13 January 2014

I am (still) my hair.

The (half) black girl hair dialogue. I have to be honest.  I've been avoiding it.  As a college educated, socially aware, usually vocal woman, I have made a sociological textbook mistake.

I convinced myself that if I did not politicize my transition to "natural" hair, it could not be political. This, coming from a woman who wrote an entire thesis entitled "Crowning Glory: The Politics of Black Women and Hair" for a feminist theory class. How did I get here?

It is all a matter of perspective. When I was in college, I had long, flowing, permed hair.  I could curl it with an iron, whip it back and forth in the club, and withstand hours in the Central Texas humidity without so much as a flyaway. I was a part of the status quo in this sense, more or less. I recognized the very complex relationship that black women have with their hair, but I had never truly felt marginalized because of my mane.

Me with long, relaxed hair

But, about 2 years ago, I decided I wanted to try something different.  That's it. I was tired of straight and I wanted the versatility of experimenting with my natural texture. I wanted to channel Corrine Bailey Rae. I wasn't trying to stick it to societal expectations. I wasn't trying to get back to my African roots. I was not out to prove that I Am Not My Hair. I was not even terribly concerned about the salon chemicals leeching into my bloodstream (although, whoa, kinda scary).

Not that any of these reasons for going natural are invalid. They just were not my reasons, and I was frustrated when my curly, kinky roots started showing and people asked me what my motivations were. Nobody asked me what compelled me when I decided to dye my hair black in high school, or when I had that botched Carrot Top dye job freshman year. Or even when I decided to chop it all of a la Rihanna.

Because cuts and colors are neutral ground and my hair as it grows out of my head is a freaking agenda.

Still, I avoided the hair politics discussion right down to my "big chop" a few months ago. Now, there are people in my life that have never known me with any other hair but what I have now. And it's kind of a relief. Because, geez...the explanations are exhausting.

I have tried to separate myself from the wave of women calling natural hair a lifestyle change because it felt like that framing was giving hair more power than it deserves. What I know now is that hair is still a part of our social identities and Black hair is still a journey, no matter which way you wear it.

Personally, my hair now means learning to handle something ever-changing and essentially foreign to me.  It is dealing with frustratingly clueless hairdressers and watching hours of YouTube tutorials. It is feeling a little awkward when the TSA agent pats down your afro puff looking for God-knows-what. It is nearing tears when a rude beauty store clerk tells you that "When the ad said the sale was on ALL hair products, they didn't mean those ones."

It's also about trying new 'dos, feeling more confident than ever, and being free to walk in the rain without a plastic bag on my head. Small victories.

Various stages of curly

I have many more thoughts to share on this topic, but the bottom line is this:  Whether I agree to it or not, I am still my hair.

Avoiding the topic doesn't make it go away.  The only way to upend these social constructs is to give my experiences a voice. Let's keep talking about it until it's no longer up for discussion. Because, seriously, don't we have more important matters to address?

07 January 2014

Year of the Bridesmaid

For me, 2014 is going to be the year of the bridesmaid. The year of the right-hand woman. The year of the Pinterest-obsessed, checklist-wielding, overprotective best friend. 2014 is the year of everyone else's wedding.

As I move into my mid-twenties, my calendar is filling up with dress fittings, bachelorette parties, and baby showers.  My Facebook News Feed is replete with photos of babies, engagement rings, and keys to new homes.

None of them are mine. And I'm not sad about it.  And I'm not sarcastically self-satisfied about it. Actually, I'm pretty thrilled. And nobody seems to believe or accept this.

I am continually being asked these questions:

"Are you starting to feel the pressure? Isn't it difficult seeing everyone else fly past you?"
No. (Nope, not even a little.)

"When is he going to put a ring on your finger?"
Someday. Maybe soon. Maybe not. We'll see. No hurry.

"What are you waiting for?"
Nothing in particular. And yet, something. Until, eventually, it will be neither.

My answers are always met with unbelieving winks and elbow-to-rib motions, as if to say "We know you're just saying that to sound nonchalant. Everybody feels the pressure."

You see, if you are between 25 and 30, you have a few socially acceptable behaviors:
1. Marriage, procreation, or both.
2. Self deprecation for not having achieved #1.
3. Smug disdain for those partaking in either #1 or #2. (Who would want to be married before they're 30 anyway?! Yuck!)

What is unacceptable? Contentment with being single (or unmarried, or apartment-dwelling, or childless) paired with joy for all the people you love who are going through crazy, beautiful, life-altering new experiences. I am taking a stand for that camp, and I hope more people will join me.

I am here to make these declarations. It is okay to still be figuring it out. It is fine if you're not ready. You are allowed to hold out for the perfect partner. You are permitted to be in love with someone and not hearing wedding bells just yet. Just be happy. Be hopeful. Be deliberate. Be the best bridesmaid you can be.

My time will come. I will be ready when I'm ready.

Until then, I will snap the photos, drive the miles, hold the veils, cry the happy tears, and Pin all the Pins with all the enthusiasm these tasks deserve. I will love, let love, and root for love. And I will wait my turn.


Always a Bridesmaid, Someday a Bride