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My Curly Hair

Ellen Martin

I could write 250-500 words on that topic in a jiffy for my personal college essay. “I dare you!” you may say.

Ahhhh…the web of a personal narrative I could spin. And that’s exactly what college admissions officers are looking for. They want to hear your voice in the essay so they can get a sense of who you are and the emotional drivers behind the story that you are telling them. When this authenticity comes through, those reading your application can see how you would add to the collective personality of their incoming freshman class. You are much more than your numbers. This is where your essay comes into play. It will help you answer that commonly asked question, “That student in my high school class was so strong. Why didn’t they get into that college?” If you don’t show the colleges who you are, you will be at a huge disadvantage.

Now…back to the curly hair. First of all, it seems like the simplest and most narrow of ideas. This doesn’t showcase anything extraordinary about me or something that I’ve accomplished. Exactly! This essay is not the time to brag about how you “saved the world” by making that one mission trip to the beaches of Costa Rica (nice work if you can get it!).

I was born with no hair, but once it started coming in, it took the form of ringlets and even through three babies, it never straightened out. But, why is this important and how can you learn about me it? My curly hair has made me stand out for as long as I can remember. I hated it growing up. There were too many people who felt free to comment about it and hairdressers whining that it was too difficult to work with. As I grew into it, I began to embrace the uniqueness of my hair as part of who I was, though unfortunately this wasn’t until after the use of harsh-lye straighteners during my teenage years.

The timing worked out well in college when there were plenty of hippies to be found, and we just “let it all hang out,” including frizzy, curly hair. I claimed my hair. It told of my Jewish ethnicity and Northern roots. I started to view my hair as a positive as I became surer of myself. It made me look a bit quirky, which I was and was happy to be. When I moved from the more ethnic North to the more homogenized South, I felt that familiar feeling of sticking out and not in a good way. I was called a “Yankee” at times, but by then I was mature enough to appreciate that uniqueness, which made me feel less cookie-cutter.

My hair became my label when people who didn’t know my name would refer to me: that “woman with the curly hair.” Were there that few of us? In the 1980s South, the answer was, “Yes.” The discomfort of not fitting in had raised its ugly head again, but this time I had the skills to combat it with action. I became motivated to meet less narrow-minded people and extended myself even more than usual so that I would feel welcomed, curly hair or not. So, a nod to “Team Curly Hair” for being a motivator behind my reaching out to find more accepting and diverse people.

Since my thirties, I’ve embraced (dare I say even loved?!) my hair and its personal meaning. Just for fun, there have been a few times when I’ve flat ironed my hair straight. When I look into the mirror, the woman staring back is not me.


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