Thursday, July 02, 2009

Beauty is not in the face; beauty is a light in the heart
Kahill Gibran

Today, I'm going to depart from my typical topics for reflection and hone in on something seemingly superficial... keeping in mind that things are not always what they seem.

When I entered religious life I knew that some of my assumptions, ways of living, and world-view would be challenged. I knew that my ideas about life would stretch and grow and be reshaped. What I didn't anticipate is a call to reflect on (of all things) my hair!

This will take some explanation...

For as far back as I can remember, the standard of beauty for women in my family was straight hair and fair skin. This is often the case for women of African descent in America. Many young black women are raised to believe that the straighter their hair and lighter their skin, the more beautiful they are. It's ingrained and is an undercurrent in many black communities.

Consequently, many (not all) black women spend 100s of dollars on chemical straighteners (relaxers) ... time avoiding the sun (which will cause them to tan)... and trying not to get their hair wet. I have always been one of these women. Since I was 10 or 12 years old I have gotten my hair relaxed every 4-6 weeks. Lately, it's been every 6 because the cost is exorbitant (relatively).

What I have started to question is... why? What's this craziness all about? AND... what does this mean in the context of the vows I professed (and renewed!)?

Why? I have always told myself that straightened hair is easier and more manageable. However, if I'm really honest with myself, that's not the reason. It's because of vanity... and because of the deep-seated notion that curly/kinky, uncontrolled hair is less desirable than the sleek, straight look.

So, what does this have to do with vows & religious life?
  • Let's take a look at the vow of poverty. On a practical level, the vow has to do with the proper use of resources - and deeper, it has to do with the proper relationship to resources. Is it desirable that I should use our resources every 6 weeks for this purpose? Could those resources be better used?
  • In relation to the vow of chastity... does vanity have any place here? True, I shouldn't go around looking like I don't take care of myself. However, at what point does it become self-serving vanity? Why should it be important to me what people think about something so unimportant as my hair?
  • Obedience to God's movement in my life/our lives... should I really be using our resources for this purpose? What is my obligation to the congregation?

And so... where does this leave me? I've decided to grow out my relaxer and "go natural." Now, this may seem like a no-brainer to some, but it's a lot more difficult than one might think. It requires that I change the way in which I view the world, myself, and what makes something/someone beautiful. It's not just physical, but psychological.

I've worn my curly/kinky/unruly hair around the house and out in public (heaven forbid!) for the past few days. Am I self-conscious? More than I can put into words! Do people look at me funny? It seems that way. And yet... there's a certain amount of freedom in letting go of a false concept of self. God has given me curly hair. It's about time I embrace it instead of denying it!

Many blessings to you all!
Sr. N



6 comments:

Rio Mari said...

I think the reality is that all women, and I am guessing all men, live with these vanities. I think the first step is seeing that they are vanities brought on by our cultural precepts. We are conditioned by our peers in so many ways and it takes great courage to break free of that conditioning. I know that I have a long way to go in breaking that bond. Thank you for showing me that others struggle with it too.

I guess what I am trying to say is, "Bravo"!

Susan Rose, CSJP said...

Great post about the realities of living this life. I've had to make some similar - although probably not as drastic - choices myself. Used to get my hair cut every 4 weeks by my hair dresser of 10+ years. I have complicated hair - lots and lots of baby fine hair. Tney never seem to know whether to treat it like thick hair or thin hair. During the novitaite I grew it out to avoid having to worry about it or get bad hair cuts. Luckily I've discovered the wonderful world of beauty school haircuts and am now able to a respectable shorter hair style that I can manage every 4 weeks or so without breaking the budget.

But you're right. It's about more than hair. It's about more than money. It's about shifting who we are from the cultural norm to women religious.

Pachyderm said...

Sr N

I love this reflection. And it's not "trivial" either. I've had a similar experience recently with the decision to cover my hair - not required by my Order, but as a personal response to God. Going out in public, especially to work (I work as a health and safety consultant and trainer) was terrifying, but it was something I had to do.

Thanks for helping me by putting into words something of what I was feeling!

Pax
Robyn tssf

Maria said...

Nicole, I'm proud of you! And trust me, your inner beauty is always so dominant that I believe it's going to be enhanced even more now!

Sr.Nicole Trahan said...

Thank you all for comments and support! I've appreciated reading your kind words... The transition is still in process - as the relaxer grows out, but I'm feeling a little more free each day.

I hope you're well!

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