CHANHASSEN - Sometimes acceptance comes with a price. And Courtney Ruddy, 16, says she has paid. Loving her natural hair is a constant battle. She says early on she felt a need to conform.
“Fifth grade is when I started trying to fit in. I don’t know why but I felt prettier with straight hair. It was probably because all my dolls were white with blue eyes and blonde straight hair,” she said.
That is when the Minnetonka High School student started using a flat iron to straighten her natural hair, removing its natural curl pattern. Pointing to her the ends of her long locks, she talks about the damage caused by the heat from the straightening device.
“It’s been a journey. I can tell you that. I had beautiful ringlets growing up and then it started growing out instead of down when I reached about eight years old,” she said. “The kids pointed out that I looked a lot different than them. For dance, I started straightening my hair for recitals. That was once a year and it evolved.”
Courtney Ruddy is the daughter of a mixed-race-couple. Her parents are now deceased. She was raised by her white grandparents. Prior to Courtney Ruddy, they didn’t have any experience caring for textured hair. Courtney’s grandmother, Joan Ruddy, says she was initially afraid.
“I had no idea how to do this. I was uncomfortable doing this because I thought it was hard on her hair,” she said. “One salon suggested she had her hair relaxed and I said 'no.'”
A relaxer is a process of using a chemical to straighten naturally curly hair.
Now 82, Joan Ruddy, hopes the conversation on hair continues to grow and take new roots. In October, KARE 11's Adrienne Broaddus revealed her hair struggles to help other women and families.
Melissa Taylor, owner of The Beauty Lounge, says Taylor said there is an education gap when it comes to caring for curly textured hair. In 2016, a Minneapolis stylist was fired after he refused to service a client with textured hair.
Following that incident, Taylor was among several local stylists who offered to help fill the gap. Taylor has taught courses that highlight the fundamentals of maintaining textured hair.
“One of the biggest thing I teach is language. Never say your hair is nappy. Never say it is difficult. Speak positively,” she said. “Unfortunately, since the parent is dealing with hair that is not like theirs it can be challenging. It is not that is more difficult. They are just not accustomed to it.”
Taylor says she encourages parents to learn how to take care of their child’s hair.
“It is important to help your child understand their hair is beautiful and embrace that texture,” she said.
Still, embracing the hair texture is a journey for Courtney Ruddy.
"There are two different parts of me. There is the part when I am the advocate. The other part of me is the outcast because I have different hair and I am different," she said. "I feel so self-conscious with it. It is horrible that I feel self-conscious with it but it just the way I feel. I was touring colleges and everyone was all natural, no makeup and being themselves and I was like ‘Wow, I can’t wait for that in two years. But I am in high school and right now you got to kind of go with the trend.’”