Waiting for today...: Hair: A Metonymy, Part 1

Wednesday, May 28

Hair: A Metonymy, Part 1

related: Finding Me

No one could deny that American society has an infatuation when it comes to body image and beauty. Size, shape, complexion and hair lead most debates.  Then there are the various headlines in the media: “The Hot New Diet Pill”, “Five Beauty Products That Flatter Everyone”, “Powerful Hair Straighteners” and the personally overwhelming “Trends You Need Right Now!”  The capacity in which image and beauty is marketed drive the majority to obsession.   Those who fit the standard are typically praised, envied and desired.  Those who do not are often ignored, taunted or treated indifferently.  The latter will either view the standard as flawed and discover that true beauty is more than physical appearance or they will become hostages to the standard and spend their lives chasing unrealistic perfection… which is my story, up until 2 years ago.
I was an island bumpkin stepping off the plane in Philadelphia.  I had on a long green homemade skirt, a white Oxford shirt and brown penny loafers; my hair pulled back in a long bushy ponytail.  I took no thought of how I looked or how I dressed before entering the US education system.  I learned early that my appearance, in part, would determine how my peers would treat me and help to destroy my self-esteem in the process.   As I looked around every classroom that I've ever been in from elementary school to high school, the popular and well-liked kids were those with the newest sneakers and the latest fashions.  In high school it was the girls fresh from the beauty and nail salon every two weeks that caught everyone’s eye.  And then there was me, and the other students whose families didn't have the means to spend on expensive labels and beauty regimens.    
While I was one of only a handful of my peers with both long and virgin hair, it was long and bone straight hair that was labeled beautiful.  With limited fashion sense my hair became my best asset.   But it was very thick and prone to frizz.  So when I got my first relaxer, I believe it was in high school, I remember thinking it was one of the best things that ever happened to me.   And I did what I could to make sure my hair remained free of my natural kinks and curls.   Although I was constantly reminded by my peers and some adults that I was way below the status quo for the dress code, my long, straight hair made me feel confident and beautiful.  I became my hair.  I didn't feel pretty if it wasn't “right” according to my perception.  So if I was not having a good hair day, I was not having a good day period.  
Needless to say, as a teen, I had succumbed completely to the illusion of beauty set forth by society and the subcultures I was attached to.  I’d come to believe wholeheartedly that my physical appearance determined my worth.  Clothes, shoes, jewelry, other accessories, make-up, hair... whatever the trend, I wanted to rise to the expectation.  In trying to keep up with hair trends, it was during this time that my hair received the most abuse: heat, relaxers, braids, weaves, color and several short cuts which meant a greater effort was made to tame my locks.