How old were you when you were taught the unspoken rules about hair length?

I remember my first lesson like it was yesterday. I was three years old when a neighborhood bully braided my long natural hair into the chains of a metal swing. These girls pushed me on the swing while my mother watched. When she turned her back, one of them braided my hair into the chains so I couldn’t get off. I remember crying and screaming when they ran away and I realized I was stuck. My mom and dad tried to free me, but they had to cut off my hair. I started kindergarten with a TWA. That was the beginning of my hair journey.

I remember feeling lost without my length. I remember feeling ugly. Like a boy, even though I wore little gold earrings. Now that I’m older, I wish I could go back and hug my 3-year-old self and tell her she was super cute no matter the length.

Society places so much emphasis on hair length without focusing nearly as much on hair health. Part of being a fabulous woman of color is the variety of our beauty choices—natural, loose coils, twists, locs, straightened or weaved out—we can do it all and look amazing while doing it. But the underlying message is so often growth obsessed, and can make too many of us believe that our own length is never good enough.

The things we say to and about each other take root and it’s part of the challenge of the journey to shake that off and embrace your beauty as it is. Our beauty exists in all shades, textures, and lengths. You can absolutely rock a TWA and be beautiful, fierce, elegant, and stunning. Look at Lupita and be inspired. All you have to do is throw your shoulders back, hold your head high, smile and let your beauty shine from within. Trust me. I’m speaking from learned experience.

Afrobella was the natural hair blogger at AOL’s Black Voices and a writer for Vogue Italia’s Vogue Black website. She has also presented keynotes at several major media expos and seminars.