Maintaining my confidence and identity as a Black woman in a "white-is-right" homogenous society...or nah?
"Wow! She looks really oriental!" said a surprized distant family member, over video chat one morning. Did I? I questioned myself as I looked in the small mirror at my desk. Maybe it was the new bangs, or the orange gradient lip gloss, or sublte eyeliner. Maybe it was a combination of the three. Whatever it was, that statement made me reflect on the evolution of my style choices since I moved to South Korea in February 2018.
About 7 months prior to moving to South Korea, I ended a short-lived relationship and (you guessed it!) chopped my hair down to a teenie weenie afro! I felt liberated! But it was my 3rd official haircut since I went natural in 2013.
When I found out I was still in the running to becoming America's next expatriate, I decided to maintain my short, natural cut. However, this proved to be a challenege once I arrived and began working as a teacher. Students did not question or make fun of my hair; other staff and teachers never even mentioned it. There were neither negative or positive mentions of my short, curly afro. This made me feel ordinary. Less than ordinary.
Being surrounded by silky straight hair, god given and man made, made me feel like I was at a #LongHairDontCare convention and forgot my wig at home. I didn't feel beautiful; something was missing. Validation and representation!
Getting enthusiastically singled out by a girl and her boyfriend at a night club in Seoul didn't help my case. Who did they think I was Poussey Washington!? (Love her, by the way). Did my haircut scream lesbian? I was not willing to keep it and find out! After two months of failing to feel good about the way I looked, I caved and bought a wig.
"Wow! Hair is so beautiful!" those were the exact words of the first person who saw me at school, the gym teacher. I felt powerful again. Although I experienced a brief moment of 'damn, my real hair wasn't beautiful enough,' it disappared with every surprised compliment I received.
As I result, I wore a variety of wigs for four months straight and didn't bother to reveal my real hair. Until August. I went home for Summer vacation and by the time I arrived back in Korea, I was tired. Tired of laying, gluing , and setting my edges every other morning to look presentable. I misseed my hair!
So I took a break from the wigs. To my surprise, one of the newer teachers saw me in the restroom one day after lunch. "Wow! Is that your real hair?" she gasped. I smiled politely and nodded. "Wow! Its so cool!" That one compliment made me feel on top of the world! I just needed one person to gather with me and see the beauty of my natural hair. Sweet graditude!
In one of my 5th grade classes the students questioned my sudden transition from long to short hair. I told them the truth. They asked a valid question: Why wouldn't I just wear my real hair? I simply explained that girls in Korea have long hair, so I wanted to have long hair too. One girl wearing a hood with her head down suddenly sat up. She took off her hood and showed her new short pixie cut. "Me too teacher." The pity on her face! I could've shed a tear. I don't know the story behind her hair cut but I felt a subtle bond between us from that moment on.
I was back to wearing wigs by October (which was a disaster of a month for totally different reasons, but I digress)!... I cotinued wearing wigs and then braids up until January. As I type this post, my hair is puffy like candy floss!
What I now realize is that I was seeking validation and needing representation in a space where none existed. I needed to build my own! And its a constant process, involving all of me.
It's not only my hair that stands out. I am a 5'10 (177cm) 165 Ilb (75kg) brown woman. During my childhood, I wanted to make myself invisible. To make my appearance smaller, plateable. And moving to Korea made me feel that all over again. Conforming to a few Korean beauty standards made me feel a little less like a sore thumb. But the light on my life still shines bright! I cannot hide it.
Now I know I must do the work, and change the way I think about who I am and how I present myself to the world. I look beautiful in wigs; and my natural hair is lovely too! And one style is not necessarily more beautiful than the other. Hair and makeup are merely accessories that we use to express ourselves. We are far more than the things we wear. Sometimes I just need to be reminded. If I make the decision to shave my head and never wear another drop of make-up, its my choice. And living in my truth will always be beautiful, no mader the shade, no matter the texture.
Be you. Live your truth out loud. Moment by moment.