By Kaleigh Fasanella
Hair — and the countless ways in which it defines us — could take days if not weeks to put into words. We know, because we caught up with four women from diverse backgrounds to talk about just that: their relationships with their hair, their struggles with it, and how it reflects who they are and where they’re from. There were stories of ups and downs, of acceptance, and of the products that keep strands at their best. In partnership with Aveda — a cruelty-free brand whose mission is to create safe products with naturally derived ingredients — we’re sharing their stories.
Much like skin tone and eye shape, hair is one physical feature that instantly gives people a glimpse into where you come from. For instance, Hana’s sun-streaked, surfer-girl-esque strands practically scream “I’m From Hawaii,” while Janine’s long, jet black hair represents her Filipino roots. “It’s a huge part of our culture — women have really long hair, and we like it that way,” she says without hesitation.
The same goes for women from Hawaii. “Growing up in a surf community and doing hula, well, having long hair was always part of the package,” says Hana. “I don’t know too many female surfers with short hair. As a kid, it was always down to my butt, and my mom cried when I donated a foot to Locks of Love.”
Kristen, whose family is from the Carribean, and Cheryl, who’s Colombian, both have coarser hair textures common to their respective regions. “My mom has a full head of coarse hair, and my dad had straight hair, so I came out with a little bit of both,” says Cheryl, who adds that most Colombian women will straighten their hair or do frequent keratin treatments.
With parents hailing from Jamaica and Trinidad, Kristen wound up with multiple different hair textures, which she says can be very unpredictable at times. “It can be a million things — it’s naturally very thick and curly, but over the years with having it straightened so much, the texture has become a lot wavier and can sometimes look a little stringy.”
One thing all four women can agree upon is that their hair is a reflection of themselves. Despite a few minor deviations here and there, Cheryl, Kristen, and Janine have always been loyal to their long locks. Hana, on the other hand, felt she needed to shed her strands first in order to find herself. This resulted in getting a pixie cut at 15 years old, which she kept around for almost a decade.
“I loved Audrey Hepburn — I remember watching Roman Holiday and the scene where she cut all of her hair off, and I just loved the whole liberation she experienced,” she says excitedly. “Throughout the rest of the movie you watch her go through this liberation and the transition from a girl into a woman, and I feel like for me it was a similar experience. I wanted to be my own person and not just subscribe to the cultural values I had growing up, so I chopped it all off.”
By taking her hair out of the equation, Hana says people got to know her for her. And while she relishes having long hair again now, she strongly believes that she wouldn’t be who she is today if she didn’t take the plunge all those years ago.
For Janine, it’s a whole different story: She had one stint with shoulder-length hair as a teenager and admits she’ll likely never go back again. “I prefer long hair on myself, and I love being able to style and do a lot of things with it, so I doubt I’ll ever go short,” she says, reminding me that this is the mentality most Phillipino women have.
The thought of cutting her hair is equal parts exhilarating and scary for Kristen — but mostly the latter. “It’s such a big part of my identity that I’m afraid I wouldn’t feel like myself anymore,” she says, explaining that her hair (despite being unpredictable at times) is also quite adaptable, which is how her personality is, too.
Cheryl, whose Rapunzel-like hair nearly hits her tailbone right now, goes through phases on a weekly basis: One day she’ll want a bob and the next it’ll be all about bangs.
And yet, she hasn’t taken scissors to it since cutting it short in high school. “My hair is rebellious and has a mind of its own, which I would say reflects my personality, because I do what I want,” she says. “But without long hair, I don’t really feel like myself. I felt incomplete when it was short. Just like skin, it’s a part of my identity.”
It’s not always easy to love everything about yourself, and the road to acceptance can be a long one with more than a few speed bumps along the way. For Janine, who struggled with how puffy her super thick hair would get as a teenager, it was about finding a routine that really worked for her hair type and sticking to it. “To keep it soft and smooth, I have to shampoo and condition it every day,” she says, adding that she adores uplifting scents in hair products, which is just one of the reasons she’s so smitten with Aveda’s Rosemary Mint Purifying Shampoo and Conditioner. The duo gently removes any lingering product residue, leaving hair looking squeaky clean — but not stripped — and super shiny.
After moving from Hawaii to San Francisco, Hana couldn’t help but miss her sunny streaks and the inherent connection to home they gave her. “I didn’t feel like myself anymore, so I started highlighting it when I was 21 or 22 just to have it look how it’s always looked,” she says. “I only get it done twice a year, but every time I look in the mirror and see that surfer-girl blonde vibe, it reconnects me to my roots.”
To help her hair look healthy and avoid split ends and breakage caused by color damage, Hana relies on nourishing leave-in products, like Aveda’s Damage Remedy Daily Hair Repair, which is full of hydrating ingredients that help strengthen and prevent breakage so her hair can grow long ahead of her wedding. “I love how it smells and how my hair just soaks it up.”
Cheryl and Kristen experienced similar roads to acceptance with their strands, having spent the majority of their formative years straightening their waves, kinks, and coils. “I was more self-conscious when my hair was curly, because it wasn’t perfectly curly… and it still isn’t. I have a lot of different textures,” explains Kristen. Comparably, Cheryl says she used to spend ample time as a teen ironing out her beachy waves because they were considered “unmanageable.”
Around 18, however, both girls began to embrace their natural textures. For Cheryl, it simply came down to wanting her waves to look and feel as good as her straightened hair, while Kristen wanted to take advantage of what she had going for her naturally.
“It was almost like it was coming back in style,” says Kristen. “I watched a ton of YouTube videos and learned from girls with my hair type who I could relate to and thought, ‘I can do this, too.’” To complement her curls, she reaches for Aveda’s Be Curly Curl Enhancer, which helps define each and every coil while combating frizz and flyaways at the same time.
As for Cheryl, after years of taking a straightener to her waves, she began babying her hair to get it to a better place. “I think putting the time and effort into caring for your hair really helps you love it more because, well, it’s almost like you build a relationship with it,” she explains. Cheryl adds that, while the ends of her hair still get dry and frizzy, products like Aveda’s Smooth Infusion Style-Prep Smoother are a godsend. “It feels really lightweight and is great for hair that gets easily dehydrated,” she says. “I love to apply it as the last step in my routine.”
All this to say: While everyone’s experiences with their hair might look a little (or a lot) different, we can all relate to having a complicated, beautiful relationship with the strands on our heads. And at the end of the day, with the right, encouraging products and a healthy dose of self-love, we can all embrace our natural hair.
This post is sponsored by Aveda.
Photography: Kale Kriesen; Hair: Karen Miller; Makeup: Fawn Monique Dellavalle; Wardrobe Styling: Laura Pritchard; Art Direction & Design: Diana Weisman/BDG; Branded Beauty Leads: Lexi Novak & Irma Elezovic/BDG; Production: Sam Ulban/BDG