Oh, me and my hair. So much happens between me and my hair. When I was little, it was the bane of my existence, because I just didn’t know how to tame it or make it look its best. I’m still not so great at doing it, but I have some standby hairdos, and after many years of trying to flatten my curls, sometime in college I finally realized that it looked better to let the bounce bounce, rather than trying to overly tame it.
That said, the me I think of in my head is rarely the me I see in the mirror. My skin tone changes so much based on season and sunlight, and I never get it right, so buying makeup is a nightmare. Also, now that I’m in a new city that has humidity, I feel like I’m back at the beginning of learning how to do my hair, because it’s no longer a case of doing it and being sure that it will stay that way all the day. Humidity is crazy, yo. Even when it doesn’t feel humid outside, you come home and your hair is fuzzy instead of crisp.
I’m a “member” (by which I mean I lurk and sometimes click on interesting links) of two Facebook groups for mixed people. Swirl is one, and the other is a closed membership, possibly women only, group for people who are specifically mixed with black and something else. So even more than generally mixed people, hair comes up a whole lot. Lately, people have started posting side by side comparisons of how they look when their hair is natural and when it’s straightened, either chemically or with a flatiron. Here is mine.
I’m surprised no one has posted what they look like with braids, because those are things I always wanted growing up, and yet I’ve only had them done twice. I guess that’s not so shocking, because I’m not always great about following through on stuff, especially related to my hair (I have wanted to dye it blue since 2004, and I still do, and I still haven’t), but I would do it more and in better quality if it weren’t for the fact that braids cost hundreds of dollars.
When I looked at everyone’s photos on the Topaz group, though, I freaked myself out when I realized just how many assumptions and judgments I was making that come from a place of privilege and hegemony, so basically I was making judgments about myself. I think I’ve always been pretty good at being aware of when I’m being advertised to, when I’m doing something based on cultural expectations, etc, and I like to think I’m immune (by which I don’t mean actually immune, because I don’t think anyone is, but at least aware and conscious) to a lot of social pressures, but clearly I’ve internalized a lot, because the thoughts I was thinking were like this:
That is awful! All of those reactions are terrible, and they are coming from a well-adjusted, well educated, young adult who has had plenty of opportunities to learn about hegemony and stereotypes and stringent beauty standards. I read New Moon as a child, and I read Bust and Lilith now. My mother didn’t buy me Barbies, and when other people bought them for me she made sure I understood that they weren’t realistic. Now that I’m older, I’m reminding myself to be aware that the way I do my hair may affect people’s perceptions of me at job interviews and the like. And I’m all about blogs and websites like Racialicious and Clutch that discuss how standards of beauty and identification serve to perpetuate privilege and hegemony, not challenge them. But apparently that’s not good enough, because I still hate on myself and don’t understand how to look at things without that being in my head. And I feel guilty when I want to change my hair, because braids are posing, but so is straight.
This is why it’s not enough to be told that there’s another story, or that what’s out there is wrong. Because it’s still out there. And if I can spend my entire life being offered other role models and other images of beauty and still have this reaction, there is something wrong. If I can be intellectually conscious that I am beautiful in my own way but still look in the mirror and be confused, there is something wrong. It doesn’t matter how many people create alternate outlets for expression, discuss the social costs of not buying into beauty standards, or put out campaigns for real beauty. Challenging the status quo might make you conscious of things, but it doesn’t change your unconscious. It screams “I am a challenge!” but it doesn’t eliminate what it’s challenging. There’s still a disconnect. What needs to happen is change, not additions and modifications.