Best Personal Essay - The Tales of Hair

Hair has always been a hard subject for me. How do you want it cut? How short? How long? Why do you have so much hair on your arms? You missed a spot. Growing up I always thought about hair as something that defines you, that hair gives you character, that hair gives you your identity. My mother always had crazy hair; blue bob, blue and bleached mohawk, and other combinations. Everyone always loved her hair so I thought my hair might mean something to me. You can style it, dye it, cut it, crimp it, you can do anything to your hair. That's what I love the most about it, but of course I was cursed, with dark, thick, hair. This left me with the hairiest arms and legs known to mankind. I was never praised for any of the hair on my body, it was more a disadvantage than anything else.

As I walked up to the lunch line, my young 3rd grade self never saw her coming. I felt a presence near me. My long thick dark brown hair that was to my lower back was lifted. I felt the wind rush to my neck. I turned around wiping the person behind me with my lushes locks. A 5ft tall girl was standing behind me. Maxine. I saw one of my hairs fall from her fingers to the ground. I looked her in the eyes as I said, “Don’t touch my hair.”

The girl stared at me with her short bob of blonde hair and her glazed blue eyes. She replied,“It is just so pretty. I like to touch it.”

“ Well I don’t want you to so don’t.” I was two people away from the front.

I grabbed the boats of crackers and cheese sticks and walked off to sit on the yellow bench of the cafeteria table. That wasn’t the last time she struck. Everyday I would get in the lunch line and like a car trying to start I heard her engine roar then choke out as she stopped right behind me. One touch and I would turn around and smack her hand. Sometimes I was too late.

One day I was standing in line waiting for everyone to get back from the bathroom. As we were waiting, Ms.Johnson would scan over the line of children but she stayed a little too long on three people, Maxine, Joyce, and I. I scratched my head, why are staring at me? Am I doing something wrong? Maybe I should step a little more into line. As I side stepped into line everyone was back from the bathrooms. We climbed up the stairs. I stopped on the platform to turn to go up the other flight. My arm was grabbed tugging me back.

“Shilo, go to the nurse please.”

“Okay Ms.Johnson.” I went through the second floor doors. The nurse looked at me. I looked to my right and what do you know Maxine is here. I sat in the small chair closest to the door. My eyes were glaring in the direction of Maxine as she went up to the nurse. Maxine’s hair was checked for lice. Lice? What is that? Well I found out as the nurse pulled a tiny little 6 legged insect from the top of Maxine’s head. My eyes widened. It was then my turn. I walked up to the dreaded chair. The nurse checked all over my thick head of hair. It was 2:30 pm when she started but as the time passed nothing was found. 3:01pm an egg was found in my hair. I was devastated. After that moment a rumor went around saying I gave Maxine lice. I hated my hair. I hated how thick it was. I hated Maxine for making me hate myself. I missed the last day of school because of my lice infestation. No one talked to me.

As I grew older I realized that the lice infestation that wreaked what seemed like my entire life from then on, didn’t affect my life at all. No one knew or cared about anyone else's past because we were in 7th grade getting lockers and finally being able to switch classes. We were working on a memoir project in english towards the beginning of the year. Mrs.Greenberg, the english teacher from hell, wanted us to all come up with ideas for our memoirs. I have a go to memoir idea, my dog Buster. She let us think for 15 minutes. After those 15 minutes were up she put us into pairs. As she assigned them I knew as per usual that I was going to get the worst partner. “William, Guang, and..” Please not me, “Shilo.” My whole face slouched, gravity took over every feature. Of course I was in the only group of three due to our odd numbered class size. Everyone moved to their partners or in my case, group. We formed our t shaped formation right next to the window and a little away from Mrs.Greenberg’s desk. I started first, Guang went next. He started off with pointing at my arm. I looked all over my arm to see what he was pointing at, I set it back down. “What.” Guang said, “You have very hairy arms.”

I looked at my arms. I never realized how hairy they were, he repeated it, “You have very hairy arms,” I felt like Murph from the Yellow Birds when the chapel collapsed. I just wanted to curl up into a ball.

That evening I went home and shaved off all of my arm hair. I was so ashamed to have it. As I was shaving my arms I realized my legs were hairy too. I shaved them. I just went on a shaving frenzy shaving every visible hair possible. I hid my arms the rest of the week because I didn’t want Guang or anyone else to know I felt defeated. I hated everyone from McCall after that point. My hair had helped cause my downfall. At the end of 8th grade I shaved half my head and was made fun of the whole rest of my time there. I was pointed at and talked about, sometimes in another language. I couldn’t wait to go to high school.

My freshman year, I thought everything was going well, I had friends, a boyfriend,  I felt proud of myself. I shaved my head so that bleach blonde mess of a side was gone leaving my dark brown buzzed hair in its place. I was at 30th street station, where I would normally go after school. I was sitting at a table near the entrance off of Market and 30th. I got up and walked over to the subway. I was looking at all of the drinks they had. I grabbed the Coca Cola. I heard a man's voice as I turned around to walk to the counter, “Is that all you want mister.” MISTER. He just called me mister. My body was paralyzed that I forgot to answer the question. There was a lump in my throat as the answer rolled out of my mouth, “yup.” I paid and left. Not just left the subway but left 30th street station. I just walked home. Mister. Do I look like a man? I could feel the tears building up behind my eyes. Throughout my life, I had been mistaken for a boy a couple of times, due to my tomboyish charm that I embraced when I was younger. I looked like a boy. Do I have manish features? The longer I thought about it the more it came true. I looked like a man. I couldn’t even look in the mirror without thinking of punching the reflection of myself. He could have just made a mistake? But he looked me in the eyes.  

Throughout my life I have changed my hair so many times that the rest of myself changed as well. Everyone would always tell me how amazing it was. How cool I was for dying it or cutting it in a “unique” style. I would always thank them and say I love it but, how did it look good. That is all I could think about, are they looking at me or they looking past me, but I’m the idiot that answered. People either hate it or love it and I never understood how I couldn’t have a straight opinion of my hair. It seems like I just hate it but sometimes I wake up and love it then when I see myself again I hate it. It’s mine, I should have a clear opinion but I don’t think I ever will. I have grown to love it the older I have gotten. All I know is after high school there will be nothing holding me back.

Comments (5)

Paxton Wentzell (Student 2019)
Paxton Wentzell

You've told me stories about your hair before, but I think I never truly understood just how much those things meant to you or how much you're shaped by them. I think your essay and video do a great job of showing these events from your perspective. Similarly, I liked your use of repetition. I'm sure it was an important tool in honing in the focus of the readers on specific details and aspects that you find more important than others. I really helps them get into your mindset when reading your essay.

Amado Alfaro-Allah (Student 2019)
Amado Alfaro-Allah

I learned that you are very connected to your hair and how it expresses you as a person. Your techniques of repetition are clearly represented like the word I hate that goes along with the sentences they are with. The asking questions parts are clear as well as you questioning various things and acknowledging them.

Julia Hood (Student 2019)
Julia Hood

This was really interesting to read because when I was in 7th grade I cut all my hair off and started dying it hella different crazy colors and there were times when I encountered ignorant people or got mistaken for a man and stuff like that. I really like how you asked questions, it worked really well because you were able to kind of make the reader really think

Ailin Li (Student 2019)
Ailin Li

After reading this essay and watching Shilo's video, I learned that her hair was and still is a very important part of who she is. It is also what differentiates her from other people. I also learned that she grew up accepting her hair and not allowing other people's comments bring her down like it use to, or second guessing herself because of her hair. I feel like Shilo's techniques worked. Her constant asking of questions drawled my attention more and more, making me more curious and wanting to read more. It also allowed me to connect with the author more by making me feel more of how she felt.

Shilo Kendall (Student 2019)
Shilo Kendall
  1. Repetition - I used a lot of phrases dealing with hair being the repeated word, along with the phrases of hatred, such as, "I hate.."
  2. Asking Questions - I ask questions throughout the text to make some things clearer but more for developing the character in the story.