Kara Briggs: Losing my hair but not my identity

"Indian hair - speaking generally - is the quintessential type that is smooth with just-the-right-amount-of body that populates commercials for high-priced shampoos and dyes.

I respect those tribal peoples for whom their hair is sacred. For me, my hair was my sense of beauty, or in the description from one acquaintance, it was a cascading black waterfall.

So in treatment for cancer in 2005 I gave up a lot more than my right breast. I lost my hair. It came back a cross between Little Orphan Annie and Einstein. The curling hair is a side effect from chemotherapy, and it could last forever. Going from no bad hair days - ever - to two out of every three has really taken a bite out of my pride.

What's odd is that no sooner do I hate my hair on a given day than someone of a different race, generally white, comes up to me and says, ''You're so lucky to have naturally curly hair.'' They seem to really mean it. During one peculiar stage of regrowth when a spontaneous pompadour - the 1950s men's style where the hair is brushed forward and curled over the face - emerged, the latte-drinking, laptop-lugging hipsters of Portland eyed me with admiration.

The opposite happens in Indian circles, where people who don't know me or don't recognize me without my old hair take my curly hair as an indication that I'm not Indian. More than once since my hair started growing back just over a year ago, I've been given the Indians 101 lecture or - worse - been turned away as unrecognized by old acquaintances. It was even more hurtful during the long months in 2005 when I had no hair."

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Kara Briggs: 'I am not my hair' (Indian Country Today 1/17)