I Am Not My Hair. Or Am I?

“I am not my hair.”

Or am I?

It’s easy to emphatically agree with India Arie’s soul-stirring lyrics.

But the reality is, as multiracial people with every hair texture imaginable, and all the corresponding identity dynamics, our hair is our crowning glory.

So whether you think of your hair as a crown of thorns or something precious that helps you sparkle in the world, you’re right.

Because, like it or not, our hair plays a starring role in our identities — how we view ourselves and how the world perceives us.  Chances are, you have a long history of thoughts about your hair, as well as a long list of stories about how people react to your hair.

So, what’s your conclusion thus far?  Choose one:

  1. “I am not my hair.”
  2. “My hair defines me.”
  3. “My hair is just one important part of me.”
  4. All of the above.
  5. None of the above.

The answers are not black and white.  Nor are they gray!

As mixed-race people, we embody a dazzling kaleidoscope of genetic possibilities.  And sometimes our hair highlights the quizzical dynamics that this presents.

My hair has been long and curly all my life.

It’s how people know me.

This becomes apparent when it’s straightened.

Like when I recently attended a party after taping my TV show; the producers prefer that the stylist flat-iron it to prevent on-camera frizz.

It’s fun to change looks.

But without my trademark curly hair, a man whom I’ve known for more than half my life and who was even an usher at my wedding looked right at me.

And right through me.

Zero recognition!

I called his name.

He focused on my face.

Then beamed a giant smile.

This happened often when my hair was straightened for three weeks while filming Anything is Possible (see picture above with the orange jacket), a feature-length film with a multiracial cast.

“I’m having an identity crisis,” I joked to the hair stylist on the set the first time I looked in the mirror with Jan Brady hair (from The Brady Bunch in the 1970s).  As a white-looking multiracial woman, my curly hair provides evidence of my genetics.

When my hair is like that, it’s as flowy, blowy and silky as I wished it could have been when I was in middle school.

Back then, I wanted to be like my girlfriends who sported the Farrah Fawcett hairstyle.  The star of the hit TV series, Charlie’s Angels, and her feathered hair graced posters everywhere.

At the same time, Olympic skating champion Dorothy Hamill’s feathery haircut was so popular it became synonymous with her name.

Oh how I wished at age 13 that my super curly hair — usually confined to a braid or a bun — was as straight and feathery as these two iconic women’s tresses.

Flash forward to when my son was the same age in middle school — as the only student of color in his grade.

But he didn’t wish for hair like his male classmates.

Instead, he grew a big ‘fro.

I was so proud of him for expressing and celebrating who he is!

His hair became an object of fascination by his classmates, male and female, who often asked  if they could touch it (yes, that’s a another conversation).

My son’s hair symbolizes how he marches to the beat of his own drum in every aspect of his life.

How fortunate to embrace oneself at  such a young age, instead of wasting time and energy as I did as a girl, wanting to conform to the outer world’s standard of beauty.

Thankfully, I embrace and celebrate every aspect of myself now.

So my answer to the multiple choice test at the top?

  1. D) All of the above.

What’s your answer?

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