I received an email a few years ago from a young Pakistani woman named Anam who was distressed about the state of her hair. She said that she had bleached and straightened her hair so many times that it had become a lifeless mass that felt like hay.

Anan’s hair wasn’t always that way. Before she subjected her hair to an extreme makeover she had what she described as African hair. I understood that to mean that her hair was thick and very nappy.

Anam, who lives in a small town in East Malaysia, was taunted and teased for being born with hair texture that was not the acceptable norm in her culture.

“People look upon me as a freak of nature . . . " Anam wrote. “The reaction I got from people when I was a kid with an Afro was just horrible. It totally destroyed my confidence.”

When Anam tried to avoid further ridicule by getting her hair straightened, her hairdressers gave her scornful looks.

“They looked totally horrified and lost upon seeing my hair,” she said. “I have discovered that it’s useless asking anyone here for help because they just don’t know what to do with my hair.

Anan asked me for help and advice, and I was too angry and frustrated over what I read to offer just the right words of support. All I could do at the time was extend to her a long distance hug. I told her that if she were within reach, I would wrap my arms around her.

When I found what I felt were the right words I wrote her back. I told her that since I wasn’t a hairdresser, I could not give her professional advice on the type of treatments to “heal” her hair. What I offered her were words about appreciating self. I told Anam to be true to who she is. I told her that it was no mistake when she was created with hair in all its “African” beauty.

Anam responded to my email and thanked me for my words. She is now studying at the University of Melbourne in Australia, and she tells me that her hair is on the mend. She has stopped straightening and is allowing it to grow out. The best part of Anam’s letter was that since she has been in college, she has regained her confidence.

“One reason may be that in Australia, people are a lot more open to different textures and types of hair and were very fascinated by my hair," she writes.

Those words from Anam confirm what I also wrote in my letter to her. I told her that sometimes all it takes is leaving home to really appreciate how good home is. Anam went away to college but came back “home” to her “roots.” When that happened, she discovered that there was nothing wrong with her hair the way it was — strong, willful, “African,” and free.


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