You sho is ugly

As some of you may have deduced by the title, I began my summer reading with The Color Purple. It is the only novel on my list of “I’ve seen the movie, but”…which, as a literary person, is something I just can’t live with. Anyway, the novel got me thinking.

Without giving away the plot, the premise behind the title is the idea that we (I’m pretty sure the novelist means we as in blacks, but I’d argue that we could be universal) have been conditioned to look at the world a certain way, and as a result we are blind to so many things. It’s probably a combination of grad school, reading, and blogs. But for whatever reason, I’ve been thinking about this more and more.

In doing so, I have had to admit some hard things to myself. Most importantly, I’ve to come to grips with the fact that although I am able to see things from every different perspective, I can’t get rid of that other set of eyes. That is a cryptic way of saying that I’m not as confident as I look on the outside. In fact, I fear that I may be putting too much effort into looking the part than actually playing it.

For instance, two years ago, after my college graduation, I decided that I wanted to “go natural” as they say. So, I cut all of my hair off, 12 inches to be exact. And what I have now that it has grown out is a huge curly afro, that I really love. Lately, I have been feeling anxious about it, though. I worry that people will be put off by it. I fear that it won’t look professional enough. And I really hate the fact that I feel that way, because deep down I love my hair. Unfortunately, I can erase those European standards of beauty that have been embedded in my brain. And I think that my biggest fear is that I will never fully appreciate those things that make me who I am.

I go through the same things with my body. In my experience, my journey to self acceptance has been a lot easier than most. But somewhere along the way I forgot that self acceptance is a journey and not an epiphany. I thought that the moment I realized that standards of beauty are terribly one dimensional, and that the female body in all its shapes and sizes and colors is a beautiful thing that I had reached the end of the road. But sometimes, I do feel self conscious about things. And this frustrates me. I just can’t understand why with all this knowledge, I am still affected by these things. I let myself believe this for a long time. But that’s not where I am now.

I started my current grad program in gender and cultural studies because I believe in the interconnectedness of life. By that I mean that women everywhere are connected in that we have been swallowed by a very euro-centric male defined culture. So, my research is a part of me trying to climb out of a lifetime of socialization and replace it with the real and more complex version of myself. I have realized, in my thinking, however, that as long as I pretend like that other set of eyes isn’t still there, I will never be able to move forward.

And so, I suppose I felt very connected to Celie, while reading the novel. It is, after all, about her own journey to self acceptance, which started by coming to terms with her past and accepting that as a part of her future. She never forgot what had happened to her, but at the same time she began to use her new way of looking at life. It’s funny how literature can speak to you that way.


9 Responses to “You sho is ugly”

  1. 1 DivaJean
    July 7, 2008 at 2:30 pm

    Wasn’t it Margaret Cho who was recently (past few months) asked how she would feel if she woke up beautiful, skinny and blonde? She did an amazing job at relating how narrow a view of “beauty” the interviewer must have- and how sadly limiting that must be for them.

    You are right up there with her in my eyes! Brava for you! (thus spake the big, fat, luscious 42 yr old– who is not afraid to let her go salt and pepper, swim im public, and eat whatever the heck she feels).

  2. July 7, 2008 at 2:33 pm

    Wait, wait, wait. This is the first time you’ve read The Color Purple? Wow. See, I did it the other way around: I saw the movie after I read the book, and I’m all, this movie is funny. The book? Ain’t so funny. But I digress.

    I think that oftentimes people appear more confident than they really are. Sometimes it’s just a front, but other times it’s worth it to try and put that air of confidence out there, because the more you try to portray it, the easier it becomes to believe it, I think. The key, though, is addressing that other set of eyes, and then send them on their way. It’s a daily struggle, fighting against what one has been conditioned to believe. But true strength lies in knowing that one can win the battle.

    And on an unrelated note, your ‘fro rawks. Just sayin’.

  3. July 7, 2008 at 2:37 pm

    I love The Color Purple. I haven’t read it in a while; perhaps I should dig up my copy at some point.

  4. 4 intellectualfeminist
    July 7, 2008 at 2:41 pm

    Fashionablenerd, you are so right. The movie is something else and I find that now that I have read the book I don’t like the movie as much. I’ve been pulling the hair back and hiding the fro regularly for about two weeks now. Today, I let it fly. And I intend to do the same when I start my new job in two weeks.

    DiveJean, I love Margaret Cho, and the fact that you placed me somewhere in the same paragraph as her…I am not worthy. When I’m 42, I hope to be where you are. And I for one can’t wait to go salt and pepper. After all, hair is so important to my personal journey and that will be something new and different for me!

  5. 5 nuckingfutz
    July 7, 2008 at 3:09 pm

    Okay… loved the movie, never read the book, so I can’t say I know exactly what you’re talking about.

    However, I have to say that sometimes, people appear more confident than they are by accident. I know I’ve done that. People would be flabbergasted when they found out what I really thought of myself, because I came across as being so much more confident than I really was. But it wasn’t something I did on purpose, it was just… me.

  6. 6 Halle
    July 7, 2008 at 3:19 pm

    Don’t blame you one bit if you think I shouldn’t have an opinion about it. But I love to see natural hair and I’m proud of you. I have spiderweb thin red blond hair, which I have grown out very long. It is thinning now. I am still growing it out. Every day I wear it up in a bun, Most of the time, the very same bun. I don’t wear it down often at all — but ya kno, it is my hair — and I want to grow it out until my hair thins so much I am bald. Will I be able to be proud with my bald? I don’t know. I am beset by some of the same beauty pressure you are. Even now, me with my bun, I get well-intentioned comments “You’d look so much better if you just got that trimmed” or “I thin a chin length cut would look great on you and it would take so much less work.” And I never grew it out completely before because I cringed to think what other people thought of my long — non beautician styled hair. I got really freaked out by the thinning. Really terribly shook, but then I thought, ok that is real, This is really me. I worry about what people think of my wide part, but ultimately only I have to live with my head and my hair. I hope you can find a way around cultural expectations. It always makes me happy when I see a girl with a fro.

  7. July 7, 2008 at 3:31 pm

    I read “The Color Purple” just last winter, and I loved it. (I definitely think that even if the author intended the book for blacks, there are universal themes everyone can take away from it). I remember how cool it was to see Celie gain confidence, even after the struggles she endured. I particularly liked seeing how she built relationships with other women, like Shrug–showed how friendship creates a foundation of security, love, and confidence for women. While the book was sad at times, it was inspiring in so many ways.

    I totally understand what you’re saying about reaching that point where you recognized women of all different shades, shapes, and sizes are beautiful, but still ended up feeling frustrated by continuing feelings of insecurity. I know I’ve felt that way at times, and I think it’s a universal feeling for women. Still, I hope you wear your fro with confidence and pride. Your hair is just as beautiful as a straightened blonde’s. 😀

  8. 8 Piffle
    July 7, 2008 at 10:50 pm

    I think it’s also important to remember that to some extent, we all want what we don’t have. My hair is very straight, and I was always jealous of my brother’s curls. I also think afros are great, I always have an inner impulse to pat them and see if they’re as cotton-candy soft as they look. I don’t *do* it, that would be rude.

    I think it would be glorious to get some lightweight bird pins, and place them around in the hair, to look like they were flying through a cloud.

  9. 9 Sarah
    July 8, 2008 at 8:31 am

    I always loved how afros looked. I recently cut all of my hair off to my jaw line. I’ve always had really long hair. On average down to my thighs. It really upset my Mom (I’m 30) when I did it. My famliy is Cherokee and it’s the norm for men and women to have super long hair. At times like you I get nervous about it but it looks good on me and I really like it. I think no matter how confindent a person is they still have moments of self-doubt.

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