Category: Culture


What did she do?!

Ever since I started this blog, I have tried to write a post every 3rd Thursday. Once a week or every 2 weeks seemed too frequent, and once a month didn’t seem quite enough. Somehow I landed on Thursdays and for the past 4 blog posts, I haven’t looked back. This Thursday I was due for a new post, but I just couldn’t write. I only had one thing on my mind and today, that one thing occurred…

My whole entire life I have had a love/hate relationship with my hair. In most recent years, however, the hate has dissipated leaving only love behind. For that reason, the past few months have been hard. In the last year, I started noticing that my hair was thinning. For a long time I tried to ignore it, then I started doing things that would help distract people from noticing it, but in the past few weeks I have started coming to terms with it. Maybe it’s genetics, my diet, known or unknown health concerns, or the weight of my heavy hair, but for some reason, the thickness at the tip of my long hair was starting to look drastically different from the thinness at the top. After talking to my mother, sister and a loctitian, and crying it out a bit, I knew what I had to do. Some (or rather most) of my hair would have to go in order the leave the new growth strong enough to be sustained.

It’s funny how something as simple as a haircut can really shake you and change how you view yourself. In the last couple of years, my hair has been one of the largest, if not the largest, source of the compliments I have received. It has felt really good to be showered with those praises. It wasn’t abnormal for me to have 5 to 10 strangers complimenting my hair on any given day. Friends took part in the practice as well. Just a couple weeks ago I had a fun shopping day with friends and got countless positive comments on my locs. Little did the commentators know that I had be using headbands to cover up my thinning hairline for weeks. Most of my friends haven’t even noticed. Yet still I arrived at today and I had to face the truth.

What made losing my hair or cutting it so hard in the first place? Sure I might not be as “beautiful” as I was before or I might not have the versatility of doing as many styles, but that wasn’t really what it was about was it? My hair has become and will probably always be a piece of my identity. The truth is I was (and still am) scared of what will or won’t be left when this thing that has become such a big part of me disappears. When I am not getting compliments on my hair anymore, will there be anything left to compliment? Now, for many of you reading this (especially males) this probably just seems like a lot of random, useless personal thoughts, but it isn’t. What I am saying applies to everyone out there. Maybe for you “that thing” is your hair like it is for me, but maybe it isn’t. Maybe it’s the fit figure you lost after you went through a difficult stage of life where working out wasn’t a priority. Perhaps it’s the job you were fired or laid off from, the significant other you thought you were going to marry before the relationship started deteriorating, or the career, dreams, or free time you had to release after you had a baby.

We all have those things we hold on to in order to help make sense of our identity. Whether it is something seemingly shallow, like my hair, or far more complicated like goals or ambitions, at some point most of us have to ask ourselves the question, “who would I be without that one thing?”. Would I matter? Would others still like me? Will I still be me? I debated with myself about whether or not to write this post. I was afraid I was being too personal for the online world or that I’d feel ashamed  if people knew about the situation I am in, but then I decided I have no reason to be ashamed of something I ultimately had no control over. I also decided that, fortunately, I am rooted in an identity far more unshakeable than my hair. Even if someday every last hair falls out of my head, I’ll know the truth is that my hair never defined me in the first place. So in the meantime, I’ll be humming along to India Arie’s “I Am Not My Hair,” and hope that my words caused just one person to do some soul searching and realize he or she is far bigger and better than that flimsy thing they spent so much energy hanging on to, believing their identity was hinging on it… IMG_1003

Advertisements

I’ve been hearing the question “What are you?” my whole entire life. Sometimes I hear it from curious little children and other times I hear it from adults it seems should know better. There was a time I wasn’t sure I knew the answer, but as I’ve gotten older, I have gotten closer. Today is the last day of this year’s Black History Month. It’s a month that always makes me a bit reflective. I think about the warriors who came before me such as the Lovings who made a marriage like that of my parents possible. I contemplate what it means to be black or white or both. I wonder if someday my children will grow up around people who have found a kinder way to get the question “What are you?” answered.

As a teenager, I always hated the way I looked. Tears would roll down my cheeks as I stared at myself in the mirror despising my pasty-white skin, giant forehead, curly hair, and gap-teeth. I couldn’t believe how ugly I was. I’d put on a brave face and wear big dangly earrings, pleather pants, and silvery lip gloss, but I still felt the same. My style never fit, my hair was labeled as sponge-y, interesting, or weird, my taste in music and movies was nothing like that of my peers and my skin was too pale for most of the people in Maine to realize at first glance that I was mixed. Boys never liked me and girls never envied me. I wasn’t white enough to fit.

I was so excited when I got to college. I was no longer “Caitlin,” I was now “Cat” and I could be anyone I wanted to be. I could be loud and smart and quirky and cool, but most importantly I thought I would no longer an anomaly! Chicago was this glitzy, glamorous place in my mind where black women were proud to wear their hair in afros and mixed college students were a dime a dozen. People of all colors and background would mix and I would finally find my place. If I had done my research, I would have found that Chicago was far from the promised land I had pictured it to be, but instead I found myself in one of the most segregated cities in the States and mixed people over the age of six seemed no where to be found. The few I did spot didn’t seem quite as anxious as me to talk about it. I discovered that black people in Chicago are very different culturally from my mother’s family in New York and I didn’t fit in with them any better than I had in Maine. In addition, I found myself at a college filled with more tall, thin, blonde women than I realized it was possible to contain in one place. When you lined me up next to them, I might as well have been an alien from an entirely different planet. Boys still didn’t like me, girls didn’t want to borrow my clothes, nobody wanted to burn my cds or borrow my movies, and it was beginning to look like no matter where I went my problems would follow me. I blamed everyone else for a really long time. They were all closed-minded, ignorant, mean, superficial, and the list went on and on. I was angry at God, angry at my parents, angry at my friends, angry at those tiny, toothpicky blondes and angry at myself for my inability to fit in. Why couldn’t I be normal for once? Why did I always have to stand out? Why couldn’t my skin be a little bit darker, my hair a little bit straighter, my waist a little bit smaller and my stature a little bit taller? I’d never be white enough or black enough or the perfect blend of both like the women you see in the magazines would I?

Sometimes things in life just click. We have a magical moment when we are reading something in a book or having a conversation with a friend and we’re given an epiphany and we see things clearer than ever before. This isn’t one of those times. I can’t pinpoint a moment when things changed, but for the first time in my 26 years, I wake up and I love the women I see in the mirror. She is beautiful. Her hair is long and gorgeous, her eyes are a bright, bold blue, her short stature is endearing, she has great fashion sense, and her makeup is stunning. Men may never like her, women will absolutely never envy her, and she will never be good at being black or being white, but now she knows she doesn’t need to be. The Lord made her to be unique with fair skin and curly hair and the question “What are you?” doesn’t scare her quite as much anymore. She is who she is and she doesn’t plan on changing for the comfort of anyone.