Nina. 24. I grew up in Val Verde; a small town with a large Mexican community, right on the edge of Santa Clarita Valley.

I've had a lot of moments where I have felt judgement on my hair, which mostly happened when I was a kid or a teenager. Most of the comments, which I only recognized as harmful to my self image in retrospect, were from other black people, or African Americans. I heard ridicule from older women, in particular, to tame my hair, to gel back my frizzy curls, or to fix my nappy hair. I remember once a white boy in my class telling me that he liked my bun of curls, but that I need to put gel to smooth out my edges and waves, even though I hated gel. For most of my school years, I have been surrounded by white people or other minorities, who mainly approached my hair with fascination and curiosity. The most ridicule I faced about my natural hair was from myself, though. I wanted to blend in, and I tortured myself to look more like the White and Mexican girls in my class, with straight flowing hair. The other few Black girls in my class had straight hair, too, so I just always felt so different. My own self image was the biggest burden on my own confidence, which took a long time to defeat.

Now, I get complemented on my hair daily. White, Mexican, Asian, Black, men and women tell me they love my hair. But I feel the most when young black girls say they like my hair. I want to be the option for them that I didn't have when I was a little girl.

I didn't always wear my hair naturally. As a kid, when it was natural, I would tie it back. My mother and father would spend time putting individual braids in when they had spare time, as well. And I sometimes got my hair braided with extensions at other women's houses that my mother or father paid for. My mother, who was Colombian and raised in New York, loved to get her thin, straight hair permed and curled. She loved my curls, and I could never understand why.

I had no idea I could chemically straighten my hair until I was 11 or 12. I don't remember how I found out, but when I did, I begged my mother to take me. She refused for a long time, until finally she gave in and I got my hair relaxed during my freshman year in high school. But I was a swimmer, so maintaining that kind of hairstyle became difficult. My hair eventually became damaged and fried from straighteners. It wasn't until I was 19 that I realized I was not completely loving myself, which was something that I had pushed for in other parts of my life. Suppressing my natural hair had become so normal to me that I had forgotten what I looked like, and who I really was. My hair was the last thing I had to overcome to free myself from caring what others thought of me. I know that I was afraid to wear my hair out naturally, particularly in a fro, because I had never seen any other women in my life do it. I don't think I saw that as an option, or at least no one told me that it was. I just somehow learned that I was supposed to pull it back, and be in pain, and "do something" with it. I needed a role model in my life to show me that you wouldn't explode if you went outside the house with your hair out. My mom tried; She and my father surrounded me with books that celebrated black culture, but because she did not look like me, it was impossible for me to understand.

I struggle often with the weight of importance that we put on these tiny strands that grow out of our head--the importance of beauty that we place on ourselves every day to be acceptable for either ourselves or society. It all feels, at least for me, that it starts with hair and that the definition of ones self lies with what we do with our hair. And that feels so heavy sometimes.

No matter how much I love my hair, and no matter how much I love the journey I have taken with it, and freedom I have gained from finally embracing it, at the end of the day the most important thing to me is that I can cut it all off, and still feel like I am me. My heart and my mind are the same. I am more than my hair.

Also, a lot of black women tell me that they wish they could go natural, but their curls are not like mine, so there is no way they would look good. But the funny thing is, is that I used to say that to other women with larger curls when my hair was relaxed.

Let your hair grow, and fall in love with your own curls. They will not be like anyone else's. And isn't that absolutely amazing?