Hair’s To Freedom

by Guest Contributor Neesha Meminger, originally published at Neesha Meminger

This weekend, I was interviewed for a magazine article. Nothing to do with my book, or even writing, for that matter. The topic of the hour was body image. This is a topic I could go on and on and ON about (and have, on several occasions), but I’ll refrain just this once.

Before the interview, all sorts of thoughts went through my head about what I might talk about — will I do the usual issue of weight and body size/shape? Would I go to the more familiar topic of areas of my body I’ve waged war with? Or would I go into the skin shade territory? So many areas to cover (no pun intended), not enough interview time . . .

So, when the lovely interviewer called me, we had a fantastic, lively, friendly discussion. It was fun and hilarious. We were about forty-five minutes through when I realized all I’d talked about was my hair. My hair. Not the usual trilogy: butt, boobs, belly. Not flab, sag, and lumps. Hair. And not body hair, either.

I had no idea what a huge issue hair has been all through my life. But as I talked to Ms. Lovely Interviewer, I realized that as a Sikh girl-child, then young woman, so many battles over control and power in my house were fought around the territory of my hair. I was not allowed to cut it, there were certain hairstyles I could not wear, and there was just so much IMPORTANCE placed on what I did or did not do with my hair.

As a little girl, I thought cutting my hair would be the answer to all my problems. I thought not being allowed to cut it was what kept me apart from the “rest” of the world. It was what kept me from connecting. And that was something I so very much longed for. Later, as I began to question things, I wanted to know why the religion allowed my father and brothers to cut their hair, but not me or my mother. Obviously, the religion intends both men and women to keep long hair, but in my house this was not the case. (That’s a whole other post, though.)

Also interesting was just how much the interviewer and I could relate on the hair topic. She happened to be African-American and went through many different periods in her life where she struggled with the “Natural or straightened?” question. Her hair was a site where many inner and outer battles were fought, too.

I thought about movies where whenever someone wanted to change their identity, or get a fresh start in life, the first thing they did was cut off their hair. Even with makeovers on popular daytime talk shows, the biggest way to make a difference in one’s appearance (thereby, in one’s life?) is to change the color/cut/style of their hair.

Through my conversation with Ms. Interviewer, it hit me that whenever I wanted things to change in my life, whenever I felt smothered, or not in control of my destiny, I went to a salon. And later, I bought a good pair of scissors and clippers and took matters into my own hands. Doing what I wanted with my own hair felt like a kind of freedom. It was a defiance and a breaking and a challenge.

“This is mine,” was the message.

And the message got across alright. Not only did the message get across, but it also found its way straight into a whole heap of punishment when I lived at home.

Ms. Interviewer said she had thoughts like that now, as well — that if only such and such were different, her whole life would somehow be better. We wondered if this was something others experienced in terms of body image. I had a friend who, whenever she wanted to feel pampered or taken care of, she’d go to a salon and have them wash her hair. That’s it–nothing else–just a wash.

I also marveled at the fact I could meet another woman from any other racial, social, economic, or political category, and we could easily have identical body image stuff. The article I was being interviewed for will include the experiences of seven or eight women from all walks of life and is set to hit the stands soon.

In the meantime, I’d love to know what your experience has been with body image. Has it even been an issue? If so, where did it center around? Where are you at with it now?