We as human beings have access to so many different experiences, resources, pleasures, delights. Perhaps because of this, we often become consumed with depriving ourselves of what we truly want, participating in puritanical or rigid practices to keep ourselves in line. This practice extends to the food we eat to how we dress, how we style our hair, how we walk through the world. Why do we do this? For our own good? Because we are told to? Who’s the one telling us to cut out sugar completely, to straighten our hair, to be ashamed or embarrassed of how we look? Is any of it making us happy?
Recently I was thinking, what have I been told was true that perhaps wasn’t? What have I deprived myself of in my life? What have I felt bad about? And why? I came up with a few random examples: crazy socks, cookies, and curly hair. They may seem unrelated, but they are three things that I have decided to embrace rather than deprive myself of. And because I choose to embrace them, I am much happier.
In high school it was “cool” to wear low-profile white ankle socks, to look like you weren’t wearing socks at all. Or, if you played volleyball, which I didn’t, it was cool to wear black or red knee socks with tight spandex shorts. Otherwise, no one should know that you were wearing socks, and if you did have to happen to take your shoes off, people wouldn’t see some crazy patterned socks they could make fun of you for, they would just see plain, boring white ankle socks. White ankle socks helped you blend in, they didn’t call attention to yourself, which was what you wanted in high school. I had learned the hard way in middle school that you didn’t want to draw attention to yourself, lest you become the object of ridicule. Middle school, in many ways, was way more harsh than high school.
I remember when I needed a new pair of sneakers for 6th grade basketball and fell in love with a pair of hot pink FUBUs — yes, back when FUBUs were cool. But hot pink ones? Not so much. I insisted my mother buy them for me, though she was hesitant to do so (I guess she knew something that I didn’t). Anyway, I got the shoes and wore them to school, so excited, wearing a matching pink bandanna as a belt, and was met with some admiration but mostly taunts and jeers. So, that ended that, my preference for bright colors and inherent proclivity for standing out. I already did stand out, a mixed girl in a mostly all-white school, neighborhood, county, the least I could do was try to blend in with my clothes.
Now, as an adult, I wear colorful, patterned socks. I seek them out — polka dots, stripes, rainbow, whatever they have, I buy. I love them! What changed? I think meeting one of my dearest friends is probably what shifted my view. I was pretty fresh out of high school when we met but so was she, and one day when I was putting on my boring socks or maybe I made fun of her for her crazy socks, she said simply, “I hate white socks. They’re so boring.” It sounds simplistic, but it was a moment for me. I hated white socks too, for that matter. White socks were boring. Why was I still wearing them? So from then on, I didn’t.
You know what else I love? I love chocolate chip cookies. It is a new love, a kind of love affair, that began in earnest when I quit drinking. I took pride in never really being obsessed with sweets, in being able to decline dessert and chocolate. All this changed when I quit drinking because, duh, alcohol is sugar. I didn’t realize how much sugar I was ingesting when I drank, though I knew that booze contained sugar, I never really gave it much thought. I preferred sour drinks, tequila and grapefruit juice, margaritas with mostly lime juice, hold the Cointreau or triple sec. But when you’re having more than two drinks, you’re swallowing a mighty amount of sugar, to say the least.
Almost immediately after I quit drinking I began to gravitate towards dessert, chocolate, ice cream, and, my personal favorite, chocolate chip cookies. Pretty much everything we’re told to stay away from. I began consuming new “treats,” treats that were sugar in a more straightforward form. But, surprisingly, this did not make me gain weight. In fact, I have lost weight. Yes, I eat chocolate torte or cookies or ice cream, but I don’t eat Snickers bars or Hostess cupcakes, processed desserts or goods. I buy bars of organic dark chocolate and eat a couple of squares with a cup of tea after a meal, savoring the velvety texture and bittersweet flavor as it melts on my tongue. And yes, desserts are all technically “bad” for you, but as long as I can pronounce the ingredients and I don’t eat the whole thing in one sitting, I don’t care.
I think because I avoid processed junk, savor the sweetness, and eat my treats in moderation, I have lost weight rather than gained it, as many people do after they quit drinking. This sensual relationship with sugar coupled with my new addiction to yoga has caused me to slowly acquire a body I have not seen in many years. My chin is sharp again, my face no longer rounded by alcohol bloat. I have definition in my legs that I have never had before, my arms are strong and capable. I weigh less without alcohol even though when I drank I didn’t really eat, full from beer or the hunger drowned beneath a sea of booze. Now I feel what I eat, I relish it. The mindfulness that I experience when I practice yoga or meditate has translated itself to other aspects of my life. So when I want a chocolate chip cookie, I’m gonna eat it. And I’m not gonna feel bad about it.
Something I felt bad about for a long time was my hair. When I think of the
“perfect” hair, I think of white girl hair. Straight, silky, shiny curtains of hair blowing in the wind, fluttering the breeze, falling into eyes. I think of how envious I was of their hair when I was growing up, how I still am sometimes, how society tells us that one thing is beautiful and if you don’t match up you should do everything you can to be anything but yourself. Straight silky hair is the ideal in America, shampoo commercial hair, beach-babe waves, but definitely not curly, frizzy, mixed-race hair like mine.
Years ago on a visit to L.A. my sister got her hair cornrowed and I, always uncomfortable with what I had instead of embracing it like my sister did, decided to get my hair chemically relaxed. The woman at the salon promised that my hair would look like J. Lo’s, that I would have loose, bouncy waves instead of the frizzy curls I scraped back into a bun rather than let free and wild. I was embarrassed by my hair, by it’s willful shape and differing textures. I wanted it all to be like it was at my nape and temples: wavy, smoother. The hair at my hairline and crown was fragile, prone to break, frizzy and kinkier in curl. Long story short, the demi-perm I had done did not result in J. Lo waves; it loosened what I had and smoothed it out for a while, but it mostly just damaged it and I had to wait for it to grow out. I haven’t done anything like that since.
Now, over the years, I have learned to embrace my hair. I have taught myself about products, about going with the curl instead of fighting it, of combing it out in the shower with conditioner rather than brushing it when it’s dry (total frizz bomb). With a white mother, I always wanted her straight, fine, dirty blond hair. I looked to her as my ideal of beauty, seeking semblance in her features with my own. While my sister embraced her hair, I shied away from it, I didn’t know what to do with it. As I grew older, I became more accepting of myself, of learning to work with what you have. Yes, I get highlights, but other than that, it’s natural. Natural and a shitload of products to tame the frizz but not the curl. I feel more myself when my hair is down and curly than the rare times I straighten it. I feel like a different person when I have straight hair, and these days I prefer to feel like myself.
Thankfully I’ve chosen to embrace some things that I used to grapple with. I’ve figured out that I don’t have to look like a white girl to be beautiful. I don’t have to wear whatever will help me blend in to a crowd, nor do I want to. And I also don’t have to stop eating cookies because they are “bad” for me. I can look like myself, I can wear whatever the hell I want, I can eat cookies in moderation, and guess what? That’s okay. It’s better than okay, because my crazy socks, cookies, and curly hair make me happy.
I wish you a wild, free life.