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.

Life Simulations: Are You Playing to Win?

After work, I made myself a delicious Lobster Thermidor because my cooking skills are top-notch (level 10 to be exact). The TV is on the fritz again so I attempt to repair it on my own before calling the repair man. This is a tragic decision as I am electrocuted. Luckily, my husband is home and can afford to gamble his life in a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors with the Grim Reaper.

Up until the last bit, the scenario sounds plausible, and while the latter half might sound outrageous, that’s as far as the envelope of reality is pushed in The Sims. As a fan of the game, I always found my interest in it perfectly normal. The game allows the player to fantasize about living a different life. I can pick up the newspaper and apply to be a criminal. Of course I have to start as a low-life pickpocketer, but with enough time and effort, I can achieve my dreams of becoming a criminal mastermind.

I am currently on my third life cycle in Bit Life, a life-simulation game. There is no objective in the game, just live the life of your assigned person. There is no mythical aspect – you are just living someone else’s life. To clarify, there is a difference in the simulation games available. I am focusing on the mundane, or real-life, simulations: “In a medium that built itself on unprecedented interactivity and literally boundless potential for action and adventure, the relatively passive experience of caring for an animal, a town, a field of crops, or even a little cartoon version of yourself, has become big business” (Nintendo Life). Games can transport us to different realms and time periods – yet with all these options available, I find myself most enjoying simulations that require me to do about everything that I hate in the real world. In Animal Crossing, I design homes and keep my villagers happy by performing various requests –  typically involving bug catching or fishing. In Harvest Moon, I have to go to bed super early to tend my crops and livestock all while wooing my partner in hopes of presenting them with a blue feather before I die (I usually stop playing before that can even happen #cheatcode).

Growing up, I suppose costumes were our first entry point in role playing. You could  become an entirely different person through selecting an outfit. A seemingly good use of a child’s imagination and a convenient way to have your child begin thinking of possible career options. Then there is “make believe” or as my brother used to call it, “be whatever you want to be,” to which  my sister and I would select a rock or tree to ruin his attempt in having fun. Yet even in this attempt, we still existed as something other than ourselves – do you know how hard it would be to curl up into a ball and say absolutely nothing? This imaginative play also contains house or school – you know, since attending 6 hours there was never enough. As children, these games are important as they allow “children [to] role play and act out various experiences they may have had or something that is of some interest to them. [These games also allow children to]  experiment with decision making on how to behave and . . . social skills” (Learning 4 Kids). Essentially, these games are training grounds for children to enter the real-world.

At my house, we had an elaborate game based on an episode from The Cosby Show. Theodore believes that he is ready to make it on his own, so to prove to him that he is not ready, Dr. Huxtable, removes all of Theodore’s possessions and charges him for amenities and supplies. When my cousins would come over, we would remove most of the furniture from the downstairs guest room and turn the play room into a furniture store. Using Life money, we would sell the room, furniture, and food. Unlike The Cosby Show, our episodes would always end with some sort of scam: selling faulty furniture that would constantly need repairs, or a shady landlord that would rob its tenants – we were criminals in the making. Perhaps that is what is so alluring about these simulators. In these games, we are allowed to engage in activities that would be frowned upon in the real world. We are finally allowed to feed into the voice that we desperately attempt to starve out.

Most of my favorite games fall under the life-simulation genre. I like being able to engage with the constant “What If?” nagging in the back of my mind. In these games, I can find the answer without endangering myself. “What if I told people what I really thought instead of just keeping my mouth silent?” Click, Scroll, Select: Insult. On the other hand, the simplicity behind these games is extremely rewarding. I can completely furnish an entire home, raise a family, and tend to livestock without having to leave the comfort of my room. Whereas I was barely able to attend college, student teach, and work part time. With my often chaotic schedule, it was soothing to enter a world where I was completely in control and constantly rewarded.

As huge of a fan that I am, there is a major problem with these games. As we began to age, there is an increase in the dissociation of self caused by them. From what began with being participants in costumes, and continued to masking our wishes behind dolls and action figures, we are now merely tapping a button. Simulations have become a double-edged sword. On one end, now more than ever, we are truly allowed to transport ourselves into another life without making any adjustments; however, in this transportation, we miss our stop, forgetting that in this instance, the journey is not the destination. We become so consumed with these fictional lives that we don’t realize the absurdity behind them. When playing The Sims, I would make sure that my family was skilled in every possible trade – I sat in front of the computer watching them read cook books, and despite the fast forward option, it was still time consuming.  To think, in that time, I could have read a real recipe! Instead of having a Sim that made a fabulous Lobster Thermidor, I could have become an accomplished chef. As I mentioned earlier, these games often lack fantastical elements, so rather than providing an escape from reality, they simply become an alternate reality – and that is where the danger lies.

Just look at the shift in what children watch. It used to be Barney or Sesame Street – puppets replicating appropriate behaviors and social skillsNow, children go on YouTube to watch other children playing. I watched the above mentioned shows to fuel my imagination – to see and learn about things that I couldn’t see in my own life. But today? Children are watching to get an imagination. We used to be the ones calling the shots, clicking the buttons, but we have now become the ones waiting for commands. I used to joke around at the possibility that we are just like The Sims, controlled by some outside force, yet now I am laughing a bit less. Perhaps we should direct our focus on instilling an imagination in the upcoming generations instead of determining how we can make these simulations more authentic. After all, for me and for what I believe to be many others, the enjoyment of these games derives from the simple fact that it is not real. The escapism is what is alluring, but we need something to escape from. It’s time to customize our approach – there is no winning in life-simulators and there is certainly no winning if we continue on the path that we are on.

Expectations and Reality: Can You Really “Have the Best of Both Worlds?”

A wise woman once said, “Life’s what you make it, so let’s make it rock,” and I attempt to live by that mantra, but I always find myself wondering if I am making enough of my life, if I am making it rock. To my defense, I do not have a limo out front, hottest styles, or shoes in every color, and with today’s society, it seems impossible to simply live your life (hey! ay ay ay) since there are so many vehicles available to transport you to jealousy and longing.

While scrolling, I come across several people my age or younger, that seem to have more fulfilling lives. What makes their lives more fulfilling? Perhaps it is the amount of likes attached to their post. Or maybe the fact that they have achieved a milestone that I am still waiting on (I saw someone my age become a homeowner, and rather than feeling joy for her, my selfish mind demanded to know why she was one , and I was not). Could it be their awe-inspiring shots of places that I can only imagine?

Miley_Stewart_pretending_to_be_Hannah_Montana

Me on social media living my best life.

And I know that social media tends to be a place to share achievements rather than disappointments, highlighting the best of one’s life rather than accurately reflect their current status (I mean, there are even countless articles circulating online to instruct users how to practice humility when posting about their triumphs). I have yet to see a photo captioned, “After working my ass off to get my degree, I am happy to announce that I did not get my dream job.” No one wants to immortalize their failures because setbacks are meant to be stepping stones in our journey, not a destination. Even with all of this in mind, I still find myself drawing comparisons.

Most of us develop a plan for our life, but what happens when the plan goes awry? As I mentioned earlier, we don’t share it. Instead we mention our wishes, hopes, and dreams. The failures only seep their way into a post when surrounded by an accomplishment. Something along the lines of, “I remember standing in the rain everyday waiting for my bus to arrive. On my fourth birthday, my party was cancelled because a flood warning was issued. For years, I asked for better conditions, only to be denied. Ten years later and I am proud to announce that I am the rain and nothing will ever rain on my parade again.” Would we have heard the anecdote about the fourth birthday if the last sentence did not occur? When a dream comes true, suddenly “life’s what you make it.” Yet when faced with adversary, life is simply out of our control.

I used to think that by this age, I would have a family and a home of my own, and while I have come to terms that motherhood does not have to be an expectation for myself, I still find myself mulling over how different my reality is from what I previously envisioned.  I began my career at 23, something that I envisioned since I was eight years-old, yet I still feel like a failure. I feel as if I have not done enough. I am a quarter of a century old, but I don’t feel as if I have lived that long. I feel most valued when I am a productive – this is why I am a workaholic. During my “off-days,” I can be found laying on the couch binge-watching. Watching fictional lives instead of living my own. I tell myself that there has to be more. What kind of life consists of being an observer? Yet what else is there? Eventually, most things become a routine, but I suppose it is up to us to break the cycle (life is cyclical though, so maybe living in a cycle is simply ascribing to “living”).

I think part of me is waiting for when I “make it.” Not like reaching stardom – but just a moment where I place that final jigsaw piece and feel complete. I see stories about celebrities that rose during their later years to remind us that “there is still time.” That my “moment is coming.” Sometimes I feel that these stories are propelled to generate wishful thinking. To appease the masses that their big break is right around the corner as long as they continue to strive. Hence articles entitled, “35 Celebrities Who Became Famous Later in Life & Proved Giving Up Wasn’t an Option.” But what if it’s all bullshit? What if there is no major turning point in my life? While that may sound depressing to some, it relieves a lot of unnecessary pressure. There are many things that I want to achieve in my life. I want to travel the world. I want to own my own home. I want to publish a successful book. I want to make a difference. I want to open up a tutoring center. Maybe instead of sighing over all that I have yet to achieve, I should acknowledge what has been done. Maybe it’s best that the piece is never placed because can one truly live if life becomes complete?

giphyI need to remind myself that although we are all living, we are not expected to lead the same lives. I need to remember that there are no standards that I should be meeting. That my age is not an indicator of what should be occurring in my life. That another person’s success does not translate into a failure of mine. That online, we are all glamorous Hannah Montanas trying to hide the fact that our true identity is Miley Stewart. And in the end, Miley prevails as Hannah becomes nothing more than a blonde wig tossed in the wind.

No Longer Standing By: Teaching the Bystander Effect

There is this unit that I teach called “True Crime,” and in this unit, the class discusses our fascination with “true and fictional crime stories.” To do so, we read an essay penned by Walter Mosley: “True Crime: The Roots of an American Obsession.”  After reading a certain cluster of paragraphs, I draw my students’ attention to supplemental sources that refine his claims. One of them being:

“True-crime stories, murder mysteries, up-to-the-minute online news reports, and (as always) rumor and innuendo grab our attention faster than any call for justice, human rights, or ceasefires.”

This idea that we rather watch from the sidelines than have the coach put us in the game. Naturally, students are confused at first, so I use this statement to draw their attention to a few examples that showcase this belief.

As a class, we read an article on Kitty Genovese, a woman who was stabbed multiple times outside of her apartment. We read how, according to the New York Times article, 37 witnessed the murder. We read how out of those 37 reported witnesses, not a single one offered assistance to Genovese, despite her pleas. Throughout the years, this number has been contested and it has been argued that many did not have a clear understanding of the crime, and therefore did not see the need to intervene. However, these specifics only matter to an extent. 37 or 2, that is still too many people that chose not to help.

There is a looming silence that typically occurs as I read the article to the class due to a feeling of mutual disgust that occupies the room. However, there has always been one voice in each class: “I wouldn’t want to get involved either! I am not risking my life for nobody!” Although it saddens me that this can be an immediate reaction, I welcome responses such as this. I explain to my students that there are ways to get involved that do not result in immediate danger. I explain to my students the dangers of a society filled with individuals that match this sentiment. I use statements such as the one mentioned above to introduce my class to the bystander effect.

I show videos of the Smoke-Filled Room, and watch my students ridicule the woman who remains in the room far beyond their expectations (“She’s buggin’!” “Nah, if that were me, I would have been left!“). I show them a few more examples to drill the notion in their head. Students make connections to a time that they saw a car accident, or a fight that they witnessed, I hear so many different tales that all end in the same way. There is a multitude of factors that lead to this ending: fear of going against the norm; fear of risking one’s self; believing that someone else will handle it; etc. However, all of them end with a cluster of people watching rather than acting.

Half a century after Kitty Genovese, a teenager was stabbed outside a bodega in the Bronx. Whereas those involved in the tragedy of Kitty Genovese chose to turn a blind eye, these witnesses actively watched the crime. During the time of Kitty Genovese, callers had to dial ‘0’  to reach an operator and then get connected. Today, some phones are programmed to complete the call to ‘911’ after simply dialing the number ‘9.’  Yet no one offered Junior a hand because their hands were too busy holding devices recording the events.

After reading about Kitty Genovese and discussing the bystander effect, I ask my students, “Should bystanders be responsible for intervening when witnessing a crime? Are we obligated to help those clearly in need?” The class debates this issue and we typically reach the consensus that at the very least, individuals should report the crime. When that one voice I mentioned earlier continues to object, a bunch of students retaliate with, “What if your mom was the one that needed help? What if you were the one that needed help?” 

When I teach this unit again in the Fall, I will include this story of Junior. When I teach this unit again in the Fall to my 9th graders, who are either already 15 or turning 15, I will include the story of 15 year-old Junior. Not because I want to scare them of the dangers in the world – they are already well aware of this – but because I want to remind them to question the status quo. As history suggests, just because an event or action was accepted (or allowed) by a community, it does not make it morally sound. In fact, it is often the case that it only required one person to challenge normalcy for it to be altered. Our society has gotten so caught up in capturing the narratives that we have forgotten that we are all active characters that have the potential to alter its course. We continue to view ourselves as insignificant, and we therefore forget that all it takes is one to ignite change. We should not be afraid to go against the norm when it involves watching the murder of a 15 year-old boy.

Motherly Advice

Imagine this:

Your baby is crying hysterically. She is in desperate need of a diaper change, but your dinner is about one second away from becoming charcoal. What’s a girl to do?

These were the scenarios that I would willingly place myself in as a child. Apparently, that is all that motherhood encompassed: cooking, caring for a child, and running out of time. With all those Shutterstock photos of mothers floating around, who could blame me?

 

This is a well-crafted definition of motherhood. Ultimately, that is also what I thought women amounted to: mothers (yet with pictures such as the one above, one has to question why so many girls dream of placing themselves in this situation).

When I was younger, I was certain that at this point in my life, the noble age of 25, that I would already be married with children. I always knew that I wanted to be a teacher (a genuine want), but motherhood appeared to be normalcy. There was not much of an option, since in my mind, it seemed mandated. Not necessarily forced, just expected. When planning my life, it was more of a fill-in-the-blank instead of a written response, there was no room for deviation. Most of the questions verged on “When?“:

“When will you get married?”

“When will you have your first kid?”

Never did the question “Will?” arise. I never questioned myself if these were aspects that I truly wanted in my life and that was because I did not know that these ideas were imprinted on, instead of manifested by, me.

However, now that I am of the age, the eight-year-old mother version of myself with her cabbage patch doll on her hip, would be aghast. No children?! How could this be? Where did you go wrong? You had hours of practice! All those moments wasted. All the instilled anxiety through placing yourself in dire situations were for nothing! The conversation would not be long between the two of us as she would scurry away to remove her perfectly cooked dinner from the oven.

In those brief moments, I would inform her that becoming a mother is a debate that has been ongoing, only heightening due to my sister recently becoming a mother. I had this notion that once I held and spent time with her baby, my inner turmoil would be resolved. As if the moment that I held her baby, he would look me in my eyes and determine my life’s course. Unfortunately, he wasn’t a sorting hat. After spending time with him, I only became more conflicted. I used to feel guilty over this, as if I was somehow letting down my child self. I am not sure why I believed that she knew what she was doing, since after all, she was the same person that thought three lines accurately captured a person’s hair and that throwing herself on the ground was an effective way to express her feelings.

Part of this conflict stems from the fact that through maturing, I have arrived to the conclusion that motherhood is a choice. While this may seem like a no-brainer, it actually isn’t. As girls, we are unwillingly and unknowingly drafted into motherhood. Toys are all geared towards preparing us – in fact, I, and many other girls, probably inadvertently studied more on how to be a mother than for anything else. For instance, these are some of the  popular toys from my childhood:

 

The truth is, I am not sure if motherhood is for me. I love being around children, and I value family, but I also have ambitions. I try to rationalize my ambiguity, but I shouldn’t have to. When I woke up today and got dressed, I didn’t have to approach others and explain to them why I opted for leggings rather than jeans. Yet I suppose the answer for both is comfort.

At this point in my life, I am comfortable with where I am, although it is not where I envisioned myself to be. I am not sure if I want kids, and that is okay. I know plenty of mothers, and they are wonderful women. I also know women who chose a different path, and despite what society attempts to make us believe, they are not any less of a woman. If I do have children, I want it to be because it was a decision of mine, not because I ascribed to an outdated chauvinist perspective on what it means to be a woman that my eight-year-old self too readily consumed.

#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.