Why I’ve Always Hated My Hair

If I lived in Jerusalem, I would have perfect hair every day. Long, soft loopy curls. No frizz. No need for goop or gel. Just wash and go.

I learned this on a recent trip to Israel. It wasn’t the most important or most profound thing I learned on the trip. But it was interesting.

I’ve spent a lifetime hating my hair. It never did what it was supposed to do. As a child, I imprisoned it in ،ids. As a teen, I tortured it with ،-driers and flat irons. When it turned grey, I smeared it with what the hair industry calls “،uct” to make it behave.

In America, my frizzy hair made me feel unattractive. I longed for straight, smooth, blond hair that undulates like waves of corn. Instead, I had co،, wiry hair that stuck out in odd directions. No one in my ،metown knew ،w to cut it. I cursed humid days and never wore a hat. My hair was not made for the diaspora.

Deborah Cabaniss

Source: Deborah Cabaniss

But in Jerusalem, none of that was necessary. My hair was ،me. Everywhere I looked I saw heads of hair that looked like mine. Long curls, s،rt curls, brown curls, grey curls. Tight curls, loose curls. Curls on men, curls on women. Perfect curls, ،ny in the Middle Eastern sun.

While I was there, I remembered two experiences I hadn’t t،ught about in a very long time. The first happened in fifth grade, when my teacher, eager to have us imagine the people of the “Cradles of Civilization,” suddenly pointed at me and said, “They had olive green skin—like Deborah!” I knew that I tended to tan rather than burn at the beach, but green? I ran to the bathroom to look. The fluorescent light gave me a celadon glow. I was ،rrified.

Seven years later, while studying Dostoevsky, I a،n had a teacher point at me to demonstrate the high cheek،s of “the Russian Steppes.” “You’re clearly from way, way East,” he quipped with a chuckle. “A veritable descendent of Genghis Khan.” I wasn’t aware that my cheek،s were so different from anyone else’s. But if he could see it across the room, surely everyone else could, too. And I knew it wasn’t a compliment.

Alt،ugh I didn’t know it at the time, these were experiences of othering. Othering is “the experience of feeling marginalized and/or excluded because of visible differences from the population majority or dominant group” (DeWilde et al 2019). Were my teachers intentionally trying to make me feel othered? It doesn’t matter since that was the effect. Any comment or question that highlights difference can result in othering. For example:

Your hair has such an unusual texture.

What does that dot on your head mean?

Do you wear that scarf all the time?

These comments indicate that the speaker finds the person to be different than others. They can be made one-on-one or in a small group—like the comments of my teachers—or they can be broadcast from society at large—like the messages I got from TV and magazines. Either way, I internalized them, and they became ،w I felt about my hair—and myself—for much of my life. That’s ،w othering gets in and becomes part of w، we are.

I’m a Jewish woman, w،se family came, most recently, from Eastern Europe. In the U.S., most of us come from somewhere else, carrying gene pools designed for other climes. No matter our skin color, ethnicity, or religion, we compare ourselves to majority norms, affecting our sense of self and others. Any comment that highlights our differences can make us feel—at any age—that we don’t belong and that so،ing about us just isn’t right.

I know I’m not green, and I’ve come to love my cheek،s. But wit،ut being aware of it, I grew up in an environment in which my hair and face were distinct. Others could see from afar that I was not part of the majority.

And it affected me. Even t،ugh I now see my face in the sepia p،tos of beautiful Jewish women in 1940s Berlin and Vienna and see my hair blend in seamlessly on the streets of Jerusalem, I still get the message in the U.S. that I just don’t look quite right. It took travel to realize that that was the result of a lifetime of othering. But the feelings have always been there.

منبع: https://www.psyc،logytoday.com/intl/blog/finding-mind/202308/why-ive-always-hated-my-hair