Monday, March 17, 2008

Hejab Pt. 2: Another Thought on Hair

Here is a somewhat-companion to Megan's piece. This one I did write—last semester, for a class on writing for publication. Why do I put it here, amidst reflections on peace, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and writing? Because, as I've mentioned before, there are many kinds of peace, and many kinds of conflict. Christ came to set us free from it all. "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free" (Galatians 5:1). And I think, through this, I was trying to touch on the issue of pain . . . devastation . . . war . . . and the way our society hides from those things. From the reality of sweat and blood, behind the facade of perfection. I believe in beauty, but it is a very different type of beauty than the ideal my culture is trying to force down my throat. It is a beauty that comes through the ashes—the marks of living—rather than by denying them.

Bare—An Ode to Beauty Bald

I want to shave my head. It’s one of those crazy ideas that terrify my parents. They interpret it, I think, as a sign of my slowly dissolving faculties. The warping of my brain by too much study and feminist theology. After all, why would anyone want to destroy all sign of womanly beauty? The golden ringlets that grew into longer curls. Shear them off in humiliation and shame.

I try to explain. How a boy I liked, once told me that he liked my hair. Liked it down. Said it made me beautiful, those strands of tarnished gold. Strands that are not me.

And I rebel. I will not be my hair. I will reclaim my womanhood from a Bible that proclaims me, and my head, to be man’s glory.

I want to be known for the mind that lies beneath the hair. For the part of me that thinks and yearns and ponders. For the passion and the life, under the meaningless wisps that grow and die, without my consent or say-so. That require nothing of me. Reflect nothing on me.

I want to shave my head in honor of those who never had the choice. In solidarity with the broken. The women at Bergen-Belsen and Dachau. Auschwitz and Buchenwald. Those who survived, and those who didn’t. To honor a humanity that was not taken, cannot be taken, with our hair.

To celebrate survival. From cancer. Leukemia. Radiation and chemo. The women who wear headscarves, and wigs. Afraid to show the scars of battle. The sign of loss, and life. Proof that they’re still here.

I want to join the ranks of men like Yule Brynner and Michael Jordan. Of human beauty unadorned. Skin, and sweat, and age. Unafraid to expose the blue veins that pump life, blood and oxygen, through membrane and golden tissue. The sandpaper texture. The shape of their skulls.

I want to demonstrate a different kind of beauty. Sleek and sexy elegance that denies hairspray and color dyes, styling products and curling irons. Proclaim freedom from magazine images and picturesque perfection. From Barbie dolls and Disney princesses, long silken tendrils, hair to their knees. Coiffured and flowing expectations. Stop hiding beneath the mask of color.

I want to wear henna on my head. Make patterns of tribal beauty. Declare myself at home with earth and sky.

I want to stop running from the feel of my own skin. I want to be myself, free of pins and clips and rubber-bands. And I want to love it.

I want to inhale wind and rain through the pores on my skull. To taste life and pain. To deny the acceptability of pretence, to destroy the masquerade, the papier-mâchéd perfection. To mourn injustice with the women of Beowulf—heads bare, weeping to high heaven. Sackcloth and ashes, and shorn hair.

And most of all, I want to be a nun. Set apart for unreserved worship. To return to child-like innocence, and feel nothing between my head and God, but air and sunlight. To be uncovered before my maker, not in shame, but in the humility of a newborn, and beloved, child. To remember my humanity in the presence of a genderless God. A God who created my soul before she created my hair.

I want to feel my prayers rise out of the top of my skull. Float along air currents. Be breathed in by the Almighty (hairless) God.

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