I didn’t always have luscious locks. When I was little, I actually had very thin hair. Bald baby head, scraggly pony tails, and wispy hair was my beginning while my little sister, Emily, was born with springy ringlets, bouncing with every hop…. but I’m not bitter about it so don’t even go there. ;P However, my hair became what made me “pretty”, eventually. When I grew out of the no hair trap, I grew into the chubby kid. And, for a long time, I didn’t really know that there was something wrong with my weight until other girls began to point it out. I was soon aware of the fact that I wasn’t “hot” or “cool” or pretty…but my hair was. People told me that it was.
Now, I know my family and close friends will beg to differ as they always tell me how adorable I was, but I didn’t feel it. In fact, I didn’t feel like I reached the standard of beauty that is put out there (cough cough made up cough cough), until my adulthood. I hid behind long hair for a long time. Not because I particularly liked it. Long hair is hard work in my opinion. It isn’t easy to manage as a kid, either. Swim caps hurt and brushing it out was a nightmare after four days a week in a chlorinated pool. But, everyone loved it. They envied it’s thickness and length. I know, because they told me.
Later on in high school, I grew out of my baby fat, or forced myself out of my baby fat in unhealthy ways. A story for another day. I kept my hair long though. Even when I began to brush clumps of it out, I kept it long and pretty. Then, one day I cut it. I remember feeling liberated. I also remember being called a lesbian for the first time. I look back at this now and laugh. How ignorant, right? How judgmental, right? It shook me though. And there I was again, growing thinner and thinner to meet a standard, but I had ruined myself because I had lost my hair. Time went on and I longed for it to grow, envying the girls around me that could straighten and style and curl theirs. People liked my hair long. I know because they told me to grow it out again.
Moving forward. I had my first boyfriend. How exciting, right? Wrong. I am telling all of you girls right now, if I could do it again, I would have waited to begin a relationship until I was out of high school. I would have worked on finding my value in myself rather than in someone else. I would have hung out with my friends rather than his and not allowed him to dictate who I could and couldn’t talk to. I would have cut my hair again. But he liked it long. He told me to keep it long. So I did… And I also let him feed me adderall to suppress my appetite. And I also stopped talking to my best guy friend. And I also let him tell me how crazy I was (which I probably was considering I was hungry and lonely). But, my hair was beautiful. He told me it was.
When I broke up with him after three years too long, I cut my hair. This time, though, I liked it. It was different. For the first time, I was feeling more worth than my hair. I was feeling worth deep down, deeper than I had before. I like to think that most bad situations make us stronger human beings. Thankfully, I was able to start growing in that direction right as I started college. I can’t imagine getting through college sane if I had continued being a frail little tea cup all painted up and set out on display, as if that was my only worth.
Ever since then, I have periodically grown out and cut my hair. When I came to The Gambia, I was hellbent on letting my hair grow all natural and free. Maybe it was because I really did want that…or maybe it was the girls on intagram hashtaging #wanderlust and promoting hair growth pills. It’s hard to know if it’s what you really want or what society is subtly shoving down our throats these days. Well, moving on to the end of the story so you can stop reading a rant about my hair, I cut it off. When we first got to The Gambia, a few of the girls shaved their head. It’s hot here. I remember wishing that I could be confidant enough to do that.
Unexpectedly, my hair brought me so much attention here. My friends and family, here, comment on how beautiful it is almost every other day…especially when I wash it…which isn’t very often. They tell me how much they wish that they had my hair, that their hair is not beautiful. I hate that. I hate that this silly object of dead mass on my head became my “pretty” again. As it got longer, it got drier. My head got itchier. My baths took longer. My hair was always bothering me. So two days ago, I said “WHY AM I STILL GROWING THIS OUT WHEN I HATE IT?!” Well, because people were telling me how pretty it was, probably.
Now, there is nothing wrong with having long hair. The social need for long hair is a minor gender norm, but girls (and boys) if you love your hair long, by all means grow that out. Hair is hair is hair, who cares? It becomes an issue when that norm becomes a must, and to deviate from that norm sparks a difference in how we treat people. If I am so easily persuaded to not cut my hair because of a standard, even when it causes me to deal with discomfort, how easy will it be to persuade me on other things? My rights as a woman? My career choice? My place in society?
Girls cut their hair for all sorts of reasons. It’s a symbol of change in many instances. In the past, I have done it as a symbol of liberation from a toxic relationship, a means to shrink away from complements, a liberating start to a new chapter.
Here, I find a little more practicality in my decision. This week, I cut away expectations. In a country where certain physical aspects define you as “woman” I was just sick of keeping one of them attached to my head. I also cut away damage. Sometimes hair just gets unhealthy. Why hold onto something unhealthy? I refuse to hold onto unhealthy relationships these days, I refuse to let myself be taken down by toxic people, so why hold on to crunchy hair? A bye bye. I also cut off a good thirty minutes to my bathing routine. Winning.
Maybe this post is silly to you. Maybe it is a weird little snippet into my brain. Maybe you really can resonate with some of what I’m feeling. There is so much value in just letting each other find our own beautiful and value it. Embrace it. Love every second of it. Know that it might change, too. I’m sure I’ll let this hair grow out again, when I want it to that is. If feeling the most yourself means letting your hair down and rocking some long locks, do it! If that means shaving it all of, do it! You know what the funny thing about hair is? You can always change it. Don’t forget that. You have the power to change what you don’t like.
But this is just a post about hair, right?
“You are altogether beautiful, my darling; there is no flaw in you.” -Song of Songs 4:7