Note: You will read that Lareche uses the term perm in her story. To perm is to chemically alter the hair and change its texture into a curlier form. To relax hair is to chemically alter the hair to be straighter. While they technically have different meanings, some use them interchangeably to mean the same thing. It depends on where you grew up and how you grew up using these words. When Lareche uses the term perm, she’s referring to her hair being chemically altered to become straighter.)
School is a place many of us spend countless years in. A place where we learn, work, make friends, and are taught to express ourselves. But what happens when the place you thought should be a safe space, turns out to be the place that causes you the most grief and pain? Sadly, for Jenelle Lareche this happened to be her story.
One day Lareche, alongside other girls, was sent down to the office. Confused as to what the problem was, she obediently made her way down.
Was she in trouble?
She entered the office hoping to get some clarity. Yet she was met with eyes that stared directly into her own. The words, “Your hair is too thick. Your hair is unprofessional. Your hair is distracting the other students. You either need to cut it down to below an inch high or you need to chemically treat it or you’re getting a detention,” fell onto her ears.
Was Lareche really getting in trouble because of her hair? Why so much trouble over something she didn’t choose or have control over. The sad part was this wasn’t just an isolated incident. This is one of the many stories that Lareche carries with her till this day. Stories of insensitivity towards her hair throughout her years in middle school and high school.
Despite these repeated incidents, Lareche couldn’t comprehend why this kept happening. She didn’t realize it was an issue at first. To her she thought all schools were like this. That her school was just being unfair and that it wasn’t truly a problem.
“You know all these different things and not once did I really stop and say you know this is kinda racist. I was like well my school is just like; you know how school be. You know school is unfair. That’s how disconnected I was to my hair. That’s how disconnected I was to the situation...,” said Lareche.
It took a lot for Lareche to see the fault of the school. It took a lot of digging deep and coming to terms with what her hair was and who she was. Her decision to become natural was fueled by various reasons. One was seeing her sister, who was in college at the time, rocking her natural hair. Seeing how much her sister’s hair flourished, Lareche thought “why not?”
Another reason was to grow back her hair stronger since her edges and hair were thinning. Although Larache’s motives appeared positive, there was this other deeper, slightly warped reason as to why Lareche wanted to go natural. It had to do with a perm.
“I wanted more than anything to perm like since I was a kid. And my mom always made that deal with me, coming into high school I got to perm my hair. So, I just said, you know let me just do this whole like no heat thing for a little bit and get my hair that much stronger to perm it, which is really weird,” Lareche said.
Perms were such a big deal for Lareche. She was over the moon when she finally got one. “Freshman year, first day of school and I couldn't have been happier. And it’s horrible that I was so happy with it. That I was so happy that I didn’t look the way I was made. You know? Cuz it wasn’t coming from a place of self-love. It was coming from a place of self-hate. Self-insecurity,” said Lareche.
Lareche truly hated her natural hair and wanted nothing to do with it. But eventually there came a time where she knew enough was enough. Something had to give. And one day it did.
It was unplanned. Completely out of the blue. But the scissors were right there. Something compelled her hand to reach for them and to start snipping away at her chemically treated hair. Before she knew it, strands of straight hair were gone and she was left with overwhelming feelings. Feelings that turned into deep sobs.
“The most I’ve done at that point were little trims here and there but I just cut it. And I was like oh my god, I just did that. And then I just remember, I bawled my eyes out. I cried so hard and it wasn’t cuz I thought it was ugly. It wasn’t cuz I was like I can’t believe I did that, like I’m frustrated. [It’s going to] sound so cheesy [but] I’ve never felt more beautiful,” said Lareche
Cutting her hair that day was a turning point. She not only cut off dead hair but she cut off some of the baggage she’d been holding onto from the past that day. Though it didn’t remedy external forces against her natural hair, it was one step closer to her learning to truly except herself.
Despite Lareche’s story not being the most positive, she has grown a lot from it. Even though she still struggles from time to time and holds onto things from the past, she now can honestly say that she loves her hair.
“It took a lot of self-reflection, a lot of self-love, and a lot of self-acceptance for me to be comfortable wearing my natural hair and like the way it looks. Like how curly it is. Like how fluffy it looks. And you know realized that it’s something I should be proud of or at least something I should respect and not always want to hide so much.”
Disclaimer: This piece only scratched the surface to the treatment Jenelle faced.