Julia Prescott
November 09, 2015 5:15 pm

Apparently, it’s not just about having team spirit. ABC 13 reports that 11-year old cheerleader, Makayla Fallaw, in Texas was recently given the boot by her team leaders for refusing to straighten her naturally curly hair.

The team reasoned that her hair was “fine for practice” but any event within the vicinity of a Cheer trophy, and she’d have to pull a Rachel Leigh Cook ala “She’s All That” (basically, change her appearance to suit a bunch of kids who don’t accept her as she is). And that’s not OK.

Makayla has been active in the cheerleading community since she was four years old, and her mother Jenny Fallaw her number one supporter throughout. And they’ve never run into this kind of conflict with Makayla’s hair for the past 7 years. “Just a few weeks ago is the first time I had heard about a special hairstyle,” Jenny asserted. Up until then, Makayla’s participation in cheer had never depended on anything more than her ability and dedication to her team.

Some may argue that part of cheerleading’s appeal is due to its uniformity among its participants. Ambitious jumps, kick-lines, and team formations have an added “wow factor” when they appear as if they’re one being moving gracefully across the field. Jenny Farraw doesn’t quite see it that way —understandably.

“I felt like it might make my daughter feel like her hair is not good enough because she’s not like other girls.” Fallaw reasoned. Furthermore, asking Makalya (who is biracial) to straighten her hair, felt like an attack on her individuality. According to Houston Chronicle, the director of Woodlands Elite Cheer, Kevin Tonner, told the girl, “I know other mixed kids and you can put relaxer in her hair.” But anyone who has chemically relaxed their hair understands that it’s not an easy process —and sometimes a painful one. Straightening Makayla’s hair is not only emotionally damaging, but it’s physically damaging. “It would destroy her hair, so I wanted to explain to them my reasoning,” Makayla’s mom explained. 

Requiring or even encouraging women (and men) of color to straighten their hair is not a new thing —and it’s affected many for a long time. For example, last March, the military updated its grooming policy (called AR 670-1), where certain sections, according to The New York Times, “pertain specifically to black women, since they refer to hairstyles like cornrows, braids, twists and dreadlocks, severely limiting or banning them outright.” When a person’s natural hair stands out, it causes problems —problems in the work field, problems in the military, problems in academia, etc.   

“We were trying to make the exception. We were trying to find a compromise and a happy medium. And she wasn’t willing to have a compromise. She was very defensive,” Tonner told ABC 13. “It wasn’t about hair. It was about we don’t want this negativity on our team.” “When you come into the sport, you understand there is makeup to it. There’s hair to it,” Tonner added. “Long story short, it got heated.”     

While it’s understandable the team wouldn’t want negativity, it’s also not fair to ask a young girl (or any person) to change her appearance, to alter the natural hair that she was born with. This requirement, in fact, sends a message heard far, far too often: that curly hair is unruly, wild, unprofessional. While Makayla could very well join another cheer team —that’s not the point. Young girls (and boys) should be allowed to participate in a sport and not worry about transforming parts of their bodies they should be encouraged to embraced.

(Images via Twitter)

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