Junior Makes a Cut Above the Rest

Kaelene Siribandan donates 17 inches of hair


Tiffany Wu

“Especially growing up with a little brother and my dad, since I wasn’t allowed to paint my nails or wear makeup, I tried to take on a more ‘tomboy’ approach,” Siribandan said. “If I pretended that I wasn’t interested in doing things that considered girly, I wouldn’t be as hurt that I wasn’t able to do them. But because I put myself in that whole mindset, it was harder for me to embrace the things that I wanted to do, even after I was allowed to do them.” After cutting 17 inches off her hair, Siribandan hopes to influence younger girls at her church to not let others’ opinions hold them back, especially when embracing femininity.

Tiffany Wu, Staff Writer

Eight-year-old Kaelene Siribandan is at a sleepover with a dozen other little girls. The acrid smell of cheap nail polish hangs in the air, stolen from a mother’s cabinet, and various palettes boasting vivid reds and purples are strewn haphazardly across the carpet. All but Siribandan’s face reveal clumsy strokes of makeup applied by inexperienced hands.

Until recently, junior Siribandan has strictly followed Pentecostalism, a form of Christianity that establishes dress rules for women including unpainted nails, dresses below knee length, no makeup and long, uncut hair. 

But now, as Siribandan sits across from me, I see pink acrylics adorning her fingertips, a worn-in pair of ripped black jeans, perfectly curled lashes and hair featuring the stunning lack of split ends exclusive to a fresh cut.

“When I was younger, I always saw other girls with makeup, or I’d have sleepovers and want to paint my nails,” Siribandan said. “Seeing the other girls do them so carelessly as if it wasn’t a big deal — because it really isn’t — was an eye opener for me.” 

Her cousin Arlena Barragan served as an inspiration when Siribandan was struggling with accepting her place at church. Being a Catholic, Barragan didn’t have to follow the same rules. 

“She’s such a pure, good-hearted, genuine person, and seeing her helped me see that you didn’t have to follow these rules to be a good person or saved or anything like that,” Siribandan said. “She taught me that as long as you’re truly genuine in your faith, the trivial things like makeup or nail polish don’t matter.”

Siribandan looked into Bible verses on the issue herself, gaining personal interpretation to convince her parents, who scheduled the haircut last September after several long conversations. 

“The belief is not just about having long hair; it’s about having cut hair, and if I cut it for the first time, there was no going back,” Siribandan said. “After it happened, I felt so relieved because even though it seems like a simple thing, it really had a lot of emotional connection. It was something I had held onto my whole life, and something that I never really agreed with but did anyway.”

Though the cut was over, she feared backlash from family and friends at her church. For an entire month, she wore her hair in a bun to hide the shorter length. 

On the first Sunday with her new cut, however, Siribandan’s friend asked her if she had cut her hair, noticing the smaller shape of the bun. Instead of reacting negatively, as Siribandan had feared, her friend offered support and comfort. 

“Facing that fear of confrontation was difficult because I had grown up in that church, so I know everyone at the church like family,” Siribandan said. “It was hard doing something that a lot of them are against, and even something that I was still feeling a little uncertain about.”

Ultimately, this experience has shaped Siribandan into a more assertive, self-confident woman, and communication remains a fundamental value that binds her to her family, which has also changed from the experience.

“Our family has grown by learning how to support each other, which has helped us build a stronger bond together, especially in our spiritual walk,” Siribandan’s mother Anita Siribandan said. “Accepting where we are in our walk has brought us closer in knowing that we can count on each other and we’re there for each other.”

“This whole thing has taught me to figure out things for myself and to trust my own decisions and emotions instead of doubting myself and sticking to what I’ve been told,” Siribandan said. “I definitely think that communication between people and expressing how I feel even if I’m doubtful of myself is really important.”