Noelle Monge

How I Embraced Being Known As 'The Girl With The Curly Hair’

My hair — wild, authentic, strong, and interesting — is my identity

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In my 17 years of life, one constant feature has shaped my identity: My hair, a distinguished mane, has given me my greatest sense of character, my clearest sense of empowerment, and my strongest voice with which to defend myself. It has been a source of pride and, sometimes, of shame. It has been admired and admonished. It is a true representation of my uniqueness.

Ever since the coiled, wild, untamable curls started sprouting from my head at age 2, I've stood out in my family and community. I grew up in Guam, a melting pot of ethnicities, most of which are from the adjacent Asian region. Many people there, including all my family members on my mother’s side, have thick, straight, shiny hair of the brown-black variety. My Puerto Rican father's lineage, on the other hand, has produced a legacy of spiral locks. Thanks to these genes, my hair is a distinctive combination of the two.

Living with my unruly hair has taught me that people often jump to conclusions about others based on their appearance. My mane has been a glaring target that has left many people curious and bewildered about my race and has even prompted instances of unintentional racial profiling. I remember one encounter when I was a toddler: A pizza delivery man caught sight of me behind my mom when she answered the door, pointed at me, and said, “Oh, half black.”

In an effort to extol the beauty of multiracial children, my mom tried to educate the man. She responded, “She’s actually Spanish-Chamorro-Irish-Japanese-Filipino and her father is Puerto Rican, which is a combination of Spanish, Taino Indian, West Indian—”

Uninterested, the man just shrugged and said, “Cute hair.”

Noelle Monge

Although some have admired it, my hair has also exposed the discriminatory attitudes of many. My middle school principal, a conservative Sister of Mercy, was convinced that I teased my locks daily as an act of defiance, and demanded I tie it up. I’ve learned to ignore the grunts and groans of people sitting behind me in theaters, who seem to think their passive expressions of dissatisfaction with my hair will miraculously shrink its size and improve their view. While others mostly worry about removing shoes and emptying their pockets in airport security lines, I have been subjected to the occasional "TSA hair pat-down." Who knew big hair could pose a potential threat to national security?

Encounters like these have been hard at times. I dreaded school photos and performances during my awkward tween years and once begged my parents to let me flat-iron my hair. I wanted to look more like every other girl in class. Later, there was a period of time when I refused to comb my hair and had to untangle knots nightly after my homework and chores.

Eventually, I decided to chop it off to spare myself all the hassle. But losing my curls was like losing a part of myself. I felt bare and incomplete.

Regrowing my mane prompted a renaissance: I learned how to properly care for my locks, and also to treasure them. I did research: I experimented with natural conditioners and even discovered products created by women of mixed ethnicities, just like me. I developed a morning ritual that made me happy: a routine of air drying my hair by shaking it forward to backward, left to right, at least twice, accompanied by a soundtrack of Beyoncé power anthems. The processes of growing and rediscovering my main (or, more appropriately, "mane") feature helped me realize that sometimes it takes losing a part of oneself to truly appreciate what one has been blessed with.

I now wear my hair with pride. I refuse to alter who I am to conform to others' intolerant standards, and I appreciate the beauty in diversity. And I share common ground with curly-topped people wherever I go — trading advice and tales of our tresses always makes for an instant bond.

My hair is my identity. It's wild, authentic, strong, and interesting; it represents my family’s past and serves as a symbol of hope for a harmonious future that looks past racial stereotypes. In my small community, I’m known as "that girl with the curly hair." And I couldn't be happier.