“Danielle, when did AJ start dressin’ like a hippie?”
My aunt asked my sister this question about me with a half-puzzled, half-disgusted look on her face a few months ago. I laughed when my sister told me. Thinking about it now, being able to laugh about it is remarkable.
Here’s the story: ‘Nappy,’ ‘pickaninny,’ ‘Buckwheat’ and ‘wild’ were the descriptors many of my family members met me with when I first decided to give hair straightening a rest in high school. So I went back to straight bangs and low buns to avoid any confrontation.
At 25, I cut my hair. I wanted the relaxed ends gone. I wanted my ‘fro back. Only this time I was scared out of my mind to reveal my ‘fro to my family. And I was met with the same downright mean, almost self-hating feedback from a family who – though God-fearing and most helpful – has always had SOMETHING negative to say about my unique ventures and style choices since I was small. So I tucked my hair away under wigs for the better part of three months, discontent with the short length of my hair and afraid of what they might say. But then, one family member got so incredibly disgusted with that and reamed me out for not wearing my own hair. I reached a boiling point. Internally, I was screaming, frustrated and confused. I craved acceptance from my own blood, the acceptance that an unknown passersby gave me in spades from time to time. I wanted my family to “get” me and I was tired of feeling like I had to adjust myself just to make them comfortable and keep them quiet. So, I took off the wigs and decided once and for all to walk in the glory of my ever-growing kinky curly hair. Eff what they thought. I needed to do what felt right for me. My kinks felt right and I wore them. A confidence I had never known started to sprout in me.
That confidence spilled over from my hair to my fashion choices. I had always dressed conservatively because it was safe. My family complimented the pencil skirts, kitten heels and starched shirts. That was acceptable. That was ‘right.’ Imagine their surprise when along with the ‘wild’ red frohawk, I began sporting gladiator sandals, cut off shirts and long flowy bohemian maxis? I was owning my style, my choices, my ideas. One decision to wear my hair how I wanted to, for MY own reasons, snowballed into my entire life changing. I was figuring out what felt right FOR ME. I wasn’t just agreeing with everyone else’s opinions for fear of being hounded for thinking outside my family’s box. I was proudly spinning their rough sneers into the fine silk of self-acceptance. And it felt darn good.
At first, I didn’t realize that I had stopped allowing myself to be a victim of my family’s criticism and had actually started embracing it. All I knew was that my life was passing me by as I conformed to someone else’s ideas instead of finding my own. I was in my mid-twenties and had no idea what my personal style was. Imagine that. Living life as a reflection of everyone else, always being too afraid or feeling guilty for wanting to look into the mirror and see just exactly who is staring back.
Once I got a good glimpse though, I made it my business to honor that girl staring back at me. Whatever choices I made from that moment on were guided by my God-given intuition and individuality. Sure I would take sage advice from those around me, but to be completely ruled by their opinions to the point that I lost myself? Never again. I had to really get it into my system that not everyone (least of all family, sometimes) is going to agree with the decisions I make. My preferences won’t rub everyone the right way all the time, but that’s all right. God created us to be individuals, not mindless clones of one of another.
So, a nappy headed hippie, you say? ‘Nappy headed’? Okay! It looks good on me so I’ll be that! Hippie? Well, all right! A lost concertgoer from Woodstock anyone? I’ll take that too, because life is too short to be boxed into a life stitched together by everyone else’s thoughts, insecurities, fears and standards. At some point, by breaking free and embracing the suck regardless of how anyone tries to spin it, I know who I am now and I’m comfortable in my own skin, my own ‘fro and my own style.
La Truly is a late-blooming Aries whose writing is powered by a lifetime of anecdotal proof that awkward can transform to awesome and fear can cast its crown before courage. Armed with the ability to purposefully poke fun at herself and a passion for young women’s empowerment, La seeks to encourage thought, discussion and change. Check out her blog: www.hersoulinc.com and her Twitter: @AshleyLaTruly.