Industry star Myha’la Herrold’s Catholic high school was as renowned for its performing arts program as it was for being committed to a severe dress code, which included hair: It had to be long enough to be pulled back, and no “unnatural” colors allowed. But Herrold bucked that system — with a trick up her sleeve. “I was like, ‘How can I rebel against this as hard as I can, but also make myself indispensable?’” she recalls for Teen Vogue. She had learned from an early age that talent can give you status, that confidence can allow you to break rules. Within her first year at the school, Herrold was leading the jazz and rock bands while proudly rocking dyed blonde hair.
“I cut my hair and immediately went for the mohawk, and then I did frosted tips and argued that it wasn't unnatural,” she says. “I was really waiting for somebody to tell me Black people couldn't have blonde hair.” Herrold’s mother, a hairstylist and her biggest supporter, encouraged her with every dramatic style change. The actor went from short hair to braids and back again, infusing looks with color, beads, and accessories to make each style that much more unique. Multiple times, Herrold was sent to see the dean, who came to know her on a first-name basis. "It's just borderline, Myha'la,” he’d say to her. "What's ‘borderline’?" she'd reply. To which he'd answer, “The hair is. It's borderline."
But after gently reminding Herrold to stick to the dress code, the dean would let her move on with her day. Herrold became more emboldened in her difference. “I pushed the limit of everything. It was very much waiting for one of these white people to tell me something,” she says. “They were policing me, but at the same time, begging me to sing the national anthem at every game and to sing at their auction. I felt very much like a prized hen. A prized Black hen.”
As a young, queer, biracial woman, Herrold was often reminded of how her natural presentation and positioning differed from what the school encouraged among its students. But with the support of her family and friends, she learned she didn’t have to play by those rules.