October 18th, 2004

Plead the FIF!

x-posted from my journal. I thought you guys should know.

This is a hard entry for me to write. A few days ago I cut off my dreadlocks. A lot of people have asked me why I felt the need to make such a drastic change. They tell me that my locks are beautiful and they don't understand why I would cut them. Some people think I'm too attached to my hair and they don't understand that either. It's a long story that I'm not sure I'm even qualified to tell. But those who knew me before would understand best. For a long time I hated myself. Not like, I wished I could be thin or anything as simple as that. I hated my skin. Hated my figure. I hated my nose, my eyes and any part of myself that made me remotely African American. And as a crowning glory, I hated my hair.

I was resigned to my fate regarding the first three. God (or genetics, if you prefer) made a choice and I was stuck. My hair however was a battle I was prepared to fight. I used to cry at night because my head would throb so bad I couldn't sleep. It would throb because I sent the entire night struggling to brush it straight or rip it out. I still remember the day I received my first perm. I didn't have one until well into middle school. The kids (mostly black ones) would make snide comments. The white boys threw water on my head and laughed when I'd rush off to fix it. I was trying so hard to fit in, I stood out as an easy target. Children are fascinating fragile creatures who prey on anyone's discomfort except their own. I can not blame it solely on my peers. It was the collective influence of a society that says diversity matters but shows a homogeneous view of beauty. It was also the sign of a deep seated emotional issue. I was determined, to the best of my ability, to look white. It was a losing battle that caused me much heartache, the ripples of which still effect me in subtle ways. Daily, I still find myself rooting out negativism that stem back from this period in my life.

The day I got my first perm I was excited. I sat there smiling as these chemicals ate away at my hair and left me with dried clumps that stuck out, defying gravity and looking alien when hovering around my brown face. Because my hair never did fall in the exact way I wished it too. It would sort of drift downward and outward failing to give me that "look" that would make me acceptable (I'd long ago throw out idea of ever being beautiful). I can't say that every woman with a perm hates herself. I don't know the heart of everyone and people have many reasons for choosing hair styles. I've known many well adjusted women who look good with straight hair and have no issues with their self identity. But personally, I did it out of self-hatred and because of its purpose for me I have a strong bias against perming. I remember hoping that this would be the perm would take. Hoping I could open my eyes and instead of fried tangles, my face would be framed with long soft brown tresses.

In the pursuit of "good" hair I lost most of my hair to chemicals. It fell out in large clumps and I hated myself even more. I'd wear hats and creative corn roll styles to distract from how damaged it was. Most of my middle school years I had a bald spot I had to hide. I was slowly going bald because I wanted it to hang and sway in the wind like the pretty girls. And as soon as it grew back, I fried it straight again. I underwent the process longer than I care to admit. Surprisingly, I remember my first perm but not the moment I decided to stop perming. Just like I'm sure most people can't pinpoint the moment they felt truly adult or fell in love. I just was conscious of a change in myself.

I personally contribute the need to have natural hair to several factors. One factor was a summer camp I attended. There was a counselor whose name I wish I hadn't forgotten. She was a tall woman, dark skinned with the longest dreadlocks I have ever seen in my life. Literally I stared, slack jawed because I thought she was beauty personified. It surprised me that I found her even remotely pretty. She was a bit thick in the middle, pock marked and a long thin nose that flared out near the bottom. But she smiles like some portrait of Mother Earth and has this enveloping laugh. She was the first person I ever saw with dreadlocks. She proudly proclaimed "I've never used a chemical on my head in my life" and I felt oddly ashamed of the ragged ponytail that stuck out behind my head. She looked down at me fondly and I wanted to be like her. I wanted to be this new type of beautiful. Later that day, down came my posters of musicians and models. I began a wall sized collection of women with natural hair. It was the beginning of a obsession.

Another factor in dreading my hair was Nikki Giovanni's poem Ego Trippin'. I'm sad to say I've yet to own a copy any of her books. But I remember reading everything I could in the library. I'd never heard an author be frank about her blackness and the various ways it touched her life. As a more literary person, I could dissect about her poetry. There are many poets I think have a better control of the language. But think of reading this at a young age when the only writers I read in school were white and issues of race were glossed over in the footnotes. I'll always count Nikki Giovanni as one of my favorite writers for what her poetry meant to me during that time of my life. Here was a woman, lighter skinned than me, proudly expressing the parts of herself that I tried desperately to change. And why did I hate those parts of myself? Because they made other people feel guilty or angry? Because people who didn't care about me deemed me unsuitable? That is a ludicrous way to live my life. I resolved to change.

So I grew an afro. It was a humbling experience to say the least. There was a period when my perm was slowly growing out and my hair was a hybrid of curls and damaged ends. One day, when I left the shower, I cut most of my hair off. It was freeing in a way I can't explain. I felt as though I was starting over. I had a bush atop my head and new outlook on life. People constantly had remarks to make about nappy hair. My own mother begged me to "fix my hair" because I looked like an activist. When I came to Washington College she didn't want me to go with an afro because she was afraid of how I'd be judged. And rightly so. I was judged at first. But for once I felt happy with the person I was turning into.

One day, a woman stopped me on the street and told me I was beautiful. Randomly, out of the blue. "I just wanted to tell you that you are beautiful." As a side note, do this at least once. Tell someone you don't know that they are beautiful. I'm living proof it means more than you'll ever know. It was then that it dawned on me. I was beautiful before I felt the need to "fix" myself. Everyone around me could see it except for me. I was so consumed with being one standard of beauty I had completed missed the point. Every person on earth is an individual standard of beauty. You attain beauty when you take care of yourself and love yourself. That became my goal. As soon as I started to live my life with this new outlook, things became clearer. Ideas about the world around me formed in my head. In a way, I locked as an outward manifestation of the principles that were growing inside me. I felt the need to lock my hair. It isn't just "I think I could look good in dreadlocks".

I believe God uses simple things to teach you about yourself as a person. For me it was my hair. Being in dreads has taught me about judging by looks. It taught me about looking myself in whatever physical state I find myself. It's taught me about vanity and the pitfalls. It's taught me about appreciation of nature and even God. I can't correctly explain how. I'm a different person now.

With all that said someone might ask "Then why change it? Why change if you've gained so much?" I think the finally step is to let them go. I had my locks for 3 years so I know I will miss them. Each day I loved the reflection in the mirror. But everyday it had less to do with the details of my hair and more with the overall person that stared back at me. Dreads taught me that you can be flawed and still beautiful. It's calming in a sense to realize this. Sometimes people would see my locks as the finished product of an achieved style. They miss the point. There was a point when no one appreciated my hair except me. Every time I held my head high instead of wearing a hat. Every time I turned down an offer to "get that nappy head fixed". But now the lesson has been taught. Holding onto them would have been sheer vanity and counter-productive. Longer they stayed the more I felt a physical and spiritual weight on my body. I had begun to hide behind my hair (literally and figuratively) and I don't want anything on me to detract from my personality. It's time move on from here.

What will I do next? I'm not sure. For once, my hair isn't a concern for me. I don't have a goal for it. If anyone has a suggestion, feel free. I think I'll leave it short. Perhaps forever. I'm reaching a point where I don't need to express myself through my outer shell. That isn't to say that's a bad thing. But it's not who I am. I don't need to defend myself (or my blackness/beauty) any longer. I've even been toying with the idea of a new livejournal name but this one is still funny so I think I'll keep it for a while longer. Would I ever dread my hair again? I might, but if I did it would simply be a style. I can't recreate the way I felt before. It would just be going through the motions. With that in mind, perhaps this isn't as pleasing to the eye. Or perhaps I'll never be a trendsetter. But it took a long road to get me to this point and personally... I think I've never looked more beautiful.

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But... don't think because I'm dreadless I still can't lay the smackdown in here. I love you guys.

Edit: You guys... I can't reply on your comments. Every time I begin, I feel myself starting to cry. Thank you all so much. When I say I love you guys, I mean it. And I'm not leaving. You're stuck with me. :P
  • fourmi

(no subject)

i feel it is coming along well;
every day is evolution.
time slowly doing it's steady work
of shaping things always more definite
in a never-ending spiral.

(my camera fucks-up, but i like this.)
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