I Am Not my Hair

*Names have been changed for confidentiality*

 

In Toni Morrison's Novel, The Bluest Eye, Pecola Bredlove yearned for blue eyes. But she's not the only one. I too, for a majority of my life, longed for  silky hair and bright blue eyes.

According to society, I’ve never been beautiful.   

Used to scrape off my skin until I saw red, not willing to stop until the darkness fled.

I’ve never been beautiful.   

Used to sit in a chair for over eight hours, wishing I had magical hair straightening powers.  

I’ve never been beautiful.  

Unable to leave the house unless my natural hair was hidden away, I had to assimilate, and duplicity was the only way I knew how.   

I’ve never been beautiful, and yet it was my looks that caught the attention the of the girl that  I allowed to derail my self identity for most of my life.

I’ve never been beautiful, but after an eye opening experience during my first week of Primary School in America, I began to exploit my body to unreasonable things in order to live a simple life of privilege and superficial happiness.  

Coming to America was an extremely traumatic experience for me. I was removed from an environment that had always felt like home and placed in a foreign land of pale and pink fleshed people who had an invasive fascination in my dark skin and coily hair.

In September of 2003, gap toothed and baldheaded, I took my first steps into Elementary school

One day, when we were instructed to line up for lunch, I grabbed my bag from the cubby and quickly stood in line.

“What are you doing?!”  a voice squalled with thunderstruck horror.

I murmured in my fading accent, “Standing in line”  

This was not a sufficient response. “You’re in the wrong line” she pressed back matter of factly.

With a nervous smile on my face, I replied, “No I’m not” and quickly turned away. Emphasizing her voice just loud enough for only me to hear, she orders“You’re a boy so get in the boy’s line”  

In my broken  English and awkward pauses, I insisted that she misunderstood the situation, but she wasn't’ having it. In fact, the more I pleaded, the more riled up she seemed to  become.

“Your name is Tino and you have short hair so you’re a boy. GET IN THE BOYS LINE”  

For a moment, I’d considered just standing in the boy’s line in order to quell the situation. It didn't really matter. "Boys line", "Girls line", we were all going to the same place after all.  

It wasn’t until the teacher stepped in that she finally admitted defeat.

That night when I got home from school, I ran straight to the bathroom.  

I stared at the distraught, dark and coil  haired monster in the mirror.

I was not feminine and I was not beautiful.

 

My introduction to American gender norms prompted the hasty conclusion that long hair was an indicator of femininity and validity. I became self-conscious of the way that not only my hair looked, but the way that I others viewed me.

As a result of the blatant anti-blackness and derogatory remarks made by my peers, I developed an inferiority complex and a strong desire to be accepted. Due to the fact that I was taught that the only way to affiliate was to assimilate, I abandoned myself and allowed myself to be silenced. I began perming my hair and refused to leave the house unless my natural hair was braided or covered up.

As a result of my constant perming and manipulation, my hair began to fall off. The summer before I entered tenth grade, I decided that I wasn’t going to let other people rule my life anymore and I shaved it down to the scalp.  I was expecting negative comments from others and that was exactly what I got. “ You look like a boy again,” I remember one of my peers telling me at the lunch table. My decision was made before the the Natural Hair movement had extended past its roots, and without reinforcement through representation that my beauty persisted with or without hair, I struggled to maintain my confidence tremendously. As the years passed, as  the natural hair movement blossomed and bloomed, I began to develop a stronger sense of security.

I believe it is so important for young black women of all shapes, sizes, and hair textures, to see representation, appraisal, and celebration of their features in not only the media, but everyday life.  I began to grow out my hair my Junior year, but still riddled with doubt, confined my natural hair to protective styles as a cover for the fact that I did not believe it was worthy to showcase unless it was 4a and hugging my back. It wasn’t until 2018 that I made the decision to cut off my hair, as the beginning of a new decade in my life. The Natural hair movement has aided me through my journey to self love tremendously. I have learned to accept myself as I am. This movement has taught me to redefine beauty as the physical manifestation of love. From the roots of my mind I know for certain, love and knowledge grow.

To this day, I look at the world with marble topaz tinted eyes, affixed, appropriately against my rose scented skin. Self-expression leaks through my rose gold powder and high cheekbones that speak of resilience and joy. I smile in a championed way as if to say, gently, daringly as a reminder to myself, “I exist as I am and that is enough”.