A Blessing & A Curse: My Hair

Hair is a strange thing, especially for women. It can be your greatest asset or a painful tyrant who you constantly fight with. I think we all are just in search of a stylist who loves our hair more than we do and can figure out a flattering cut or style that works for our lifestyle and look.

In America and here in Senegal, hair, for women, is cherished and envied thing. In America, having well styled and groomed hair is regaled no matter what the length. In Senegal, the longer, more coiffed or more elaborate the braiding design, the better.

This leads me to my hair. I have been blessed with good hair by American standards. Meaning good color, texture and weight. Growing up I never thought much about my hair until my hair turned into a mullet after a trip to a beauty school to have a trim. Growing up I never went to a real salon and we were usually brought to a beauty school for a cheap trim.

2 year old me

After that my hair when from medium length to short and included a few home perms…needless to say there are very few photos of me at that age. Up until 8th grade I tried growing out my hair and had glasses and was teased endlessly for my hair. Once my hair finally reached chin length, I got contacts and was in high school. I continued to grow out my hair and vowed never to cut it short again due to the endless teasing I suffered in grade school.

Circa 2000, one of my senior pictures

Which over time I grew to love my hair, got many complements on it and simply just washed and dried it. My mom refused to let me color my hair growing up and hated the smell of hairspray. Thankfully I think this helped my ‘bad’ hair not become as bad as I could have been if I was left to my own devices.

Circa 2005, maybe the longest my hair has ever been

Through college I didn’t think much of my hair, but was asked often to help with various shoots, shows, and photographers asked to take my picture. This was strange to me as I never thought of myself as pretty. I grew up with 2 older brothers and was never really told I was a girl and hence grew up a tomboy. Although majoring in clothing design you end up asking friends to model for you and you do the same to return the favor. All of which is very fun, but sometimes what they decided to do to my hair, albet pretty, was a pain to undo. Beauty has it’s costs.

(from left to right) You can’t see them, but I have 2 sunflowers on the back of my head for a shoot for sarahfrench.net, crazy hair for hair show with Moxie Salon and retro styling for a part in a short film.

Once I had applied for PeaceCorps and had an idea I would be going to Africa, I decided to put my hair in dreadlocks. And to check off the other random things on my list, I colored it darker first. I love my hair being darker than it is, as it always has a shade of red to it, which I have never liked. Strangely, after dreading my hair, I got the strangest reactions from friends, acquaintances and my family. “Why?” was the most common. My answer “why not? it’s just hair”. I found that in America, people loved my hair more than I did. It seemed that every chance people got they mentioned how much they didn’t like my dreads. One fellow, actually admired them because he also had dreads and had cut them off.

Circa 2011, my short time with dreadlocks

While looking for a job in America, I knew it would be easier if I didn’t have dreads (sad, but true, the more ‘normal’ you look, the more employable you are) so I combed them out after 4 months. My hair was thin, but I still had hair on my head.

Now being in Senegal for 8 months, I think often about my hair as I see tumble weeds of weaves from the amount of hair Senegalese women braid into there very short hair and constantly am asked if they can braid my hair. After declining, I then have to explain that the sun will burn my scalp and it will hurt.

Luckily, I live close to the delta and have many many trees around me so the temperatures here get reasonably hot. That being said, I have 2 months until the rain start and with it bring endless humidity that no matter how many bucket baths you take will leave you drenched in sweat. It was like this when I arrived in late September, it is miserable.

Thinking about that and the number of bucket baths I am taking on a daily basis increasing as well as I needed to take a trip to the center of the country (a.k.a. add at least 10 degrees and drop my lovely breeze to the weather) I had contemplated maybe doing dreads again or shaving my head. I decided to cut my hair off. At first I was going to shave it. #1 maybe # 2 and go to town. After having my best village friend, Ibra, a 16-year old boy, chop off the majority of it with my med scissors, I decided against it. Once I trimmed it up, it wasn’t so bad.

Taken a week ago

The strangest part of this whole chopping off my hair was the reactions of people. Young senegalese boys gave me complements the same day I did it, saying “you were pretty before, but now your are prettier”. I thought they were lying, until some of the teenagers and older men complemented me on it too. And the women, stopped to greet me and the first thing out of their mouths was how pretty my hair was. I still am a little shocked at the Senegalese reaction, but I think it’s due to my short hair being stuck in my head to being teased.

Americans didn’t recognize me, which was fun, especially with some volunteers who had met me briefly or I haven’t seen in a while and went to a large meeting soon after doing it. Overall, I do love my hair and having it short, I do really appreciate having good hair. I plain to not cut it again and let it start growing out to see how wavy it will get. I’m just glad people have stopped asking to braid my hair.

Have you ever shaved your head or cut all your hair off?? What were people’s reactions?

Join the Conversation

1 Comment

  1. Whoa, what a big change! You look great either way, but it's interesting how we are defined by our hair. I've had short, medium and long; black, brown, red, and blond… and have found a comfort spot with dark brown and medium length for now, but who knows what the future brings. Hair is a funny thing. I hope this brings more comfort with the heat at least!


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