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jeannie d sanders

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which came first?
by jeannie d sanders   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Wednesday, August 16, 2006
Posted: Friday, July 28, 2006

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because 'everyone has a hair story,' don't they?

pencil drawing by the author

Which Came First?

Dry, dull, frizzy, kinky, geeky, untamed…for years that was the life of my hair. But no matter that, my mother often proclaimed: “You’ll be grateful for your naturally curly hair when you grow up.” Ironically, throughout my formative years I can remember my mother using a filmy pink “beauty” tape with zig-zag edges to affix my bangs and the back of my hair to my skin to try and get it to behave. The tape was hardly adequate for the job and only worked with limited success. Yet every Saturday night, she would try to force my hair into submission for a Sunday morning church appearance that was (or she hoped would be) at least moderately acceptable. I often wondered if that tape failed to accomplish the desired effect on everyone…or was it just me who attended church with no less than three perjorkey cowlicks around my unruly head? And if that wasn’t enough to define me as worthy of shame, then certainly my adolescence was.
By then my wild hair had become long. Gratefully, much too long to tape down with that ineffectual pink zig-zaggy tape. And gratefully, heavy enough to pull out at least a minute portion of the kink into pseudo-soft waves. However, on the two occasion that boys even got near enough to touch it, they exclaimed: “Ew! That’s not how hair is supposed to feel.” Or: “Ew! That’s not real. That’s a wig!” Sigh. My hair came to define me as someone undesirable to the opposite sex. So despising did I become of my own hair, and the reactions of those around me to it, I grew careless with its needs, barely bothering to brush the top layer. As a result, large snarls gathered, formed mats, and lived perversely at the very tender nape of my neck which when found by my mother, were subjected to painful sessions filled with rough combing and tears. Finally, the decision was made to just cut the snarls out. But why stop there? My mother went rabid with the scissors and cut all of my hair so short that she ended up finishing with electric barber clippers. That was the last time anyone else took control of my hair. And so I, through trial and error (yes, that too was as bad as it sounds) began to cut and style my own hair…once I had hair again to cut, that is. I brushed and combed it with determination, trying desperately and yet unsuccessfully to get it to do something resembling nice. And I retreated, socially. Still my mother told me: “You’ll be grateful for your naturally curly hair when you grow up.”
It finally happened one sweltering summer day in my late adolescence. After returning home from spending the entire day swimming at the apartment complex pool where we had moved the autumn prior, I looked into the mirror and found my not quite shoulder-length hair, which had dried in the sun without the aid of brush or comb, naturally arranged in curly ringlets. With the absence of the evil brush and comb, my hair actually looked nice. Further, I found the process to be repeatable even without swimming and the sun. What I had not known for all this time was that if I stopped trying to control my hair, it behaved beautifully! At last! I was grateful for my naturally curly hair. Ironically, since that summer day, many women, be they friend or stranger, have often commented that my hair is beautiful. I politely reply in thanks, but always, I am transported back to my youth when I felt dry, dull, frizzy, kinky, geeky, and untamed. I am reminded of times when I naturally colored outside of the lines, questioned tradition, and resisted the brush and comb of organized religion and cultural conformity, preferring the company of trees to boys.
So, is it really any wonder that in my early adulthood I identified as a screechy feminist? Today I have found a peaceful balance between radical activism and social compliance and no longer question my worth as a woman. But perhaps the most poignant questions remain. Was it my hair that shaped a wild and unconventional spirit? Or did my wanton hair merely represent a spirit that was already there? Which came first? And finally, is this matter a philosophical conundrum or simply a moot point? Although you can decide the answers for yourself, you cannot define me. My hair does that.

Postscript: Although I was past the age of 40 before I found him, there is at least one “boy” who also thinks my hair is beautiful.

jeannie dugan sanders    

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Reviewed by The Smoking Poet 7/28/2006
Ah, Jeannie, how women struggle with the very shallow and cookie cutter definitions of beauty... especially, alas, in American society. Our definition of how a woman should appear, from head to toe, is so constrained and hard to fit, if not impossible, that we are mired in dissatisfaction. Today, the only women considered beautiful by these definitions are those appearing in glossy images that have been airbrushed and Photo-shopped. In other words, not real. Not human at all.

If there is something wonderful about the aging process, it is the wisdom we attain with years. We learn to not only accept, but cherish who we are, at last gaining peace and confidence. What a shame we cannot feel this way from the very beginning!

I enjoyed your essay very much, Jeannie, and I think your curls are wonderful, too. Viva la difference. Thanks for sharing your valuable lesson.

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