At UWC Changshu China, I was approached by one of the students. They were gathering personal stories about hair. Their question to each individual was “What does hair mean to me?”
Beauty. Insecurity. Were my immediate thoughts.
How many of us girls told by our elders, “Aeboojoj eo an kora ej aetokin kool in boran. (A woman’s beauty is the length of her hair.)” In March 2015, impulse, will to challenge societal beauty standards, and overcome myself motivated my last minute decision to cut off all my hair. Thinking back on it, I am embarrassed at how I was wailing. A becoming picture of snots and tears, dreadfully becoming, on my friend’s fashionable coat.
Asides from that, I remember how cathartic and scared I was. First, there was no intention to cry nor was I getting the feeling prior. But with each cut, I kept hearing voices in my head. My grandmother, grandfather, ancestors. “You’ve forsaken us.” the cacophony of haunting voices chanted over and over.
It was then I started tearing up as I apologized back to them. I was overwhelmed. The past seemed to fight with my present. Whilst, I laid my heart open to them of how I never forsake them, but they, my people, forsake me. Trying to mold me into this caricature of a moolin kora(real woman). I am sorry, I must do this for myself.
I felt so ugly with my hair. I felt incompetent amidst the ever-growing beanstalk of accolades I must accomplish to be society’s lauded daughter.
“Ebaj biranran wot boram.(How curly/bushy/kinky your hair is.)” every time I received this comment, the implications were never positive. Unlike my friends with their straight or wavy, soft hair. Hence, my hair was always tightly braided, especially the front of my hair, where my hair was most unruly. It was my shame that I didn’t want to share with the world.
Yet there were those days, my classmates would take my hair out without asking my permission. Because they wanted to do another hairstyle on me. Being the people pleaser that I was, I would have acquiesced anyways. And as the front of my braid unravelled, I practiced nonchalance immediately.
“Only you know how you feel, they don’t. So don’t give them the power by indicating you felt disparaged by their actions.”
“Fake it till you make it.”
“Maybe they won’t notice it.”
“Please don’t make another comment on how bushy my hair is.”
Then, the day after my middle school graduation, I asked my grandpa if we can go rebond my hair. It is a rage back home. During graduations, almost every girl you see and know, will do some straightening treatment to their hair. Like me, forsaking their natural waves, even the ones with already straight hair, to attain a beauty standard heavily saturated with euro-centric ones. Ah, the wonders of being colonized.
I never had plans on straightening my hair. But a friend of mine told me of a private school student whose tight curls led her to do a different hairstyle every single day before going to school. Otherwise, her peers will say she didn’t shower. That she’s dirty. That she smells. Despite the fact that she showered every single day. Because her hair, despite getting wet, still maintains its buoyancy and figure, while ours flattens and sticks to our body.
With the heat and humidity back home, if you had the resources, then you are washing up every single day.
Then, there was me, who did her hair the same style all throughout the year. On top of my inferior complex towards private school students, I was sure I was going to become a laughingstock at Upward Bound amongst the private school students. You see, I had gotten accepted to Upward Bound. And in this program, it was students from both private and public schools schooling together at the College of the Marshall Islands campus.
So in all my years of wanting to avoid attention, hence why I did not rebond my hair before my graduation, but after graduation, my insecurities and fear of being ostracized, not wanting to be seen as inferior by private school students, I asked my grandpa if we can go get my hair treated.