Curly in Appalachia

If you attend Ohio University, you may have noticed a girl with grand, curly red hair walking through campus.


Meet Thea Erwin. Thea, from Athens, Ohio, is a senior at Ohio University studying English and Creative Writing. I met up with Thea today to get to know her and learn about her eye-catching tresses. The picture above shows Thea’s hair in its natural state. Thea’s hair is very curly, textured and coarse, much like the natural hair of people of African descent. Thea has proudly worn her hair in this natural state for more than five years now. In previous years, Thea had conformed to the many pressures of media and society and chemically processed her hair with a relaxer to straighten it. I found this experience to be shocking because I’ve only known chemical hair straighteners, or relaxers, to be marketed to and used by Black people, but clearly, Thea is white.

Thea’s experience with relaxers was much like any other person who isn’t thoroughly educated on coarse hair care and maintenance: catastrophic. Even after processing, Thea was still dissatisfied with the way her hair looked and felt. She described her processed hair as “dead” and “damaged.” After more damage, Thea found herself straddled between prolonging the damage and simply cutting off all of her hair to embrace her natural. Now older, Thea has grown to be proud of her curly afro and is no longer hindered by negative reactions.

Now wearing her natural hair, Thea says it’s been difficult and even frustrating to maintain her hair due to the lack of resources available for coarse hair in Athens, Ohio. She does not know of the proper ways and products used to moisturize her hair to keep it in good health. Thea has also walked in different hair salons and many stylists have declined her business, turned off by her hair texture. As Thea is not the only woman living in Athens with a coarser hair texture, I believe attention should be brought to this problem. I have to travel home, which is almost three hours away, just to have my hair professionally cut and straightened when I desire. I’ve had to teach myself how to care for my hair through YouTube and various natural hair blogs on the internet. It would be much more convenient to have at least one or two hair care professionals in Athens who specialize in textured hair.

Having coarse hair that stands up on your head rather than lies down may seem minuscule to those looking from the outside. To us with natural curl patterns, living in a society where Euro-centric appearance is praised and supported, a society where there hasn’t been much support for Blacks in the past, it can be intimidating to go against the grain and rock a natural afro. Being proud of what is given to one naturally is a growing process and takes lots of confidence. I praise Thea for three reasons: being White and proud of her hair, being open to learning new things about her hair, and being confident enough in herself to know that she is beautiful.


By: Ashley Osborne



About Ohio U Women's Center

The Ohio University Women’s Center serves and responds to the needs of OU women students, faculty, and staff, as well as members of the community. Founded in 2007, the center is dedicated to creating an inclusive and welcoming campus climate for all members of the community through programs, resources, referrals, advocacy, and education. Located in Baker University Center 403.
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