what I like and what I don’t. 

I am also free to love whoever I want. I also never raised my voice and was afraid to sing aloud. Now I’m an emerging powerful unleashed musician on Spotify, confident about my style and how I like my music to sound. I’m confident that I can make a difference to others, and to myself. You know, when I shine I make the world around me shine. 

When you declare a new possibility, you create a clearing, you create a space for noticing who you are. It works when you get uncomfortable and vulnerable and share it with someone else. You bring accountability to the table. Now you know how important it is, you have to take yourself on, and it helps when someone else saw you establishing this. You create accountability. You enrol yourself and them along with you. Basically, what I just did with you right now by writing this and sharing it with you. 

You will start noticing new things arising out of that declaration.  This process I went through above is based on mindblowing research on ontology and performance at Landmark worldwide. You can check out Vanto Group. I highly recommend taking on ‘The Landmark Forum’. New things open up for anyone who takes it. This process of taking responsibility and powerfully choosing after a deep discovery of what would make a real difference for me is part of a training I got at Landmark.

This is the way of being that I chose to create for myself and my life. And I can choose it again and again.


Image credit: Maciek Uszacki

Shalhavit-Simcha Cohen is doing a PhD in clinical psychology at the University of Edinburgh.


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