Florida wasn’t a very diverse experience for Paola Bretous. The political science major lived in a predominantly White and Hispanic area in Florida and naturally wanted her hair to conform to her surroundings.
“When I was younger, I didn't really like my natural hair. And I feel like a lot of women of color were like that because of what we were surrounded by,” Bretous said. “I would always see their hair and be like ‘I want my hair to be straight and I want my hair to look like that, why can’t my hair look like that?’”
Coming to Brockton, Massachusetts for high school shocked her. She saw various afros, twist outs, braids - all worn with a sense of pride and normality that she didn’t see in Florida. Naturally, Bretous took note of this way of life so unfamiliar to her own natural hair experience.
During her freshman year of high school, she finally decided to wear her hair out for the first time in forever. With that decision came a more peaceful sense of identity that she didn’t have back in Florida.
“I came here and I saw a whole bunch of people that looked like me,” said Bretous.”They were wearing their hair out and they were just like, so happy about it... I felt like I actually belonged here.”
As she began her college career, Bretous made the decision to cut off the hair she’d grown so fond of.
“I just wanted to start over, start my natural hair journey fresh,” she said.
With the clean slate of freshly cut hair came the inspiration to buy more natural hair products, do treatments, and actively care for her hair in a way she didn’t before.
As the natural hair movement is on the rise again, Bretous now feels the empowerment and value in embracing what she’s been given.
“ It took me a while, but I did.” said Bretous.