Hair: The Snipping & Styling of Identity

I pleaded and begged. I  even cried, but my mom remained firm in her stance, “You are going to school.” I wiped the tears from my eyes, unfastened my seat-belt, and dragged my feet to the hell-hole that most adults called Middle School. Normally, I didn’t mind going to school. I had a decent amount of friends, I did well in all my classes, and it was better than being at home. But that day was different. That day I accidentally washed my hair with body wash and I didn’t realize until it was too late. On the way to school, I examined my hair in the passenger mirror to see the damage. It looked oily and greasy. I was mortified. The school day consisted of people asking me about my hair. Each time I refined my response but I ultimately concluded with: never again.

When I was younger, my hair would always be cut into a short bob. I didn’t have much of a say nor did I care. Until my sister and I had lice. My dad cut both of our hair. I remember thinking how ugly I looked. Zigzagged and crooked. I had to take my school photo with that haircut. Never again. I began to realize the value of my hair. I let my hair grow. Too much. Got bangs that were not maintained and covered my eyes. Experimented and got a side-bang during the rise of emo culture. I even got highlights. Chunky. Blonde. Excruciatingly painful.

In high school, there was this girl that had super glossy sheen hair. I envied her as I examined my standing hairs and split ends. She claimed to put lemon juice in her hair to create natural highlights. I looked it up. It was legit. I started to put lemon juice in my hair. No results. Just an acidic smell that I needed to constantly wash out.

I bought in a picture of Jennifer Aniston: “I want my hair like this.” My hair came out like the photo, but my face did not. I stopped bringing in photos of celebrities. “Ya know, people don’t realize that it will never come out looking like the photo.”

When I went to get a haircut, I would have to suppress my tears as I watched the hair dresser cut off too much.  One of us did not know how to measure hair length and I became tired of paying money just to cry in front of a mirror. I began asking for less than I actually wanted cut. I also started selecting hair dressers based on how their hair looked. Long hair clipped back – they play it too safe and will try to talk you out of any “bold” decisions. Extremely short and spiky hair – they are too rebellious and will use their judgement to determine how much of your hair to cut off (despite the MEASUREMENTS that you give them).

I once shaved the right side of my hair. I almost cried when I saw it all gone. I got more compliments than I thought I would. I explained my decision to my peers in college: I wanted to try it and it would grow back by the time I began applying for jobs. To which a classmate responded, “if they don’t hire you because of your hair, then maybe it is better that you don’t work there.”  It took forever to grow back. Forever to have my hair even. Never again, I told myself.

Tired of having my hair plucked and experiencing the sensation of being scalped, I got my own box of dye. Blonde. Red. Rose Gold. Auburn. Chestnut. One time I dyed my hair red and let too much dye fall onto my forehead. It stained my skin for a while. It made for great graduation photos. Never again, the photos remind me.

I was planning on having my hair return to its natural color. It took too long. I started talking about the colors that I had dyed my hair. I got hair dye. Strawberry blonde. Makes for a nice pink hue.

It has changed throughout the years, but it has always remained a part of my identity. It has actually been the one factor that I have the most control over. Despite all my “never again” moments, it was always my choice. Even with all the changes in color and style, I never had anyone else feel threatened by my hair. Yet I see others who cannot display their natural hair as my artificial color remains praised. With dye, I am able to rebirth myself, as others have parts of their identity die. Through rejecting another’s hair, our words forcibly cut off a piece of their identity – and unlike the changes in my hair – it becomes permanent.

Quasi-Empathetic

Confession time:

I cry every single time that I watch The Hunchback of Notre Dame. . .

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Smile while you can.

and it is not because it is the most underrated Disney movie of all time. What truly gets me in the film is the scene during the festival of fools. My main man Quasi is stoked to finally be accepted by his peers. He even gets crowned KING – but unlike most movies, this is not an altruistic act from the crowd. He is only crowned because they believe that he has the most hideous mask; however, one guard in the crowd thinks it is a good idea to throw a tomato at Quasimodo. Apparently, everyone attending the festival is an asshole and joins in on the humiliation. And although I know what will happen each and every time I watch this scene, the tears remain consistent.

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Imagine longer hair and you have me 25 minutes into the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

I used to always be a bit embarrassed by my reaction. After all, I was crying over a fictional character going through a fictitious experience – yet now I know there is a deeper reason. It is not Quasimodo that causes me to cry (for he really doesn’t want to hurt me, he really doesn’t want to see me cry) – it is a testament to the animators’ ability to tell a story, and my own character. To quote the man behind my tears, Victor Hugo once said, “Those who do not weep, do not see.” I suppose that while watching The Hunchback of Notre Dame, I submerge myself into the film – I am not watching, I am seeing. Although the two seem similar, they are actually quite different:

Watching –  look at or observe attentively, typically over a period of time.

Seeing – be or become aware of something from observation or from a written or other visual source.

Unlike watching, seeing involves more activity. While watching, information stops once retained. Watching is a passive act. With seeing, information that is retained becomes processed, and it is through this process that connections can be made, allowing for empathy.

Up until recently, The Hunchback of Notre Dame would be the only time anything on screen would move me to tears. I did not cry as Mufasa died nor did I shed a single tear in Titanic – only Quasimodo resonated with me, he not only rang the bells of Notre Dame, but the bells of my heart. However, within the past two years, this was no longer the case. My eyes were like dynamites, ready to go off at any second. Here are some recent examples:

  1. Inside Out – as Bing Bong acts as a martyr and instructs Joy to “take Riley to the moon for him.”
  2. Community – “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas,” in which Abed envisions the entire study group as stop motion to cope with his absent mother.
  3. Queer Eye – every single time one of the participants revealed their new transformation and then said goodbye to the Fab Five.
  4. Forrest Gump – Forrest discovers that he has a son and immediately asks if he is “smart.”

These tears are not always a result of sadness. They stem from compassion (and typically cartoons). Yet this epiphany did not enter my mind until recently (ironically, this involved real people).

During my visit to the Georgia Aquarium, I watched a Dolphin Show. There was a segment in which one of the trainers had a child from the audience perform in the show. A crowd of 200+ people watched as a ten year old boy “trained” a dolphin. As the boy instructed the dolphin, we all saw the trainer discretely send signals to the dolphin – however, the entire crowd cheered for the boy. In that moment, all of us became united under a single cause: to make the boy believe. Yes, this is incredibly corny, but against my better judgement, I found myself tearing. I immediately tried to hide my tears – what was I crying for? When did I become such a baby?

After wracking my brain for some odd moments, a new question emerged: Why was I criticizing myself for experiencing the most heightened form of compassion?

Empathy.

In that moment, I was moved at how the entire crowd was able to function as a collective just to make one little boy – that none of us knew – believe that he was able to control dolphins. How absurd. How spectacular. How magical.

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Laverne illustrating the concept of watching from her speech at the cathedral (1996).

We are constantly told that there is no use in crying over spilled milk, and let’s not forget that it is banned from basseball as well. Big girls don’t cry (thanks Fergie). Boys don’t cry. However, to fully invest yourself into the life of someone else, real or imagined, is an incredible gift. So I say, crybabies, rejoiceth! In those tear-jerking moments, we stop watching, and we tear down the wall that we build to separate ourselves from others – after all, take it from Laverne, “Life’s not a spectator sport. If watchin’ is all you’re gonna do, then you’re gonna watch your life go by without ya.

 

 

#Enough

I do not need a gun to protect –

I need to load minds

with the ammo needed

to fight the notion that

shootings are expected.

I need to shield them

from the

crossfires

among those who believe

that their lives

equate to $5.46.

119 deaths.

$650 = 1 AR-15.

Do the math. It does not add up.

I refuse to add another factor to this equation.

On Motherhood

I am aware

that I have the power

to be a mother.

To grant life.

Yet whoever said that life

can only be created through birth?

What about the rebirths that I have fostered?

Are those lives any less precious?

Undressing my Wardrobe

The first shirt that I wore that showed off my figure was a red and white striped shirt that was like a crew neck with a button up underneath. I wore it to go out to eat with my family. And although I looked like a walking candy cane,  I remember my dad complimenting me and commenting on the fact that I should begin to dress more like this, more like a girl. Other than that outfit, I typically bought jeans from the boys’ department – carpenter, baggy, and just plain questionable. Not because they were “meant for boys,” but because of the prints on them: green graffiti lettering covering all the pockets. My shirts mainly ranged from 2XL to 3XL, and since I was very slender, I was always drowning in my outfits.

At the time, swimming was not an option. I wanted to remain unseen, succumbing to the ocean’s depths. I suppose my insecurities began around puberty, when I noticed that everyone’s body was changing yet mine seemed to be a bit behind. I didn’t feel comfortable, and perhaps I was trying to hide my body from the scrutiny of others.

When I wore clothing that complimented my frame, I was just reminded on why it should remain hidden. Once, in seventh grade, I wore a spaghetti tank top. Scandalous. The principal promptly approached me about my “inappropriate” attire. My mustard tank top possessed the power to distract boys from their studies. I was an unwanted condiment, and my principal made this very clear. The way he spoke to me marked the beginning of me mistaking my body for a sexual object.

That same day, I was performing a skit in drama class that I was really proud of, and all my drama teacher could remark upon was my potential in being a model. Rather than reflect upon my script, I noticed everyone’s eyes peer at my body. These incidents led me to believe that wearing clothes my size would amp up my sex appeal, so it was only natural for me to begin ditching my large clothes for tighter clothes as my interest in boys increased.

I had a black long sleeve shirt that I loved. It was very form fitting, and due to this, it was one of the few garments that I felt feminine in. Yet my middle school seemed to have a difficult time accepting the female form. When wearing the shirt, I was called to the social worker’s office at school and was interrogated about my eating habits, remarking upon how thin I looked. Feeling insecure and uncomfortable, I squirmed in my seat. At that moment, I remember wishing that I had opted for my trusty 3XL button up with a graphic of three guys break-dancing instead (fashion was never my forte). Her comment about my weight once again reminded me that my body had yet to experience the changes expected of me. She then asked if I wore black because I felt depressed. Depressed? I was wearing black to be the complete opposite! The year was 2007 but I was already emitting 2016 Kim Kardashian (just take a gander at her all black outfits of 2017. Was she ever accused of being depressed, or was she simply dubbed fashion qwueen?). Not to mention, did this woman even hold a degree? Is schooling needed for someone to make such an idiotic assumption? Was she hoping that I would respond, “Yes, black, the absence of color, symbolizes the absence of joy that I have in my life?”

Needless to say, after that meeting, I never wore that shirt again and went back to wearing baggier clothes as I entered high school.

When I first entered, I was often teased about my choices in clothing. This led to a constant battle that I was desperately attempting to win. Clothing became my armor in the war of words. When I was teased about my awkward physique – I searched for clothes that would compliment my figure, even if that meant constantly tugging down my dress. At 5’10, everything I wore fit awkwardly. If it was a good length, covering each and every inch of leg, it was also far too baggy because of how slim I was. If it fit my body perfectly and hugged my developing curves, it would be way too short. Wanting to prove my femininity, at least what I believed it to be, I typically opted for the latter during high school.

In addition to feeling out of place among my peers, this feeling traveled home. Among my sister and mother, I was the only one in the house who seemed interested in stereotypical girl things. I wanted to wear makeup, I wanted dresses, I wanted to be seen and admired. Due to this, I often found myself torn. I wanted to fit in at home, so I tried to reject outward notions of femininity, but I wanted to be desirable outside the home so I tried to over exert my false notion of femininity.

The clothes got tighter because I wanted to show off what little physique I had. My dad who once complimented my tight clothes now disagreed with almost everything I wore. He despised my V-necks, preaching to me about how boys thought, adding onto my misconception that my clothing defined my sexuality. Naturally, the more he resisted, the more I wanted those types of outfits: in my head, his disagreements confirmed that I was no longer a girl, but a woman. I was conflicted. I wanted to be seen as feminine by others, especially boys, but at the same time, I was not really interested in relationships or intimacy. In negotiating my identity, clothing was the currency. The less fabric I had, the more womanly I felt.

This roller coaster continued throughout college. Wanting to be comfortable, since I worked and attended school full-time, I would often opt for practically over style. However, a massive part of me would make sure that my outfits were still flattering – afraid that constantly appearing in leggings and big cardigans would engulf the very existence of my femininity. Wanting to appear as an intellectual among my peers, I also stayed away from clothing that might be too revealing. An idea planted in my mind from high school -the more exposed a woman is, the less exuberant her intelligence. As silly as it sounds, that was a battle I fought everyday.

It was not until recently that I have come to peace with my femininity and sexuality. The two are not interchangeable and do not go hand in hand. I am a woman, but that does not mean I have to dress or behave a certain way. The fact that I like to wear a pencil skirt, or a bodycon dress does not diminish my intelligence, or make me slutty. The fact that I also like wearing over-sized bombers and crewnecks does not make me less of a woman.  Rather than drowning my body in triple x’s, or displaying my body as a commodity in super super smalls, I have found a happy medium. This is all figuratively speaking because I now own clothes in almost every size. My body is not a taboo that must remain hidden, nor an object that needs appraisal. I now dress in what I feel comfortable and confident in, which varies day by day. It was never my outfits that needed changing; it was me.

Axing “As a Father of a Daughter”

“A boy who won’t be good might just well be made of wood.”

The Blue Fairy

Amidst the Harvey Weinstein scandal, celebrities found themselves talking to a little birdie to promote solidarity. However, nothing good lasts forever, and it wasn’t until long that the sweet melodic chirping was replaced with tone-deaf yapping. Tweets along the lines of “As a father of a daughter. . .” or “we need to change to protect the safety of our daughters” began to make waves (Important Note: celebrities are not the only ones guilty of this).  While I cannot speak of the intention behind tweets along these lines, I can certainly criticize the connotation that these tweets have. In lieu of the Women’s March held yesterday, I am urging everyone that has this mentality  to trade in the armor that they have knighted themselves in for torches to help shed some light.

The philosophy behind “As a father of a daughter” is problematic in many ways. At a surface level, this mindset suggests that women only deserve fundamental rights because they are associated to a man. Let’s just ignore the fact that all women are daughters and that because of this, such statements do not need to be made. It would be very similar to me stating, “As someone who was once a baby, all babies need to be taken care of.” It is a most basic truism, but I digress. This statement implies that the speaker can only understand the issues that women face because of their relation. It is also a trick excuse that needs to be retired. It is very similar to people who make racist remarks but claim that they are not racist because they have *insert race here* friend. In fact, there is a system in place for whenever a man is accused of doing anything remotely sexist and/or related to harassment:

  1. Remain silent and hope that the accusation blows over.
  2. Deny the allegations.
  3. Claim that because you are a son, and/or a father, there is no way that you could ever do that to a woman.
  4. Shocked by the fact that number three did not end the fiasco, grant a double-handed apology: I am sorry that you felt as if that is what happened. That was not my intention.
  5.  Remind the world that you will do better because once again, you are related to a woman.

While I am thankful that many of these voices have not harmed their daughters, wives, or mothers, that does not mean that they are incapable of hurting any other woman. To put it in terms that anyone can understand, let’s examine an analogy of a spider and a mosquito. Anytime a mosquito is near me, I will make it my life mission to exterminate it. However, I do not kill spiders because I find them practical. They serve a purpose for me. Yet I cannot go around campaigning that I am part of some insect alliance since all I do is differentiate my behavior when I find it convenient. Some fathers may engage in catcalling because the women that pass by them fit a different criteria than their daughters: they are not related, and therefore, do not deserve the same respect.

However, not all men use this philosophy to fight against accusations. Many use this reasoning as their purpose for getting involved, and while their desire to help the cause is respectable, their reasoning is deplorable. They claim to understand our struggle as women because they are related to one.  Witnessing or hearing about an event does not make you an expert. I have watched Aladdin countless times, and despite knowing all the lyrics, I will unfortunately never know what it is like to be Prince Ali. Fabulous he. Ali Ababwa. The point is, as much as you may want to empathize with someone, you cannot  claim someone else’s struggle as your own. Although I am a woman, there are many struggles that I was fortunate enough not to experience. The fact that I have never experienced them does not diminish my belief that they should never happen. If one person undergoes an encounter that makes them feel less than, that is already one person too many. There is no need for me to claim their narrative as part of my own book to know that their chapter should have never existed.

Upon a closer reading, the whole “As a father of a daughter” mantra is extremely outdated. Believing that society needs to change to ensure the safety of your next of kin is reminiscent of the whole damsel in distress ideology.  Engaging in our fight with the belief that your involvement is a necessity for our well-being goes against our very reason for fighting. We do not need men to protect us because we are fragile daughters. We need men to treat us equally because we are their equal. Familial ties should not be needed to establish morals.

Despite what Pinocchio and Jiminy Cricket may have taught us, a conscience does not exist outside of us. It comes from within; however, you should certainly let it “be your guide.” With only 280 letters to tweet, you should not be wasting 20 of them.