This past Saturday, I attended a wonderful event here in Toronto called A Celebration of Curls II hosted by Shakara Natural Tips. Approximately 200 beautiful women mixed and mingled in between talks from popular natural hair YouTuber Jeré Reid and celebrity natural hair stylist Felicia Leatherwood. It was a great afternoon – I got to (re)connect with fellow bloggers, laugh with friends, meet some ’83 To Infinity readers (more on that later), and take in some awesome information from the two guest speakers. While both women gave great tips on maintenance, styling, and hair health, I was particularly drawn to the below-the-surface discussions around the psychology of our hair. Whether on a personal or client level, both women spoke to the underlying issues around self-acceptance and recognizing/unlearning negative tropes of destructive behaviours in relation to our hair and hair choices.
An audience member asked Felicia to briefly speak on her “hair journey.” Currently sporting a hot short blonde cut, Felicia told us how her decision to cut her hair manifested through an internal review of what was happening in her life. The need to let go of a number of things became apparent, and letting go of her hair became part of that symbolism. She also recounted stories of clients who were “hair obsessed” – booking appointments on a weekly basis to try one style, then a completely different style, then yet another style. “Usually when that happens, there’s something else going on,” said Felicia. That made me think about my own hair psychology, and on a greater basis – how my own internal challenges manifest themselves in the external.
I live somewhat by the reminder to “look good, feel good, live good.” The women in my family have always reveled in their feminine charms, so I grew up with a mother, grandmother, and aunts (including one whose nickname is “Beauty”) who took pride in their appearances. Hell – even my father was (and still is) meticulous in his appearance, so the principle of being properly put together (how’s that for alliteration?) was ever-present. I played in my mom’s closet and dresser drawers often – trying on gowns and shoes, spritzing myself with perfumes, painting fingers and toes with red and pink and gold polishes. I don’t feel I had an unhealthy attachment to physical presentation, but I was always taught that it was important – then was shooed away to do homework or read a book.
As an adult I still maintain pride in my appearance, but I can admittedly see where the “look good” portion of my equation may at times be a crutch for failing on the “feeling” and “living” parts. When I first cut my hair and started rocking my natural kinks and curls, I felt self-conscious. My identity as the long, thick haired Black girl who didn’t rock weaves because “oh – your dad is mixed, right?” was gone. I couldn’t swing a swoop bang over that errant pimple on my forehead. I didn’t have much up top for my boo to stroke as I laid my head on his lap. I tried to wear an air of confidence in my decision, even as I debated if I made the right move. I soon realized that I was dedicated to this new self-expression, but while I knew I couldn’t do much with the close-cropped curls on my head, I became hyper-critical of everything else. My skin. My makeup. My body. My clothes. My insecurities didn’t lead me to become hair-obsessed, but I obsessed over the rest. I’m not sure when that dissipated and evened out – eventually it just did, and that storm of self-critique calmed.
Recently, HomieLuva half-jokingly called me a “snob.” I can’t remember if it was because I spent entirely too long getting ready for a night out, or if it was because I looked in my closet, sighed from the pits of my belly and proclaimed “None of this will do!” or if it was because his lowkey self just didn’t understand the necessity of my particular brand of self-maintenance. When he called me a snob, I glared at him and asked “Why? Because I want to look good? Is there something wrong with looking good? Listen – my mama taught me to never leave the house -“ His laughter cut me off. “Calm down,” he said. “I’m joking, but you’re really just taking too damn long, and your first outfit looked good. Who are you trying to impress?” Who was I trying to impress? I didn’t have a clear answer – I just knew I wanted to make an impression.
Again – a trip back to my childhood. Growing up as the tallest and darkest being in any given room should not leave one feeling like they’re forgettable. However, while my physical presentation wasn’t the norm, it wasn’t the preference either – thus, I felt oddly invisible at times. Never had a high school boyfriend. Never got asked to dance at parties. Never more than a convenient token of multiculturalism and the resident “You look like (insert any Black girl or woman here)!” placeholder. These days, I feel my fears of being forgettable sometimes translate themselves into an overarching need to make a mark – and the first way anyone makes a mark when walking into a room is through outward appearances. I now find that when I’m feeling insignificant or incompetent or like I don’t amount to very much at all, I focus a lot more on my physical presentation. I don’t necessarily dress or primp any differently than I usually would, but when it’s me, myself, and I staring into the mirror, the difference in how I regard myself is palpable.
While I aim to reduce the frequency and duration of negative self-perception, I’m prepared to walk through life with some level of insecurity. A valuable tool is the ability to recognize those moments – including the surrounding triggers and reactions – and act accordingly. When Felicia said “Usually when that (obsession over the physical) happens, something else is going on,” it hit me like salt-tipped dart. It was refreshing to hear her and other women at the event be frank and honest about their confidence issues and coping strategies (healthy or otherwise) – yet another reminder that I was not alone.
I was lucky enough to meet some ’83 To Infinity readers, especially the lovely Cheryl! Sometimes it feels like I’m writing into an empty vortex, but she was quick to remind me that people are paying attention and enjoy my work. Thank you, Cheryl! If you enjoy my work – why not vote for me to win the Best Blogger award at this weekend’s Black Canadian Awards? Thanks in advance