Beauty is not in the face; beauty is a light in the heart
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!