It was the September of 2016….I still had the scent of Morocco running through my mind. I’d just celebrated my birthday there. It felt good to breathe in a different type of air, you know. I was tired of the one that had been keeping me alive in my home town, metaphorically speaking. Love wasn’t going so well. It had been a long year already.
Many things were shifting for me. Family wise. Health wise. I’d been really going through it. I didn’t know my body anymore. After numerous trips to my GP, and a few hundred pounds spent on private blood tests, it was still a huge speculation as to why my body started to reject the things I had been indulging in for years. From foods, to skin products, to makeup…my physical being was talking to me. It just wasn’t happy with the status quo. My skin was flaring up like something crazy. I was uncomfortable. I couldn’t sleep. I was distressed. I felt helpless. Most things felt unfamiliar or displeasing. I wasn’t connecting with myself anymore. I’d go to sleep as 2 separate people: One that did all the questioning and one that was answering in a different language. I just had no understanding of the latter person.
One of the most apparent things that I had seemed to fall out of love with was my hair. I had been growing and maintaining locs for 13 years. It was evidence of a belief proven wrong, to have achieved such long length. I received endless compliments on the colour and condition of my hair. Having the crown on my head almost cover my breasts was indeed a proud moment. But it just didn’t sit right anymore. My external identity did not match what I felt inside. I felt as though people were seeing something that was no longer me. To be fair though, I was also coming to the realisation that my hunt for long length was deeply connected to the indoctrination that many women battle with, in terms of what beauty looks like. Either way, my tender roots were struggling to hold the weight. And my excessive re-twisting was damaging my follicles. The tightness of my styles, the stress that was being transferred from me to my tresses, were becoming burdensome. I couldn’t see me. I’d look in the mirror most days whilst getting ready and cry. I had no idea why this was such a deep disconnecting time. I seemed to have lost myself.
Rewind 2 and half years prior to this; it was a phase of divorce. My decree absolute was being read out in court like a new years resolution. January 2014. Neither of us showed up for the hearing. Perhaps I went into auto pilot after that. Survival was my ultimate goal and that’s just what I did. Survived. Looking back, it seems I had even more to prove at the time. To the world. To myself. I wasn’t sure what to identify with anymore. I was no longer married. I was a mother without having anybody close to hide my co-dependence behind. It was all on me – but I didn’t know who “me” actually was at that point. From online dating, to travelling most weekends, it seemed that the home I once had around me and within me, had disappeared. I wasn’t still. I was barely present. In hindsight this is really interesting because, my need for validation, my need for somebody to tell me who I was and what I stood for, is so clear now. But I couldn’t resonate with this truth at the time. I needed comfort and guess this was the underlying to many of my decisions around that time.
Fast forward back to September 2016. The feelings of disconnect with myself were so strong and the only thing that kept going through my mind was the idea of being born again. I’d had my experiences with religion so this wasn’t about God. It wasn’t about finding another saviour. It wasn’t about having somebody else tell me what my next best step should be. This was about me! This was a decision I had to make for myself.
Without effort, the vision of me without hair kept running through my mind. Not pictorially but more so as a feeling. A feeling of freedom. A feeling of release. A feeling of saying goodbye. A feeling of letting go. A feeling of waking up. To add to this, I’d randomly stumble across pictures of females with super short hair styles on Instagram. They caught my eye and held onto something in me. But the fear was there. I mean, who would I be without hair? I wasn’t sure. And it was slightly concerning. I mean, would I still be attractive without hair? Would I still attract the famous “male gaze”…?
Perhaps it had taken me 2 and a half years to realise that the “new” me wanted to be set free. She wanted to be born. The new me was ready to be released. Perhaps it had taken me 2 and half years to catch up with myself and accept the changes that I had gone through. I called my stylist and let her know what I had decided. A complete chop! She had seen me through at least half of my loc journey and so it felt right for her to be the one to join me on this severing and renewal process.
My tresses lay on the floor around me and it felt so good. I looked in the mirror and could see a new me emerging. It felt right. Thankfully! I went to the salon the next day to get a defined cut. I was so glad and so excited. My new stylist greeted me with such pure energy. He was amazed at the texture of my hair. Something that I hadn’t connected with for years. All of a sudden, my eyes were opening to the greatness that I already possessed, without the sought after length. I was validated.
I plunged myself into a mini project. My modelling portfolio phase. The attention I received was epic. I asked myself why I had taken so long to take a leap of faith into an experience so unknown, but yet so pleasant. I wrapped my arms around myself and thanked myself for being there to attend to my real needs. I was talking to myself again. I’d also changed my diet slightly to help with what appeared to be quite a sudden episode of intolerance to certain foods and products. I was training and feeling great once more.
As the months went on I did notice a decrease in male attention. Generally speaking. This realisation shone a light on what I had depended on for beauty reassurance and validation. I actually found it quite an annoying revelation – but I guess, I had to learn to be patient with myself. I’m not sure if I ever did though. Let’s just say it took a while.
Within a month of my fresh cut, a very close friend decided to cut her hair in a similar style and colour to me. She was ecstatic about the whole experience, but it seemed to have an adverse effect on me. I felt competed with. I felt camouflaged. I felt like the space I had created to grow into my new identity had been compromised. This was different to seeing pictures on Instagram. This was a person who I saw and was with more than 50% of the week. There was no reference to me or that I might have inspired her decision. And so I felt cancelled out. Overlooked. When we were together, which was a lot, it seemed that people saw her and I gradually become a shadow. Why was somebody else’s actions taking away from my beautiful experience? Why was it so difficult for me to be self validated and self recognised?
I call out these specific events for a reason. Because they resemble whispers from myself to myself that I still wasn’t quite rooted, without the need for external acceptance.
Fast forward 2 years to December 2018.
My feet feel firmer on the ground. I am exploring and exposing myself more. In business. In my personal projects. In the conversations I have with myself and with others. I also decided to stop colouring my hair for a while because quite frankly, it was driving me crazy. Having to be careful where I lay and how I embrace people wearing light coloured clothing – so not to see a remarkable confirmation stain from my hair stamped onto their attire. However I noticed that I questioned whether I would still be “attractive”, if I grew out all colour. I caught myself on a few occasions, worrying about life with my naturally dark brown hair.
It’s interesting that these subtle pieces of validation are sometimes only evident when removed.
I observe carefully (and as lovingly as I can) that I still have questions which appear to be “validation” based. Why have I not been scouted by a modelling agent yet? Why haven’t I been successful (according to perceived societal measures) in my personal projects, including my writing and blogging? It seems I am still questioning myself based on how I am being perceived. Why have I put so much pressure on myself? Why am I measuring myself so harshly? Do I need to keep on recreating myself in order to feel validated. Like the serial repeat of a honeymoon period.
I beg to differ.
I reached out to a well known and growing brand that promotes women with short hair recently. I challenged them on the fact (according to my litmus test research) that, they were solely featuring those with huge followings and likes. I questioned the criteria they were using but to be honest. my point was a greater one which surrounded the fact that we all make up society and we are therefore in control of how “we” sell validation. For me, it is a case of feeling like an unsung hero. An unseen hero. Kind of fed up with falling in between the cracks and feeling comparatively less significant. However. This has come from somewhere. It smells very similar to the consistent thread of my need for validity, that has followed me over the years.
I ended up having a really nice conversation with the brand owner I had reached out to. In fact. it was thoroughly explained as to the criteria being used which challenged my earlier assumptions / research. Interestingly enough, once I had this conversation I realised that there is a greater need to talk about these things more. We go through so much (especially as women), and there is often not enough nurturing between us on celebrating our achievements, no matter where we are. There is a weird ancestral / generational gender competition that I feel on a regular basis – I wonder how we might dissolve and make peace with this. There is also little reference to the struggles we face on a daily basis around beauty, attraction and the need to feel accepted / validated.
I share this journey because I know how difficult it is to find the strength to keep on walking and progressing, all the while not necessarily feeling supported or validated. I can see the beauty in every step I have taken to release myself to old ways and experiences. Most importantly though. I realise that none of these past times and actions are absolutes and that we must continue on the journey of self renewal – and to really question what drives our behaviours, doubts, fears, and insecurities.
I am reminded every day that my journey is as rich as my efforts are to be my authentic self. And somehow, there is an intuitive truth that lingers and strengthens: our magic is in our uniqueness, but we must first appreciate and love our own uniqueness, regardless of who may or who may not.
I wonder whether it matters that I still have my locs wrapped up in a drawer…. My reason, is that I am waiting to come across a safe place to part ways with and honour what was. Perhaps this is a reflection of the validation that I still seek…or perhaps it is a reflection of past validation that I have not yet managed to let go of…
I’m open to challenge…