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Black women, I feel your pain. Online dating enables categorical discrimination against me. I struggle to find jeans that fit my ample rump. And I, too, know what it is to struggle with envy of what mainstream society has deemed “good hair.”

As a teen in the 90s, I adored metal music.

And what was every self-respecting headbanger’s crowning glory? A mop of long locks that they could whip around at breakneck speeds. Because why listen to music that could get you laid when there was abrasive noise that could leave you with a neck sprain and CTE? What a perfect manifestation of my subconscious urge to push people away with shocking behavior as some sort of test in their level of investment of me. Metal music, with its skull-laden imagery and shock-filled lyrics, was the latest manifestation of that.

At the start of my time as a headbanger, circa age 12, my hair was cut in the feathered mould of Joey Cramer circa Flight of the Navigator. In other words, it was dark and voluminous, but loose and flowing, meaning I could have played the husky, vaguely ethnic sidekick to the Anglo star of a Nickelodeon show that you can still sing the theme to 25 years later.

Then, at age 13, I got a buzz cut for the summer.

The buzzcut was a ritual: I was shorn like a sheep every year at the start of summer break and, by Thanksgiving, my ebon, flowing, Freddie Prinze, Sr. coif was back in full effect. I figured that, this year, once it grew in, I would fight any school year attempts at haircuts, duck the next summer’s shaving, and be well on my way to locks that Ozzy Osbourne would be proud to vomit in.

But, as my hair returned, I noticed a curious change had taken place.

Like a departed hero returning in Act III, it was now firm, unyielding, and ready to fight whatever was thrown at it. By which I mean it was now as curly, coarse, and comb-resistant as the Orthodox icon halo of an afro that Bob Ross sported.

I was 100 percent unprepared for how to deal with this overnight change of follicular status. At first, I combed the tangled curls in a sideways part, but wound up looking like a flapper with chin-length sideburns. (As an aside, I feel like I owe a personal debt of gratitude to Glenn Danzig, and not just for the Misfits. After his “Mother ’93” exploded onto the musical landscape, the gigantic ‘burns puberty had just bestowed upon me which, at age 12, I was too young to shave, were overnight identified with him instead of a bloated, dead-on-the-throne Elvis. I’m not saying Glenn Danzig prevented me from a level of ostracization that would have ultimately concluded in a Columbine-like scenario, but let’s just say I wore combat boots, head-to-toe black, and listened to KMFDM for the better part of my high school years, so better safe than sorry.)

After months of frustration, I ultimately decided on a trip to Hair Cuttery for a chemical straightening.

It seemed the only way I could acquire the hair I desired, and my incredibly overprotective mom—the gatekeeper to any change in my looks—was somehow totally on board with the idea. Maybe she was a huge Chico and the Man fan. All I can say is, I wish smartphones had been around back then, because I would have been incredible to film the entire ordeal, a messy, multi-hour affair of putrid chemical scents and searing scalp burns that ultimately resulted in a ‘do that looked exactly like Snoop Dogg’s perm in the courtroom scenes of the “2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted” video. Oh, and by the next night, my curls had already begun to return, rendering the entire affair an exercise in ultimate waste.

That was it. I had lost. My hair had won.

Eventually, between an undercut and tresses that hit length enough to weigh themselves down, I achieved hair I didn’t totally hate. Yet it was never anything close to something I would have been happy with. Admittedly, with the perspective of time, the look I wanted was hideous and laughable. But isn’t every teen fashion?

John Papageorgiou

John hosts a long running comedy radio show titled Papa's Basement. He also performs standup and improv and drummed once for a Unitarian church.

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