My first semester at Texas A&M I regularly crossed paths with this beautiful red-headed woman with dreadlocks. From the moment I saw her, my spirit was excited by her. This lovely hippie soul STOOD OUT in the conservative, deep-south of the early 2000’s. In my mind, she is embodiment of health and self-confidence. For many years she has acted my personal template of who I could have been, if I had not been so damaged by life.
Inspired by her courage to be herself and ready to live my own truth, I began having my hair set into dreads last spring. Though I knew that embarking on this dread journey was a part of my larger trauma journey that had already been unfolding for months, I wasn’t expecting how much it would teach me about myself along the way. It’s been a process. For a good while I was in the ugly duckling stage. Being in that place revealed some deeper truths.
I had grown my hair out for years in preparation for getting dreads. It took five sessions (about 25 hours) to have my natural hair fully set. At the end, I was not loving it. Shrinkage is real!! Even though my hair had been almost to the small of my back, I was left with barely more than shoulder length dreads. I felt I had lost all of my femininity. Compounded with the other events in my life at the time, it took a toll on my self-confidence.
I had spent a decent amount of money already and didn’t feel I could justify chucking out another couple hundred for extensions. So I practiced acceptance: “This is my hair right now.” During this period, I began to meditate on the meaning I had placed on my hair. In those meditations, I was able to see the full picture, the role my hair had played throughout my story: icky compliments from my abuser, battling against my moms attempts to tame it, begging to dye it self-expression in my teens, and eventually the pride/attachment I had developed to it as an adult. So much meaning placed on ONE aspect of my physical appearance.
As women we are taught to place special value our hair from a very young age. My mother (like most in her circle) was fairly image conscious. Having a daughter with properly tamed hair was a reflection of her abilities as a parent. I was not to leave the house or be seen in public with unkempt hair. Some of my most distinct school age memories include battles to detangle and control my curly mess.
I also remember a lot of talk among my aunts and grandmother about the texture and color of my hair – how lucky I was to be born with good hair. It was an attribute that was highly valued. Not that I thought it was good hair. Nor did anyone care that I hated the fact my hair was red or that I would get incredibly embarrassed whenever it became the focus of attention.
When I was younger, I assumed my distaste for my hair color was due to the fact that it made me different. It is easy to recall examples of kids poking fun at me for having red hair. I now realize it was much deeper than that. I hated my hair because my abuser loved the color of it. It reminded him of someone long ago. Subconsciously all of these years I have blamed my hair. If I had just been born a brunette or a blonde, I wouldn’t have looked like her. Maybe he wouldn’t have wanted me? Trauma touches us in all sorts of ways.
For Christmas, my boyfriend made and installed amazing blonde dread extensions for me. While, I do not currently have the all-natural dreads of my dreams, I am really happy to regain my length and femininity. Plus it has even more meaning since they were custom made by my LOVE. For the first time in my life, I love my hair.
It’s taken a lot of courage this past year to begin revealing my actual self to the world. I had spent so much of my life, trying to live up to other’s expectations. It had never made me happy. One of the biggest themes of my trauma work was an unwillingness to rebuild the same unhappy life I have always had.
Taking the plunge and expressing who I truly am. It’s been a big deal for me.
Not everyone has to like my hair. Actually the truth is – Nobody but me has to like my hair. For the most part I get positive comments on it. I have yet to have a stranger share a negative opinion with me. (Though I’m betting writing about it on the internet opens me up for that right?) My mom hates them. I’m ok with that. I’m ok with saying
This is who I am. Take it or leave it.
I would love to hear your stories of growth through self-expression! How have you taken the plunge and decided to live as your most bold, authentic self? Tell us about it in the comment section below!
Want to read more about my trauma Journey? Check out my Goodbye 2019 post.
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