It has been quite a journey. I never thought that something as simple as a new hairstyle would cause me to think and learn as much as getting box braids did.
I have been thinking about this end post for quite some time…thinking about what I could put in it, what big fireworks I could set off through words to make sure this really ends with a bang…but then I realized that this whole process was the beginning of something.
I walked into this hairstyle really thinking :
*This is a huge change
*I can’t pull this off
*How am I supposed to look at myself in the context of my racial background?
And I believe that this process touched on each one of those. It was a huge change, for me. Sometimes just when you think you’re figuring out who you are and what you like to wear, or more specifically…how you like to wear your hair, something like this comes out of nowhere. My entire life up until my third year of college, I hated my curly hair. I remember day dreaming as child and always having long flowing hair, never curly hair. And now, at 20 years of age I find myself constantly searching for ways to take care of my hair better as I try and decide on a consistent regiment to make sure I don’t let my curls down.
Some might think, oh it’s just hair. Well this is where my racial background comes in. My whole life my hair has been a challenge for my mother and I. We’ve learned that relaxers and perms are just too strong for my hair. We learned that heavy oils make me look like a wet dog. We learned that I can’t just put Garnier Fructis or Suave products in my hair and call it a day. Why? My hair is as mixed as I am, and it deserves the time and energy, and variety of products that take care of each interesting gene that went into creating it.
Ironically enough, my dad wanted me to keep it curly the whole time. Point for dad.
Some of what I wished I could have done differently in this process was:
Learn how to take care of my braids BEFORE I actually got them…I wanted to wear my braids for two months, and only barely got to a month and half before the frizz was just uncontrollable and there was no way I could really re-do them because I also had no clue how to do that either.
Been more prepared for the negative reactions. I truly wish that I could have been more prepared for when strangers felt moved to say how they preferred my curly hair to my braids. By more prepared I mean I wished that the times I responded with just a smile, I would have said something clever, and revealing of the fact that I loved my braids, AND I loved my curls, and I didn’t really appreciate their comment especially since they were basically a stranger.
I wish that I would have tried more styles. I know that I had this blog series all planned out in my mind and one of the biggest posts was supposed to be filled with all the styles I tried. But, life got in the way, and complete cluelessness really….I had not only no idea how to take care of my braids but how to experiment with different styles, hence the four styles I rushed to attempt in the last post.
What I ultimately took away from this…
I’d love to think that I’ve become more comfortable with myself and am now perfectly content with who I am after this series. But I know it isn’t that easy. For the past three years and most of my life I’ve struggled with weight insecurities, hair insecurities, and racial identity insecurities. It’s taken this series to make me realize that I have actually made some progress in all three areas. Before I came to college I didn’t think i’d be the type to experiment in anything. I never really have, change is very uncomfortable for me, it hasn’t really been that good to me as far as track records go and all…but I realized that experimentation is important, in whatever way you need it to be.
I experimented with my hair. It taught me not only how awesome my hair can be, but that there is more to it, and more to me than a big curly poof or long and straight. I learned that the braids allowed me to step out of that and be different, just when I thought I couldn’t reinvent myself anymore. But that’s what has been so fun about it all. For a month and a half I was trying something new, something I don’t do often due to my fear of change and all. In the process, I’ve realized that my multi-racial identity is even more important to me now than it ever has been.
At times I find it hard to be vocal about things I’m passionate about. So I hide behind social media posts, this blog, and writing. But when your experiment is on top of you head and you have no choice to be vocal, what better challenge, or rather opportunity to explain to complete strangers why I got braids, and why it was a big deal. I would say to them:
I’m exploring my racial identity… why? Because my childhood was filled with the protective bubble my parents lovingly built around me, and when I came to college that bubble was shattered and I had to be strong and act like I knew exactly who I was racially at a school where I fall into the minority no matter what part of me you breakdown. The braids are a symbol of a sojourn I had to take from the curly-straight battle in my mind, an escape that allowed me to fall in love with myself a bit more… through understanding I am not confined to what society describes my racial identity to be , but what I make of it.
So in closing I just have a few more things to say:
I am very proud of my parents for falling in love. It sounds strange, but I have always respected them for breaking the mold in both of their cultures and families and marrying one another. Because of their decision. I’m here. And I see my identity and my existence as a responsibility. Not only to myself, but to them. I couldn’t have asked for two better parents to raise me. They protected me and educated me in a way that taught me that skin color, and race should not be a category by which we exclude others from anything. Sadly enough, the exclusion, known more infamously as discrimination rages on today.
I had people look at me much differently with braids. Putting the compliments aside. The number of males that looked at me fluctuated. Interestingly enough when I first had them school was still in session and the number of white males that paid me attention dipped a significant amount from its already low numbers. Adults of color saw it as “oh finally!” and were part of the only demographic that treated it as a normal thing. Attention from Black males spiked, as well was from younger Black females that would connect with me by asking two questions 1: How long did it take to grow/braid your hair? 2: What products do you use? The dynamics in reaction between different racial demographics and their varying age groups also took me by surprise. But more importantly, it made me even more aware of the color of my skin, and my racial background every single day.
Race has never been on my mind as much as it has been this past year. I don’t think it’s a bad thing, but I’d like to point out that it hasn’t always been voluntary. Sometimes it felt as if I had no choice but to join the fight, but to represent, but to identify as one and not the others. And to that I say I’m done. I’ll choose to uphold and represent my multi-racial identity. For my creation was a beautiful challenge filled process in it of itself. It took a fiesty Colombiana from Yarumal, Colombia to take the biggest jump of her life and risk it in the states. She left behind her family, and everything familiar. And then It took a goofy, calm, and intelligent African-American/Creek Indian man who chose from a young age not to see color as a deciding factor of love…to come together, struggle, start a home, build a home, lose a few, stay strong and keep going to make me into the young woman I am today. I am all of that, but not just that.
My race is a part of who I am, but it isn’t all of me. I’d like to think there’s more to me than being in the minority. I’d like to think there is more to me than my hair or whichever style I choose to style it in. I
The identity project has proved that to me. It’s been a long time coming ..
I am glad that I took this personal challenge on and decided to write about it. And as my voice gets stronger, I know i’ll grow even more confident in being able to use it to explain who I am, as I continue to learn who I am. The identity project doesn’t stop here. It’ll be a lifelong series.
Thank you for reading this portion of my life long identity project 🙂 Your support and comments are greatly appreciated.
Feel free to comment below and suggest what else you want to read about!