Eleven-year-old Makayla Fallaw of Tomball has what I like to call mermaid hair: thick, lush curls that vary between loose waves and tight ringlets, cascading over her shoulders and down her back. It's beautiful. It also got her kicked off her cheerleading team.
As a controversy that includes both cheerleaders and policing women's bodies (yes, that includes our hair), the story has gone viral overnight. To recap, Fallaw, who has cheered on local teams for years, joined Woodlands Elite Cheerleading in April. When the team decided everyone needed to have straight hair in a ponytail for competition, Fallaw's mother Jenny balked.
"It would destroy her hair," Jenny told KTRK, of the suggestion that she use some kind of chemical relaxer to get Makayla's hair properly straight. So the organization listened and worked to find a style that worked for all the cheerleaders, respecting their differences and affirming that there's no single type of beautiful hair. Just kidding, we're talking about cheerleading in Texas, after all. According to Jenny Fallaw, Woodlands Elite Cheerleading general manager Allen Shearer told Fallaw and two other team members with curly hair that they had to adopt the team hairstyle or they could not compete. One girl agreed, while Fallaw and another left the team.
"When you come into the sport, you understand there is makeup to it. There's hair to it," Woodlands Elite all-star cheer director Kevin Tonner—who is bald, FYI—told KTRK.
But Tonner isn't the only one willing to discriminate against women and girls over the state of their hair (although claiming it's necessary for athletic uniformity is new). Women in the military with curly or textured hair report getting written up for looking "unkempt." Others say they feel compelled to get a blowout before a job interview lest they be perceived as unprofessional. And don't get me started on Patti Stanger, the so-called Millionaire Matchmaker, who tells every curly-haired woman who comes into her office that she'll only take her as a client if she straightens her hair. Stanger says it's because men prefer straight hair, but ironically we never actually saw any men expressing that preference on her Bravo show.
With all this cultural pressure to go straight, can you blame a mom for standing up to the curl-shaming?
Native Houstonian Caroline May, who also rocks stunning curly tresses, says that when she was on dance teams growing up, her hair would occasionally become an issue. "You don't look more polished or professional just because your hair is straight," says May. "People need to embrace the curl."