I Am Not My Hair

I’m not much of a summer person. I prefer the cold winter months; complete with lots of snow and a bitter chill in the air. I always thought people looked better with more clothes on. Plus, I can walk around the block and won’t reach my front steps drenched in sweat. I was the blessed with the gift of large sweat glands. During the hottest months, I always have a freckling of water droplets on my nose and gallons of water pooling up in each bra cup. It’s especially hard to bike anywhere and keep my hair straight- as soon as my roots make contact with water, they tense up and begin to curl. Summertime is the three-month span I make amends with my fro and decide to wear my hair natural, pulling it back into a ponytail or a French braid.

Me, at age 10- with a messy 'do

Me, at age 10- with a messy ‘do

My hair has always been an issue with me. When I was in second grade, I trimmed my bangs with a pair of safety scissors and stuffed tuffs of hair between the sofa cushions. My mom found out and took me to the salon to even my masterpiece out. The hairdresser chopped off most of my hair, resulting in me looking like a boy. This confused a lot of people. It didn’t help that I was a bit of a tomboy growing up. I remember a gaggle of pre-teen girls chasing me around at the roller skating rink, trying to kiss me, “the really cute boy.” As I hiked with my parents in the mountains, I smiled and said “hello” to a nice couple walking by. They beamed and told my dad that he had a lovely son.

A few days ago, I biked to my boyfriend’s house and caught a glimpse of myself in his bathroom mirror. I thought I looked terrible, sweaty with mascara raccoon eyes and curly hair. We were supposed to go out to dinner but I lost my appetite. I couldn’t be seen outside. I started to cry. The boyfriend was sweet and asked what was wrong. I told him that I felt ugly, that I hated my hair, that I’d feel prettier if I was white and had naturally straight hair. He comforted me and told me that I was the most beautiful girl in the world and he loved my curls.

When I was living in New York, a Black woman on the subway told me that I had “good hair.” At the time, I could afford to splurge on expensive keratin treatments that kept my hair smooth and straight for months, even during the humid summers. I thanked her and we exchanged hair secrets. At the end of the day, me and my roommate, Jivana, talked what is meant to have “good hair.” She asked me if I watched the Chris Rock documentary, “Good Hair” and we sat down together to watch clips of the film on YouTube. I sat there with eager eyes, my mouth open wide, learning why “good hair” is so desired in different ethnic communities. In the Black community, many feel that women with lighter complexions and softer, more subdued curl patterns of hair are given partiality over women who have darker complexions and “kinker” hair. This ideal steams back to the time of slavery; the slaves with lighter skin and smoother hair were invited in the work in their master’s homes and were sometimes treated better. They looked closer to their Caucasian bosses. Those with kinky curls were considered undesirable.

My gorgeous sister (and a future laywer), Nicole, and her natural curls

My gorgeous sister (and a future lawyer), Nicole, and her natural curls

With my short hair during my youth, I never felt pretty. Even in high school during my prime ponytail years, I felt like I had a mop on my head. It really wasn’t until I started getting my hair professionally blown out and straighten a few years ago that I felt really beautiful. Straighten, my hair falls past my shoulders in layered waves, like a dark ocean. While curly, it’s unmanageable and often sticks up unless I pin it down with a bobby pin. I look like a Fraggle when I first wake up in the morning. I’ve always wished that it was simple just to run a brush through my mane, getting out all the tangles. I slept over at a friend’s house and watched her get ready in the morning, combing her blonde hair with ease- so jealous!

It’s easy to blame something huge and intangible like society for the reason I felt so ugly all those years, why I hate my curly hair now, why is it so desirable to have straight, easy-to-brush hair; why can’t people accept the locks they have now and just wear their hair curly (I can picture it now- curly hair gracing every page of  “Vogue” and “Elle” magazines- yay!). What would it take to win this cultural acceptance?

In 2006, India.Arie released “I Am Not My Hair,” a song that promotes self-acceptance and hushes negative attitudes about other’s appearances (I love the version featuring P!nk). I jog listening to that song, reminding myself that even though I’m sweaty and look out of breath to others, I’m taking care of my body. I want to feel the same way about my hair. I know that there are moments when I take my time to preen and primp myself and I look ideal. But most of the time, it’s easier and less time-consuming to walk out of the house with a ponytail, no make-up and sweatpants. I know I don’t look like a fashion model but I still have errands to run, plenty to do. At the supermarket, in the cereal aisle, I listen to the whispers of another woman, noting that my ponytail is sticking straight up and out. It’s those times that I wish I could show that woman that I’m more than my sweats and inverted hair. I may look ridiculous but my appearance ultimately doesn’t truly matter- I’m a remarkably strong and smart person inside of my skin.

Jordan, my six-year-old sister, and her fro- and hot pink fingernails!

JT, my six-year-old sister, and her fro- and hot pink fingernails!

I think about my sisters- one lives in Washington DC, studying for her last year of law school. Her Facebook pictures show a multitude of hair styles but now, she chooses to wear her hair curly most of the time. She looks fabulous and sophisticated, ready to take on the court room. I wish that I could be confident like that. She knows it’s too hot (and damaging) to straighten her hair in the middle of the summer, especially when living in such a humid city. My youngest sister is six- and she rocks her hair (she’s dances to that Willow Smith tune, “Whip My Hair,” whipping her head back and forth). Her curly ponytail is sassy and adorable- plus JT knows she’s smart and awesome at karate. They know that their hair doesn’t define them. These ladies in my life are my inspiration to own what I have. For that, I should be grateful- I have thick hair that I can wear any way I want it. Even though it’s greying and my curls can be sometimes out of control, I know that I’m more than my mane.

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Gumby and Sheryl Sandberg

When I young, I was obsessed with Gumby. I watched his show on Nickelodeon religiously, admiring his and his friends’ adventures in their clay wonderland. I also had a bendable Gumby action figure who lost his life when my dog became a member of the family. In college, I watched old “Saturday Night Live” episodes with Eddie Murphy as Gumby- “I’m Gumby, damnit!” I’ve always wished that I could be flexible like that green creature; that I could shape myself into anything- an airplane, a puddle, a tire swing.

But let’s get real. I’m not Gumby.

I really wish I was, though.

I’ve been doing a lot lately. A LOT. Between my two jobs, I work 55 to 60 hours a week. That doesn’t include my freelancing gigs.  Volunteering has always been important to be and I set time aside each week to do something for my community. Plus, I’m studying for school for the Spanish class I’m hoping to get into this fall. I don’t have a lot of free time- which is fine. I enjoy being busy. I’m enjoying my work and my life. But something is definitely missing. I’ve never been good at planning, scheduling and sticking to the different aspects in my life. I know that some things are more important that others- my career for one thing. I don’t want to write for the city paper for the rest of my life. I’d like my own office somewhere in the NYC Conde Nast building one day. I bust my “balls” to make that dream come true.

With my recent work responsibilities, I know I have put a lot of stuff on the back burner. Friendships are the first thing that come to mind. I know I haven’t been the greatest friend to my own nor the best girlfriend to my guy. I see my boyfriend about once a week now (sometimes, I get too busy/tired and we just text for a few minutes before I move on to the next thing). A good friend of mine sent me a text yesterday about me working too much and bailing out on every opportunity to hang out. I know that employment safety triumphs friendship/family/love on the Maslow’s Hierarchy but I’m wondering if my recent actions with the amount of hours I’ve been working are really at all worth it. Are they? Relationships verses works… What to chose? As Sheryl Sandberg once put it, I’m leaning into my ambitions. But does that mean to take one step back out of another portions of my life?

As much as I wish there were 60 hours in a day or that I could find a way to substitute a workout for sleep, I know that those things will never happen. I think about my parents who managed to work full-time jobs and take care of me and my sisters. I have no idea how they did it (and in regards to my dad and stepmom, I still don’t know how they do all they do ad find time to take my youngest sister to Disneyland). A 40 hour + shift, plus their children and their education and after school activities and dinner on the table at five on the dot- AND the relationship with their spouses. Whoa! However do you get a moment of time to breathe?

I don’t know how I’m doing it right now. I know that I’m doing a lot of things wrong but that’s life. I’m making mistakes but I’m learning from them. I know with more practice (or if I wake up as a Claymation character), my weighted scale of life will be perfectly balanced.

But now, I’m just going to relax in front of the television for a brief moment, looking for old “Gumby” episodes on Netflix.

Love Actually

Life is funny. Two months, ago I lost my job and my boyfriend on the same day. Last week, I was handed a dream job writing for a local newspaper and I got back together with the man I thought I lost forever- all on the same day. I know better than anyone that life works in weird ways. One minute, you’re on top of the world with money and success and an active social life. The next, you’re all alone, broke and on the verge of being homeless. A day later, you sell your sad story to ‘TODAY’ and you’re now an instant millionaire, on the cover of “Forbes.” Ah, the beauty of life!

I’m a firm believer in those little life sayings, the quote clichés that you read on your Starbucks cup. Obviously, the person being quoted knew what the hell they were talking about or their words wouldn’t be printed on cups distributed all over the world. I read such quote from Arthur Rubinstein a little while ago and I can’t get it out of my head…

“I have found that if you love life, life will love you back.”

Me and the boyfriend being cute

Me and the boyfriend being cute

I thought about that quote for a long time and took a hard look at my life and all the things that were making me unhappy: my job (or lack of one), my doubts of being a decent friend and girlfriend, not finishing up school, the ten pounds that magically appeared on my waistline. I wasn’t loving life. I wasn’t living life. I was complaining. Granted, I am the queen of cranky and I do love a good bitch session but enough was enough. I was wasting time and making excuses- too exhausted to this. Don’t have enough cash to do that. Too many of my early afternoons and nights were spent on the couch, watching Netflix, eating brownie batter. I dug up old to-do list and my 30 Before 30 goal sheet. I haven’t accomplished any of them.

Time to stop dreaming. Let’s start planning and doing. I created a spreadsheet of all the advertising agencies, public relations offices and printed publications in town and emailed them my writing samples and a bad-ass cover letter. I got a ton of interviews and a slew of job offers. I researched different national magazines I’ve always wanted to write for and just sent in a pitch to a travel magazine based in San Francisco. I signed up for a class in the fall and (FINALLY) started paying back my student loans. I budgeted my first paycheck and used it for art supplies (been painting a lot lately) and new living room décor. I’m volunteering at fun non-profits and made a point to accept most invitations from friends for dinner and other girlie dates. I wake up at five in the morning to run and get some planks and burpees in before I start my work day. After seeing the mistakes I made in my relationship and admitting to myself that I have some personality quirks that I need to work on, I went to my ex and we talked about giving our relationship a second chance- I’m thankful that he agreed for another go-around.

I’m getting back on track. I’m finally realizing that you have to work for your happiness. It just doesn’t come to you. Yeah, I’m still happy being lazy on the sofa and I do realize that I won’t be this happy all the time but that’s cool. Love, in all its great forms, takes work. Living a good life takes work. And I’m determined to work to make my life sensational. I’m putting lots of love in and am getting lots of love back. I love these working progresses and I’m loving my life. I hope, you dear reader, have the courage and self-knowledge to work hard for the life you always wanted to live and love. You do deserve it (and thank you for reading).