I was in the second grade. For weeks, when my mother asked me how I wanted to wear my hair, I only had one request. I asked her to frame my face with two, thin braids that hung just in front of my ears. I thought wearing my hair in this style made me look brave, like the fearless princess Zia of my favorite cartoon, The Mysterious Cities of Gold.
Then it happened. While standing in line to go outside for recess, I had my first traumatic hair encounter. A boy named Dustin, grabbed my two, thin braids, one in each hand, and tugged them as if they were reins. He proceeded to further augment this insult by jumping while commanding me to “giddy-up.” For the first time in my young life, I felt hot anger boil in my belly. Without thinking, I punched him in the stomach. Tears of humiliation, frustration, and shock spilled uncontrollably. I was shocked to discover that I was capable of acting out so impulsively.
How many others have a story like this? Some of you may have a tale of how a person’s reaction to your hair prompted a variety of emotions or responses, both positive and negative. I have friends who have shared stories of the ire caused by thoughtless strangers who felt entitled to touch their hair without permission. Just this week, my shero, Lupita Nyong’o, spoke out publically against a magazine that dared to Photoshop her hair. She described the resulting image as an attempt to force her curls to conform to “Eurocentric standards of beauty.”
Our hair is a very conspicuous part of our body. The way we style it is a very public expression of our individuality, and in some cases also our cultural identity. But many of us reserve physical access to our hair for only the most intimate of relationships.
As I embark on this journey as the Providence Public Library’s 2018 Creative Fellow, my goal is to research hair and its personal and cultural significance. The goal of the fellowship is to create an art performance. In preparation for this performance, a great deal of research and planning will take place. Hair is a topic so broad and the resources available are so rich that I have decided a to create a blog specifically for documenting the research and creative process dedicated to this project.
I hope you will join me. You may simply follow along, but I would be delighted for you to comment or ask questions, if the mood strikes you. Think of this blog as an open dialogue. Please feel free to be an active participant. Share your own hair stories here in the comments or on my Instagram with the hashtag #BDhairstory