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Embracing hair for its various meanings

Students of BYU-Hawaii say their hairstyles honor heritage as well as create connection and empowerment

Three girls laugh while looking at each other standing under a palm tree
From left to right: Agnes Sio, Garlyna Singo and Fatafehi Tuihalamaka
Photo by Camille Jovenes

Hair is a symbol of who they are and where they come from, said BYU–Hawaii students. Garlyna Singo from Vanuatu said she is inspired by her cultural heritage to showcase her curly hair. She said hair is more than just a style. “It's a source of confidence and pride, reflecting her identity and empowering others to embrace their natural beauty.”

Similarly, Fatafehi Tuihalamaka, from Tonga, said, “Hair is a sign of respect.” Theses two students along with BYUH student Agnes Sio all said hair is uniquely important to them for different reasons.

The cultural significance of hair

Singo, a sophomore majoring in business management, expresses her love for her hair by showcasing its natural beauty, she said. She likes to try lots of styles “such as loose curls, braids or updos, depending on the occasion and my personal preferences,” she said.

Reflecting on her earliest hair memory, Singo recalled joyous moments she spent bonding with her cousin while having her hair styled. This was a crucial experience, she said, that instilled in her the significance of hair as a means of self-expression. She shared, “We would sit outside on a mat, and she would carefully work through my thick, curly hair, making it look beautiful. The smell of coconut oil was always in the air,” she reminisced. These sessions were more than just about styling hair. “While she styled my hair, we would tell stories and laugh about anything. She taught me how to take care of my hair and to appreciate its natural beauty.”

A girl standing in profile, smiling off into the distance
Garlyna Singo
Photo by Camille Jovenes

“These times were really special because they made me feel loved and important. Through these moments, I learned that my hair is not just hair. It's a big part of who I am and where I come from,” she explained. The love and care she received during these sessions helped her see her natural hair as something to be proud of, she added. “It also reminds me of the strong bond we share and the love she showed me.”

Her current hair style of box braids is a traditional Vanuatuan hairstyle, she said. This is how she honors her cultural heritage and celebrates her uniqueness, she said. The goal, she explained, is to “always feel naturally beautiful.”

Tuihalamaka, a sophomore from Tonga majoring in Pacific Island Studies, said, “Hair allows me to care for and embrace my authentic self and boost my confidence with different hairstyles.” In Tongan culture, Tuihalamaka explained, hair is a very beautiful thing that makes women stand out. One cultural practice around hair, she explained, is when a girl’s father dies, the father’s older sister will cut the daughters’ hair. This is a sign of respect, she said.

A girl smiles up from the camera as she sits on a grass lawn
Fatafehi Tuihalamaka
Photo by Camille Jovenes

Reflecting on hairstyle trends, Tuihalamaka expressed her fondness for a particular style, saying, “Flippy layers and flippy hair have a nostalgic look. It's a 2000’s look, and since I’m a 2000 baby, I love the inspiration of it. They also make it easier for a fresh look and a bouncy blowout.”

The connection between hair and self

Agnes Sio, a senior from Ohio majoring in political science, said when she was younger, her mom cut her hair short because it was easier to manage. Now Sio grows her hair long.“For me, my hair gives me a sense of beauty because it gives me confidence and I use it almost as a tool in that way,” she added. “I love being able to do different hairstyles with it because of the length. My hair is also what I feel makes me unique because I have many nicknames because of my hair,” she continued, citing examples like Rapunzel, mermaid and Goldilocks.

“I've had strangers come to me and know me by my hair,” she said. Sio expressed her inability to imagine herself with short hair anymore. “I love being able to have something that sticks me out from the rest and gives me a unique quality. I love my hair and am grateful to Heavenly Father for giving me this beautiful gift,” said Sio.

A girl reclines on a grass lawn and gazes up and to the side with a smile
Agnes Sio
Photo by Camille Jovenes