It was the beginning of the millennium. The year 2000. The fact that we were all still alive and had not combusted with the expiry of a ticking time bomb attached to the existence of the Earth itself, was seen as somewhat of a collective achievement. For once, the world stood united in a shared gratitude. A shared excitement to have lived to see this new day. This new moment in time.
For me, it was a year of hopes and dreams realised. I’d made it to the next level. A university student! A girl on the crispy edge of her desires. With so many passions running deep for all subjects social and political – or at least you could count on her to find the hidden dimension in all things tossed up for debate. How she loved to discuss and explore the many points of views available. Law. Psychology. Sociology. Her academic crushes were overflowing. Her need to explore the invisible stakes at play in world was probably stronger than attending any freshman parties. She was the girl that nobody saw after dark.
She would sit on the campus library floors sifting through books whose titles had captivated her wondering mind; whilst abandoning the books on her Politics degree curriculum list. Agh. The constraints, the order, the structure. All things that she wished she could escape, but things that would hold her accountable.
She was a newly converted Christian too. The waters of baptism were still running down her face as she travelled the corridors of her campus stylishly preaching the gospel; like a toad that had just been kissed into a Prince – she had a story to tell, a magic to share.
Effortlessly, she attracted one encounter to the next. And the dominant magnet seemed to be her perceived beauty and her hair. But there was also something about the way she would interact with one person to the next. There was definitely a confidence there. Her way with words was being noted. There was a poetry that people would say they could hear when she spoke.
Most people that she had invited to campus bible study had passively walked into a booby trap – which was great for her! Countless hair compliments meant countless attendees at bible study. It was a “win win” situation. But was it really an achievement to be gaining attention and interest through an outward appearance? Perhaps she hadn’t stopped to think about what this was building up in her psyche. Nonetheless, it was fun and reassuring to be noticed. To be liked. To be complimented. She took great validation from these encounters.
In all of this newness, there was one love that was not so new for her. It was her love for melody, for musical and lyrical creation. It had followed her around like a loyal angel, never leaving her side.
She was like the missing words to an instrumental. A Writer at heart. A sucker for the keys on a piano. They would call her to share companionship. The master of any instrument was like magic in her eyes. But how would this love fit into an acceptable academic and social success? This love was her heart beat. Her real saviour. It was the one thing that she thanked the most for keeping alive through the most painful of past childhood events.
Like a plague this question, this angel, taunted her soul from one day to the next. The truth always knocked. And she would always acknowledge. But the answer was always unknown.
The truth is, she craved social and academic acceptance. Don’t get me wrong, she fought hard to embrace herself. But the measures were always shifting back to somebody else’s criteria. She would pave her own way, and then look to somebody else to validate it. Like a King or Queen that needs a “people” to rule, as opposed to resting in the natural birthright of royalty.
From tracksuits and hoodies to knitted pleats and fitted business suits, she personified more than one voice. In her mind, she was raw but fashionable; authentic but elegant – all in one. And by the way, that Michael Jackson crutch pose was just as fit for a female in her eyes. She was a fusion of masculine and feminine and she wasn’t afraid of it.
The deliciously shiny and straightened cut of 2000 had gained her much praise. Her hair had become her crown. Perhaps at a price though, because gradually, her body began rejecting the chemicals that were making her hair gorgeously straight and “pretty”. She could no longer withstand the burning sensation on her scalp. And the missing hair in visible places was enough to force a complete halt in all chemical activity. Because physically it hurt and emotionally, it felt like intentional self abuse. But there was one major problem…
She didn’t know who she would be without this image; without the attention or the compliments. She hadn’t taken a minute to check in on her growing dependency of praise and validation. She hadn’t really taken note of the alteration in her attitude, which had seamlessly transitioned from, “I love my look” to “I need this look”.
And so life stood still. It was a deafening silence that was filled with an unimaginable amount of questions and decisions. Like, would she leave the house or not today; or would she attend that lecture or not today. Ultimately, the bottom line question was, could she be seen in any other light but “noticed” and “complimented”?
All of a sudden, anything beyond her front door was no longer necessary. People and their praise had become so huge. It was a shocking realisation to face the fact that what she saw in the mirror each day, was only great if somebody else had told her so.
You see to her, beauty had become the hair on her head and the clothes on her back; and extended to the list of prestigious job associations she had attained and the academic badges she was in the process of accumulating. She had become a slave to what social perceptions of beauty and achievement had projected upon her. And something in her could no longer comply. In fact, something in her path made it so that she could no longer comply, even if she still wanted to. It was time for one of the biggest changes of her life.
It was no surprise that the university corridors looked different from that point on. She had become the “unnoticed”. Timid, even. She no longer spoke up in lectures. Her friends / associates would ask her what was wrong with her. Perhaps it was a sign of a break down to most people. However, slowly but surely, she nursed her hair back to full health. Full sides and edges. Healthy body. No more chemicals. And in parallel, she nursed a very unhealthy dependency into a more self grounding mindset. The afro in the mirror was one she hadn’t embraced for many years. She barely recognised herself. So of course, she found the best braid stylist in the area to keep her looking fresh. I mean, one conscious step at a time and all that.
Eventually, as the bitter truth hit her over and over again about the measures used in this world to qualify, accept or reject people, it was her soul searching and hunger for a deeper sense of life that offered her the confidence she needed to keep on pushing. Through owning a look that was less “acceptable”, she came to realise the power within herself to be at peace with her soul identity.
So after a few (or maybe a lot more) missed lectures, church services, social events, and a whole lot of tears, she started to show up again! She decided that it was time to face the young woman in the mirror. She decided that she was much more than the hair on her head…and much more than the many voices of others that she had become in her own mind. In fact, she decided that her own voice HAD to be way more important than anybody else’s voice.
Many people around her questioned her sanity and most days, she presented a brave face towards these verbally hurtful insinuations and insensitivities. Inside of her there was much pain but it was a necessary pain. It was a pain of growth,
She was allowing herself to blossom from the root. She was affording herself the permission to be naked without care or concern for what it might look like to others. Those who would come to know her from this point on, would come to know her from the inside. And she craved this substance like a soul does its original source. Like a home that nobody else can create for you but yourself.
Some days it saddens me that this cycle was on repeat in different ways across different areas of my life. From the church, to marriage, to breaking into the corporate world after graduating. But what is important, is to be able to recognise these cycles, learn from them, and bring yourself back home to your own truth,
She is always worth it. And she was even better without her make-up.