Monday, September 8, 2014

Body of Confessions: Long Hair


I'm on nights right now and I just squeezed by with only four hours of sleep. There is a mandatory diversity session at my residency tomorrow that I have to attend from 1-5pm, thus abdicating a full morning of sleep. I should have slept more, but I'm so excited that I have a little bit more time to write because I'm sleeping less.

Earlier this week, I decided to resume taking vitamins for hair and nails. I had taken these vitamins consistently for several months during medical school and saw some real results in terms of not only hair health but hair length unparalleled to my previous efforts. I stopped taking them, actually, only after I had lost some weight and the pills started making me nauseous. At that time, I also started doing some other hair care things that really improved my hair health overall, and I have seen more strength, health and growth than I have seen since I was 12 years old. I have had some breakage at my crown, though, so I decided it would be a good time to bring hair vitamins back into the mix.

Hair vitamins also have B complex, which is helpful for me for stress. When I started taking B complex in medical school (before I started hair vitamins), my mood improved tremendously in just a couple of weeks of resuming the vitamins.

Anyway, on the eve of taking the hair vitamins, I decided to also straighten my hair to trim my ends. I sometimes trim my ends with my hair straight so I can retain some type of straight shape, and other times when it's kinky by just clipping the ends of twists in my hair. I wanted to straighten it just to get a sense of its straight length.

After straightening my hair, I saw that my hair is actually longer than it has been probably since 2006 or so. It made me realize that I was not able to retain any length in my hair during medical school, probably mainly secondary to vitamin deficiency and stress. It's still odd to look at myself with my hair straight, not only because my hair lives in a puff atop my head for most of the year (which is actually conducive to breakage at my oft-neglected crown), but the last time my hair was straightened, it wasn't this long.

Because duh, hair grows.

And while I reveled in my new hair health, a baseline that so many take for granted, when I slept the next morning (since I'm on nights, I sleep during the day), I had a dream that I had straightened my hair and I was surprised to find that my hair was significantly longer--12 inches longer. And I reveled in having long hair just to awake and remember that though my hair is longer than it has been in a while, it is not that long.

And then I became instantly disappointed in myself.

Long hair, don't care? I feel like that is not a reality for many, if not most, black women. More like, long hair, absolutely do care.

I have lived a life that I tried to be as little about my hair as possible, in some parts of my life more than others (namely, the years where I wore khimar). After having a mother who fussed over how my hair basically dissolved away after chemical treatment, I did not to have any part of continuing that tradition, so I went natural. I stopped letting chemicals seep into my scalp every 6 weeks in favor of my natural texture, the touted "new growth" that for several years had been the nemesis to my attempts at bone-straight hair. I went natural, and all of the straight hair fell out. That was in 2003.

Years later, when the likes of Curly Nikki and Naptural85 and all of these other naturalistas came out, I had already arrived at a hair regimen of my own that mirrored popular natural hair care culture. Braiding my hair and then undoing it to have a longer puff was stretching, that thing I did to get spiraly hair was called flat twists, among other things.

I have worn my natural hair when it is only a few inches long and have struggled with it, sometimes inadvertently destroying my hair. I have not been about length, I have been about health in my daily hair care practices. The fact that I wear my hair in a puff most of the time is a testament to my favoring low-maintenance hair styles for my life as a busy resident.

But regardless of how I feel during the day and how much I am an advocate for love your body, including your hair, as it is, I have persistently had these dreams as an adult. As a child, I have not, only as an adult have I had these dreams where I wake up and my hair is significantly longer than it actually is in real life.

And I guess that's just it. At a subconscious level, I want to have much longer hair, hair that I can straighten and let blow in the wind, hair that I can let shrink and shake about my head and still have some length to it. It usually happens after I do my hair in a way I find particularly cute--invariably, I'll have a dream where it's even longer, and even cuter.

I think the fact of the matter is, subconsciously, so much of my idea of femininity is connected to long hair, and not just longer than men's hair, but long hair at base. And I've never had the length of hair that is in most cultures considered unquestionably female. And while the styles of my hair are generally more female, I have to count on the contours of my body and the way I dress to express more of my femininity, especially in those days I'm in a rush and can only do a puff.

And I wish it weren't like that. I wish I didn't have that subconscious desire to have longer hair, but it is there. It sometimes haunts me in my sleep after a day that I feel like was otherwise content. I know it's not about anyone else--it's about me. Because in the dream, each time, I'm waking up in the morning, preparing for my day, and looking in the mirror in surprise. No one else compliments me, no one else becomes attracted to me, no one else cares. It's just me in front of the mirror, marveling at my own self.

I'm usually thinner in these dreams, too, but I'll save that one for later.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, I just had a foray into this this week. For along time I thought my hair wouldn't grow much. but after many years of being natural my hair grows and consistently maintains length. In braids most of the time, I wore my natural hair out and yeah it's shoulder length straightened and a little past if I straightened it. I braiding it up again this weekend, but these three days have been interesting... people ask me if it's a weave... and I am like um, why would I get a weave this short? For too long people (including black people) are lead to believe that we can't grow our hair, that it can't blow in the wind, that it's coarse blah, blah blah. Black hair is just hair and it can be as beautiful as any other kind... I have mine in braids to protect it, and to make daily styling easy for me, not because I have none.