By Whitney White
June 7, 2016

A few years ago, I was walking through Whole Foods, wearing my hair in a big curly wash-and-go style. I stopped in the coffee aisle next to a kind white woman that was probably a few decades older than me. She looked at me and smiled, and so I looked back at her and smiled! What happened next, although seemingly insignificant, will be burned in my memory, probably for the rest of my life.

The woman looked at me and said, “I love your hair!” to which I replied, “Thank you!” Then she said, I know you probably hate it, don’t you? But I think it’s wonderful.”

**Blank stare**

I didn’t know what to say! I’ve always been one to just go with the flow, so I quickly and awkwardly replied, “Aw… how’d you know!? Thank you, you’re so nice!” She looked at me lovingly, gripped my hand in solidarity and walked away.

The exchange took me a moment to process. The woman had been extremely kind and caring enough to pay a stranger a compliment, and she was obviously very aware of the old stigmas attached to hair texture. She really was being nice, so why did I feel so unsettled?

I quickly realized that in those quick seconds of compliancy, I had downplayed all of the internal growth I had gone through, to get me to a place of appreciation for my natural hair texture. I didn’t hate my natural hair, I loved everything about my natural hair! So why in the world didn’t I express that proudly when asked?

I was mad at myself that I‘d missed a golden opportunity to declare my unapologetic love for my natural hair! I wanted to run through the aisles and find her so that I could correct that outdated misconception. I wanted to grip my coffee grinds in my hands and quote the Sesame Street song at the top of my lungs, “I love my haaair! I love my haaair!” But I missed my chance, and for that, I felt terrible.

In that moment, I vowed to never again suppress my viewpoints on my hair, even for something as seemingly trivial as small talk in a grocery store. Something that seemed like such an unassuming thing to do, agreeing with the woman and moving on, ended up taking a big enough toll on me that I still remember it to this day.

I know that kind woman meant well, and I’m very thankful and grateful for the compliment. But I let her walk away thinking that I needed to hear it to love myself when that wasn’t the case at all. I do not want or need approval from anyone to make me feel good about my hair; I already feel good about my hair. For many of us, those old days of hating our hair are long gone, and I would’ve loved to update the woman of her understanding on the matter.

Read more: What Happened When I Responded to an Online Hater Who Criticized Me for Having Natural Hair

So I won’t let this chance slip away. What I want everyone to know about natural hair is that most women with natural hair no longer care if the world understands. It doesn’t stop us from wearing our natural hair, it doesn’t make us feel less about ourselves that mass media doesn’t understand it, and it certainly won’t change our opinions of it.

I don’t feel the need to go out of my way to make people understand the “why” of natural hair because, understand it or not, it’s here and it exists without your approval. Those days of longing to belong, or longing to receive approval from those who belongare over.

Whitney White, also known as Naptural85 on YouTube, is a vlogger, blogger, graphic designer and natural hair enthusiast.

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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