Today would have been my 8th wedding anniversary had I not divorced. Eight years. I can’t imagine what my life would be like if I had stayed married and I’m aware that the melancholy that overcomes me at this time of year is directly related to this fact.
In August of 2011 I separated from my ex-husband and plunged into one my most severe depressive episodes. At that point we had only been married for three years but I knew that the life I was living was not the life I desired. We were both miserable and that led to resentment and heartache and pain. Making the decision to separate and subsequently divorce was one of the hardest decisions of my life.
I am a perfectionist – one who doesn’t always know what she’s striving for but knows that she’ll never be good enough. As you can imagine, this way of thinking sets up a never-ending cycle that is paralyzing. Failing at my marriage, a very public relationship given who me and my ex husband are, was almost unbearable. I thought I wouldn’t make it out the despair, but I eventually did and now seven years later, I’m a totally different person. I’ve been changed.
I’ve always been a person whose hair embodied my emotions. Growing up, this wasn’t always the case. My hair was something I had no control over until I got to high school and quite frankly, it caused a lot of stress and anxiety. I moved from New York to Texas when I was six years old and my hair was markedly different from the hair of others. I didn’t have a perm (in my culture perms straighten ones hair until the curl pattern is destroyed) and wore my hair in cornrows. I always stood out and was teased throughout elementary and middle school. In high school I was finally able to get a perm and finally felt like I fit in. I had more autonomy and was able to cut and color and curl my hair to my liking.
When I went to Spelman College in the fall of 1999, hair was something that everyone talked about. Spelman is a historically black women’s college. For the first time in my life I was surrounded by black women who were discovering who they were and were claiming parts of themselves in really radical and creative ways. I stopped perming my hair after my first semester there and began the process of discovering my natural hair.
After Spelman and various life transitions that I had no control over, I decided to loc my hair. This was definitely a time when I was feeling the need to rebel and locs represented resistance and strength at a time when I felt incredibly weak. I kept my locs from the fall of 2003 until the spring of 2010 when my marriage started to fall apart. At this point, I cut all of my hair off and colored it, something that signified a new beginning and my desire to just let things go.
I kept my hair like this for the next two years, alternatively wearing it curly or getting is straightened using the time honored technique of the hot pressing comb. I felt like the two sides of myself were trying to exist in the same body, at the same time. The curly headed girl who was free spirited and wanted to live life and embrace her creativity and the straight haired girl who was playing the role of pastor’s wife and living a life that at times felt like a lie.
Once I decided to file for divorce, I began the process of growing my locs. I felt like locs were the hairstyle that represented my inner strength and beauty in ways that challenged conventional thinking about what was respectable and acceptable. I’ve been wearing locs this time around for four years and I feel like I’ve come back to myself.
This winter I took a two month leave of absence from work. I felt like my chaotic schedule, professional role and the feeling that I had to represent my culture within a primarily white institution began to be a burden. During this leave of absence I have experienced deep rest and healing and have received a sense of clarity that I’ve been missing. While home for the holidays, I looked at my hair and thought, “It’s time for a change. It’s time to embrace the fullness of who you are and let your creative self, your edgy self, your wacky self come forth.” So I shaved half of my head and colored my hair. Never have I felt freer. Never have I felt more like my truest self.
One of my favorite songs is by India.Arie and is entitled “I am Not My Hair”. I love this song because it brings to light that – especially for black women – our hair carries so much weight and it can be so burdensome. We end up living out the expectations of how we should look and what our looks say about who we are.
So my recent change in hairstyles is less about feeling as though my hair defines me and more about feeling free to fully be me. My goal this year is to embrace my creative life and that begins with shedding anything that’s holding me back and embracing that change is a reality of life. I refuse to conform to anything that does not encourage freedom, liberation, creativity and love. I’m ready for 2016. Are you?