my hair, my femininity, my laziness, my feminism

So here’s the deal about all that stuff. First, I always thought it was funny when I was young that in addition to the gender binary that exists in people’s minds, there is also a binary within genders that is perhaps more silly, because it should be even more obvious and acceptable that it’s ridiculous than the idea that sex doesn’t always coincide with gender, which has political, social, and cultural barriers to being accepted. The best way I can describe it is using the idea of the Olsen Twins, because they were huge when I was growing up. The projected idea was that Ashley was the girly girl, and Mary-Kate was the tomboy. Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield had the same split. I guess everyone thinks that if you have a sister, especially a twin, you will be split like that. Easy.

So I never understood where that placed me and my sister. She was the one who was good at sports. She was on the softball team. She also had guys want to date her and dance with her, and she’s much more into hair and makeup than I am, not to mention far more talented at it. I, in the meantime, couldn’t do anything competent with any kind of ball, hated exerting myself unless I was on my bicycle (and even then I wasn’t into racing so much as just riding around, pretending to be Mary-Kate and Ashley with my best friend), but also hated getting messy and loved dresses and dolls and my Easy-Bake Oven. So there, within-gender-binary smashed. It doesn’t work.

I think I was probably conditioned to be more of a girly girl, but something stopped me from getting as into it as others, and I’m trying to work out what that was. I did have parents who, as I’ve mentioned in other posts, were not big on buying me Barbies and showing me Disney movies, so instead I read New Moon and Dream/Girl magazine, spent lots of time making accessories for my American Girl doll instead of buying them, etc etc. But I still lived in America, and social conditioning aside, I think I was just genuinely interested in “girly” things. I like buying clothes and looking pretty. And I went through plenty of phases. In grade school people told me I had ashy skin and nappy hair (which I did–for some reason I didn’t like lotion, and neither me nor my mother really knew how to manage my curly hair). In middle school I was told I wasn’t pretty and I was generally picked on, so that didn’t help with self esteem. Once in sixth grade someone saw me and commented loudly on my nasty, hairy legs. In high school I spent a lot of time being confused about my reflection in the mirror, because no matter how aware I was, it still surprised me all the time. Either I was far more brown than I thought, or sometimes when I was in a mood of “I’m soooo different from everyone else,” I would look in the mirror and realize that in fact I am quite light, especially in the winter.

My hair has been a struggle my entire life, even long after I learned how to manage it and do it properly. For one thing, it never grows long. Now that I’ve stopped eating gluten, it has been growing better, but it still doesn’t get long, because after a certain point it just curls more and looks disgusting. Now that I’m not a swim team, I don’t get natural, beautiful blonde and auburn highlights in the summer. The baby hairs and bangs are always the wrong length, and they’re always either in my eyes or falling out of my ponytail. I don’t hate my hair, but I hate that I can’t be who I like to be with it.

I have issues with straightening or relaxing hair. First, there’s the health issue: I will fry and ruin my hair if I subject it to chemicals or heat repeatedly. Second, there’s the lazy issue: I want to look nice, but I’m not willing to put in beauty daily effort past my five minutes of hair-doing and stoplight application of mascara. Actually, it’s not even that I’m not willing–I just forget about it until I’m already out in public and I catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror or window. Third, there’s the money issue: after a lot of experimenting and research, I have a fairly clear idea of how I would like my hair to look, but it takes salon work, and I don’t have the money to maintain that. Then there’s the sociological issue: I know how women’s magazines only show celebrities of color in beauty features in order to highlight their whitest facial features or most controlled hair, and I don’t want to buy into that. And as I haven’t, at least outwardly, bought into that my entire life, I am walking evidence that it is not impossible to be taken seriously in a professional environment with curly hair, so I would like to continue to promote that, because I think it’s an important self-image issue for young girls, and I wish I had just had a role model of color when I was young who was “natural” but could also have shown me how to apply a little makeup or manage my hair. My sister taught me what she could, but she’s not black, and we don’t have the same hair. So, anyway, I just listed a ton of reasons why I shouldn’t have to do anything to my hair except keep it healthy and presentable. End of story.

Except it’s not, because I’m not sure how I feel about putting the cause ahead of my personal interest. Now that I’m closer to entering a professional field, a personal fashion and beauty style is something I need to develop. And I have been doing it, and I like what I’ve come up with. It’s comfortable, flattering to my body, and more or less manageable. What’s more, I think it pairs nicely with my personality, and, in theory at least, creates a nice package of a fully formed person. So slowly I’d like to put the pieces of that in-and-out style (buy the clothes, read the books, have the attitude, wear the makeup, etc) together so that it’s in place by the time I really have to be a grownup with her shit together. The problem is that my hair does not go with the rest of who I am. I don’t feel like a personality with short, curly hair, but that’s what I have, because that’s all I can get. I would like to get a keratin blowout so that my hair is more relaxed but still curlyish, which would give me the length and the softness I would like, which I think would go with my personality and with my personal style, because I would like to be able to wear a hat, and you can’t really do that when you have my hair. But that’s not an option, because that’s buying in to hegemony, because that’s super expensive and I can’t afford it, because that’s not physically what my hair is good at doing naturally, and that’s anti-….something, I’m sure.

This is a quandary, because we don’t tell children that they should change what they see in the mirror. But usually that’s because we’re telling them not to change their skin color. And if everyone has the right to change their physical appearance to match the person they want to be (getting tattoos, working out, dyeing their hair, piercing body parts, whatever), why don’t I have that privilege? Do I, or don’t I? And how is wanting to blow out my hair as a woman of color different from a white person dyeing their hair green or piercing their eyebrows? If I do manage to make it a part of me (definitely not an option until I have lots of extra money, or at least a real job with a salary), how will people react to it?


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