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Discovering my curl power

AS SEEN IN MSR | Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder

This week: Nicole Pillow shares how she learned to embrace her curls.

While growing up as a biracial child in the ’70s here in Minnesota, my head of natural curls was in no way celebrated — in fact, my hair became a seed of insecurity planted at a young age. Many of my peers had their own cruel way of letting me know I wasn’t good enough the way I was.

My mom still tells the story of how when it would rain outside, I would stand at the front door in tears. “Baby why don’t you want to go to school?” she would ask. “If I go to school my hair is going to frizz up, and then all the kids are going to make fun of me,” I’d reply. This treatment from my peers hurt down to the core.

Nicole Pillow | photo courtesy of Nicole Pillow

Showing up to school with my hair straight was the best way I knew how to gain acceptance. “Daddy please, please straighten my hair,” I would plead.

My dad James Pillow (now retired) was a well-known hair stylist in St. Paul. We had a shop in the lower level of our home, which made these weekly requests convenient. Although my dad was often resistant, he would eventually give in and make my hair smooth, straight and silky. My hero!

Who would have thought that a weekend away at the cabin 40 years later would reveal how deeply this “core hurt” had penetrated my belief.

It happened just last summer in Isabelle, MN. My good friend who was hosting me also owns a hair salon in St. Paul called GEM Salon and Spa. She was eager to try a new line of hair products for her shop and she needed three different hair textures.

I was initially hesitant when she asked me to participate. The thought of getting my hair wet was less than desirable. Nevertheless, I agreed to do it. After all, she’s my friend and I would be returning home on Sunday with enough time to straighten my hair back to “normal” before going to work. Right?

Wrong. When all my friends at the cabin witnessed my full head of natural curls taking shape, they got excited. One friend said, “Wow! Is this actually your hair? It’s so beautiful!” Another person asked, “How come you don’t wear it like this every day? Why would you ever hide these curls?”

I was seriously shocked and confused by their responses, and mortified at the suggestion to wear my hair like this every day — this would require me to be seen in public. Had they lost their minds?

I agreed to wear my curls to work on Monday morning. Once again, excitement erupted from my co-workers with a similar set of questions.

Be it at the bank, the grocery store or walking down the street, the sight of my natural curls continued to draw rave reviews. Yet in still, I found myself cringing at every compliment and managing huge layers of anxiety inside. I needed to understand why.

As I did some soul searching, it didn’t take long to discover that my anxieties traced all the way back to my childhood. As hard as it is to admit, I clearly had bought into the superficial standards set by my peers and society.

In response to this discovery, I made a decision to press through the discomfort and allow for my belief to be redefined. I have not straightened my hair even for one day since my cabin experience.

As the founder of Inner Beauty Project, LLC, I am proud to say that I can now wholeheartedly practice what I preach. I can see and appreciate the original one-of-a-kind design that God created me to be. And the next time I choose to wear my hair straight or add some extensions, it will no longer define me, but only enhance.

To be celebrated for the same head of curls that brought me so much pain in my past has been a healing and liberating journey. Today, I now celebrate these curls as my crown of glory.

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