Got My Hair Un-did

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It took three weeks, a pack of broken combs, some tears, a fair amount of cursing.
But I did it. I combed out all 169 locks on my head and am now the proud owner of a little awesome Afro.
It’s been a few years in the making, the desire to start again. But I couldn’t just cut off 17 years of living and loving and travel and jouvay, you know?
I’m actually really happy I chose to unlock it. It gave me a chance to say goodbye to my locks. To let go of all that I had been through and experienced for all those years.
Hair is emotional.
I talked about it for a couple weeks with my sisters (who gave me the look specially reserved for my frequent mad ideas). On Christmas Eve I started at the centre of my head. My arms hurt. I cried. A few days in I lost all zeal to continue. Somehow I kept going (I started to run out of headties).
As my hair started to emerge in all its mad curly glory I became overwhelmed by a sense of how completely we have been made to hate ourselves.
A thing as fundamental to your sense of being as your hair gets undermined from the time you are born. This was not the case in my house and thank the goddess I had two older sisters to comb my hair for me.
I realized last year that I missed those times with my sisters when they would comb my hair. I think the loss of those rituals between women of different generations is part of the further destruction of community and a sense of (haha) rootedness.
The more of my hair I saw, the more I became excited that I would have those moments again. When someone would show care in my appearance and give me a bad ass hair style that didn’t come out of a bottle or a heating appliance.
When I was in India last year I got questioned about my hair a lot, given that the only people there who wear their hair in locks are Saddhus and the warrior ascetics known as Nagas.
I tried to explain that locks were a totally acceptable way of women wearing their hair, to which the response was ‘and men find this attractive?!’
In truth, locks for me have been a kind of anti-beauty. A deliberate subversion of an idea of what hair should look like for a black woman. Some men find the idea of that attractive. That you are determined not to fit into what society says is beautiful.
But my time with my locks taught me that what is most important is to be comfortable enough in your skin, in your sense of who you are, in your sense of where you are going and where you have come from. I was never a ‘Revlon Rasta’. I wasn’t one of those compulsive groomers. My hair was wild (and still is) and occasionally depending on my mood I tried to tame it into what may have been loosely construed as a hairstyle.
But I feel like I’m into another phase now. One that gives me the room to play with my image. I’m really enjoying my afro, like getting to know a new friend. My hair is so fricking awesome!! I’ve been spending a lot of time just playing with it. Loving it. Anointing my scalp with coconut oil. The variety of textures, the need for care.
Your hair can teach you a lot about your own complexities. I’m loving getting to know myself in a totally different way.

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The bruised one

Sometimes it seems that the going is just too rough

And things go wrong no matter what I do

Now and then it seems that life is just too much

But you’ve got the love I need to see me through

When food is gone you are my daily meal

When friends are gone I know my saviour’s love is real

Your love is real

You’ve Got the Love – Florence and the Machine

Starch for breakfast again. This one was a little worse for wear. Apparently it had a hard fall and was the proud owner of two big bruises. No big thing. I’m not a picker of mangoes really, I like to see what the tree gives me on a morning and I am thankful for any offerings or none at all. But I’m not averse to chasing off those wasteful kiskidees that pick a few morsels and then leave a lovely mango to be fly food. You could learn a lot about life from eating a mango for breakfast. For the obvious reasons of health, yes. And a starch is just a really delicious way to eat the sun. A mango is a thing of beauty, even, or maybe especially, when it is bruised. A mango is a prayer and a mango is also the answer. So you ask for wholeness and you get fragments that need to be put together. You ask for perfection and you get a bruised mango.

But if you cut out the bruise, pull the skin past the wound on the skin there is sweetness under there.
Waiting for you to find it. Asking not to be ignored because of a couple of bruises. On Tuesday night I ended up at a nightclub in the ridiculous hours of the morning when people who have real jobs should be asleep.  But up in this club where women rule, women who are beautiful and comfortable in their bodies in a way I know that I have too much middle class self-consciousness to ever be. Women with baby stretch marks and bodies that bear marks of their far from easy lives. They are powerful in this space, they own it like I can only ever own my words.   They make men hold their heads, even the nice uptown ones who know they can’t handle so much Shakti. And I don’t know if they think this is all the power that they have but in this moment that doesn’t matter and the beauty of simple is overwhelming. Mangoes with bruises these women are. Unashamed of the licks they get from life. They wear their bruises because these are a reality of life in this country. Where women are bruised and have to struggle to hold on to a sense of themselves, find the sweetness still underneath the bruise.

They dance for all the young ones who never make it. Who are home minding fatherless babies. Who take their lives because they confuse love with acceptance. Whose lives are taken away by men who confuse love with possession. They dance to remember that they are alive in a society that kills them every day simply by making them invisible. More and more the West is telling women they have to be some version of perfect. Thanks to pornography, thanks to the fashion industry, thanks to abnormalities that are now cultural norms, women are being convinced even more these days that something is wrong with their bodies. That they need to be bruise-free and blemish-free and wrinkle-free and cellulite-free and doll-like and perfect. The skin bruises are airbrushed away but the desire for approval from everyone else becomes that kind of cancerous engagement with self-loathing and terror at imperfection.

Part of coming to terms with yourself is acknowledging your imperfections, being thankful for the flaws and finding a way to use them to your advantage. A lifelong engagement to last many mango seasons until one day you are as okay with your bruises as you are with the ones on your breakfast starch. You know that every scar is a sign that you are alive. That you live in spite of wind and stones and wasteful kiskidees that peck at you for a few morsels then leave you to rot alone. These are things I discover from eating a mango in the morning. That even the bruised ones have their value. That even the bruised ones are sweet and beautiful and good for you. That a bruised mango is not a rotten apple. And that we need to find a way to understand that we are different and find ways to create our own ways to love ourselves and heal ourselves, to celebrate who we are, bruises and all.