Then things slowly began to change, I met some people who opened my eyes a lot and showed me how much easier it could be to accept and embrace who I really am, instead of holding onto an unreal image...and how beautiful the world could be if I only opened myself up to all possibilities instead of trying to conform to a set of standards that no one can truly fit into.
My own dreads are merely one of a haphazard array of symbols and reminders of this lesson, and yours may all mean something different and more personal to you, but there is no doubt that for almost everyone here they are much more than "just a hairstyle".
For all of my younger years I was not only trying to fit in with my peers, but I was deathly afraid of my parents’ anger or disapproval...not that they were mean, or even very angry people. But I didn’t want to do anything ever to displease them, and so I didn’t. I did my best to squeeze myself into that jello mould of perfect child that every parent breaks out when we are still in the womb. Of course, when you spend years of trying to be something that you (even if you try to deny it) don’t want to be, eventually there comes a breaking point. I am lucky that it came early and not at forty and culminating in a nervous breakdown from a divorce and a job that I hate and the stress of never having allowed myself to find out at least a little about who I really am and what kind of life I really want to live...
When I was fifteen I took my first baby step. I engaged in my first act of outward rebellion. I came home with a shaved head. My mom was pissed. She wouldn’t speak to me for a few hours, and I was only saved when one of her friends (one of the ones who she was afraid would point out the poor reflection of my bald head upon her as a mother) spoke up for me and pointed out how she had always wanted to do something so drastic but was never brave enough. Anyways, my mom probably decided, hair grows back and I’d be looking presentable again in no time.
When I was sixteen I told my parents I was getting a labret piercing. They told me that no, no I damn well was not. I did it anyway. I knew that my parents would be angry but I did it anyway. I surprised myself. Even today I am surprised that I did that, being the good kid that I was. The aftermath was bad...but I didn’t take it out and eventually my parents came to accept it and in doing so they took their first baby step too...in coming to accept me as I really am just a little bit more.
When I was eighteen I took out the labret. They didn’t notice for a good two weeks. They did, however, notice when another two weeks later I got my septum done. Home and our relationship had already been stressful due to other circumstances so suffice it to say it was a fucking BAD scene.
Sometimes parents get so caught up in that cookie cutter image of what their child should be that when s/he does something that s/he wants for his/herself, the parents will take it as a personal insult. "You are only doing this because you want me to feel bad/want to upset me/don’t like me/wish to hurt me!" It is hard to make them understand that you are doing it for yourself, because you want to find out who you are, because you want to learn how to be you and the only way to do so is to experiment with some things that don’t fit into their ideal.
It is true that perhaps I should have waited for a better time to spring such a thing on them. But then again, when is it ever a good time to begin to break through such a carefully-constructed model? You just have to chip your way out, a little bit at a time.
I thought that any family who loved me could never let a tiny thing like a piece of metal through my nose get in the way of that love. And if it did get in the way then I was better off somewhere else. Foolish and stubborn maybe...but when I was told I was going to be kicked out of the house if I didn’t take it out I said fine, and began to pack my bags.
And then, in the morning, it was all okay! Of course they still loved me and of course, after the heat of the moment had cooled, I had gained a little bit of headway in the struggle to expand beyond that image that had been set for me, and my family still wanted to be my family, after all.
When I was nineteen I went backpacking for the summer before going to university in the fall. Many people have gone on much more daring adventures than this, but for me it was an incredibly big deal. I fought for months for my parents’ blessing and after threats and compromises I finally, mostly, got it. Then due to certain coincidences and other circumstance I changed my plans from going to the East Coast to instead going to the West Coast at the last minute and the fight began all over. But it just felt like something I needed to do and it felt like something that was supposed to happen and I’d invested far too much time dreaming about it and wishing for it to turn back. There was crying and arguing and more threats, but as soon as my family knew that I wasn’t going to back out, they wished me only the best of luck and kept in friendly contact with me throughout the entire journey. I learned so much on that trip and had the most wonderful experiences that now they say that they are glad I went and realize how good it was for me. And they are happy also, because after having even just my two months of freedom I was much more open to going to school, where before I felt like I was being forced into it all.
When I came back from BC my dreads had begun to form. But after just a couple initial comments my parents have accepted them quicker than any of my steps that have come before. To the point of sticking up for me if anyone (even my own grandma) makes any sort of negative comment, because, they say now, it’s who I am and it suits me. Real Me, who doesn’t fit into that old jello mould, but who seems to fit into their new, expanded version of what their child should be. That is, herself.
I think that most parents at heart love their children unconditionally. They may threaten and they may get angry or frightened when a child takes those initial steps towards independence and finding his/her own identity, but in the end they will love you as YOU far more than they could ever love you as “the perfect child” because it would never be real and deep down they would know it, and you would know it, and there would be hidden resentment and disappointment and unhappiness. It is better to smash that ideal as soon as you can gather the strength, rather than let the negativity add up and add up and add up and fester and eventually turn the relationship rotten.
From that very first act of shaving my head, which amounts to pretty much my first clumsy but real step towards finding out who I really am, things have been getting better. I’ve made closer, more wonderful friends than I ever imagined existed, I’ve become close to people who I’d never have believed would love me...I’ve become comfortable in my own skin...I’ve begun to explore my creative side, I’ve found my own style...I’ve done things and tried things that I still look back on in awe...I’ve realized beauty that exists where I wouldn’t have ever thought to look for it...I’ve got a damn long way to go...I’m still struggling, and sometimes I still give in and there are any number of things I haven’t yet gotten the courage to do and say and try...really I’m just at the very beginning of a journey that never ever ends.
But I say take that first step. It only gets easier, the horizon only gets brighter. You can go through life doing what others expect you to do and pretending that it is okay because it seems like the easy way. But remember that you can’t give to others unless you first take time to nurture yourself.
I don’t mean do everything that you want to do or everything that your parents DON’T want you to do just for the sake of doing it. In a lot of situations their experience has a lot of merit and their rules should not be taken lightly. But when it comes to matters like the one up for discussion in this community, I strongly urge everyone not to back down when something like this really is important to you. In all likelihood, going for what you want...that is, your own identity, experience, beauty, happiness, learning, freedom, new friends, new loves, new chances...you will only stand to lose something material, something that can physically be taken away...that is, car priviledges for a month, no phone, computer, blah blah...but in giving in and backing down you stand, really, to lose a piece of yourself.
And only if you stick with something, will your parents or friends or whoever is hassling you, realize that it really IS important to you, really does mean something. If you give in they are more likely to brush it off as some silly fad, or even a mistake you made; a poor judgement call. You will only be helping them to beat you down even more.
I believe that standing strong can only be for the good in the end. I’m not just talking about not cutting off your dreads. Dreads are but a symbol. They are one of an infinite number of possible baby steps you could possibly take toward building an identity. Be true to yourself and you will gain more and more confidence. You will attract the kind of people who you deserve and wish to attract. You will have the sort of experiences that really affect you and really help you to grow as a person and really REALLY make you happy and let you see the beauty and let you feel that you are truly alive.
And those who love you will still love you. They will.