‘Hair is rejuvenated and restored to its smooth, beautiful lustre’. ‘Give your hair the lushes bounce it deserves’. ‘Say goodbye to split ends and drying and hello to shine, volume and vibrancy’. Hair, hair, hair…Sure on the surface the hair on your head serves a purely practical purpose, it’s there to protect your scalp from sunburn when it’s hot and It helps keep you warm in the winter. But below the surface, hair is far more than mere function; it’s a sign of health, beauty and most importantly femininity.
However more specifically for me, from bright red during the beginning of a new exciting romance, to jet black when he said he wanted to see other people; my hair was always an indicator to the outside world, my emotion state and relationship status far quicker than Facebook ever could. From shaved sides at the peak of the punk rock era, (I was a big Sex Pistols fan) to cornrows when I visited Jamaica; my hair was as a clue to what subculture I was part of and what country I had just been to. From big quiffs that feed on hairspray, to rolled out of bed hair that considered the word comb as part of an indecipherable foreign language; my hair told you what decade it was without you having to look at a calendar and when it was my time of the month and trying to look pretty was of the agenda. Ever since I was eight years old, my hair has always been the centre of my universe and in this vast, all in compassing world it was my sole means to make sure that I was seen, heard and understood. No matter what devastation was going on in the world or in my life, as long as my hair looked good, I felt good and knew everything would be okay.
22 Nov 1963. 28 Aug 1963. 2 Feb 1990. The assignation of JFK, Martin Luther king’s dream speech, the release of Nelson Mandela. By instinct people always know the exact day of important historical events. Personally I can’t tell you the exact day I lost my virginity or had my first period, but I can tell you the exact day I lost my hair – 2nd of April 1995 at 12.35 pm. I was combing my hair when I started to see abnormally large clumps of hair materialising on my brush after every time I ran it through my hair. A scream later and equipped worryingly with a magnifying glass, my mother soon confounded my nightmare when with a heavy heart she told me I had bold patched dotted around my head.
“It’s not cancer”, my mother and I exhaled simultaneously. “But you do have alopecia areata”, I was in worse than a nightmare, because unlike a nightmare I couldn’t wake up from this horror in the morning with a full head of cascading hair. To me, I’m ashamed to say in retrospect, but to a 17 year old me, it was somehow felt worse than cancer. Somehow to me cancer was gallant, it made you brave and strong. But with alopecia you get no sympathy, with alopecia you don’t get any tears except If they are your own. The doctors said it come as a side effect of having thyroid disease, but I don’t hear that because in my head I first blamed it on god, “why me”. Then when I looked back closer to home and all the years of abusing my hair; frustration, hurt and embarrassment rose up inside me as I had flashbacks of bleaching my hair, constantly pulling, twisting and wrestling it into various ponytails and the tons of chemicals I drowned it in because the adverts told me it would make my hair shiner.
I blamed myself for a very long time and the ugliness I felt inside and outside damaged my health and self-esteem, I lost weight and looked for every excuse possible to not to leave the house, my life came to a complete standstill. My family and friends tried their best to encourage and support me at the time and I love them for that now, but back then all I wanted to do was build a wall between myself, men and the world and hide behind it forever.
Eventually with enough time past, but the inciting incident wasn’t a spectacular occurrence, cathartic experience or finding true love that offered me a hand of salvation to pull me out of self-deprecation and depression. I started leaving the house more and seeing friends and family because I realised the world continued to turn with or without me, food needed to be put on my plate and I felt very lonely.
I was getting used to being out and about but I was still very tentative around the issue of men, reason being I still linked beauty and femininity with hair so I was very reluctant to let anyone in. Even when men did approach, a part of me still felt that they only did it to be nice or out of pity. But my next giant step to self-acceptance did come as a result of not true love but true friendship.
Elsa was tall, slim and bathed in caramel. When my friend Charlotte first introduced her boyfriend’s sister to me, I couldn’t help thinking “If I was gay, I defiantly would!” The drinks flowed and the snorts of laughter ensued, Elsa was such a fun person to be around and I enjoyed her company so much. Finally during our bonding session and comfort at a high, Elsa revealed to me that she was seven months pregnant.
At first I thought she was being funny because she clearly had the body of a catwalk model, where would she even find room to put a baby! Secondly I ashamedly questioned her sanity because I thought maybe she was so broody, she conjured the existence of a fake baby to cope. Then without a fault in her speech, a breath misplaced or a change in expression, she calmly said “I was a victim of FGM (Female genital mutilation). Elsa could hardly suppress a laugh as I tried to inconspicuously look her up and down as if I could notice, as if expecting to see a giant neon sign or tentacles. But I saw nothing, she was flawless, stunning and every other women on the planet seemed to dull compared to her. Yet as a result of a rather absurd, archaic traditions in some countries in Africa, Elsa was left unable to have sex or have children. Thus her husband and she had to spend three years looking for a surrogate so they can have the children they so desperately wanted together. Fortunately nine months ago they found Celia, and ever since Elsa had been iridescent with the joy of impending motherhood.
After exchanging numbers and staying in touch, I soon begin to realise that not one nano inch of Elsa felt somehow less feminine, beautiful or felt she needed to hold contempt in her heart. Instead she had love for her husband and her new baby Azez, who despite not sharing her DNA still somehow became every bit as magnificent as his new mother with each passing day.
Once again time slowly worked its magic and I soon further became clear that being bold didn’t make the me the beast, rather it made me unique and just another shade of beautiful on the women spectrum. I’m not ashamed to admit it, I love sex and I don’t think I could live without it and the thought of not being able have kids would be able far too unbearable. But yet these same things didn’t compromise Elsa beauty, femininity or love for life, so this summer I firmly took the lesson on board and I’m going to leave the wigs and head scarves at home and going to the beach to catch some sun and hopefully Mr Right.