Change, Decision-Making, and the Sense of Loss

As with any significant change in life, you reflect on what happened immediately before and immediately after the transition-sometimes just to gauge whether or not the changes you made were for your own personal benefit, to benefit others, a total error in judgment, or the best decision you could have made given the facts or knowledge you had at the time.

In my school leadership training, one of the most impactful realities for me is the true sense of loss that you or others may feel when faced with change. For educators, being good often is just good enough, and the time, commitment, and energy it takes to be great (which, ultimately, makes children great) is rationalized as “above the pay grade,” “too much work,” “too difficult given the population, parent engagement, historic performance levels, test scores, etc.”

Still, I think about the new teacher in me, that 1998 teacher, that 2002 teacher who struggled with understanding how changing my thinking, just the slightest bit, to do my part, was merely a piece of a much larger part to positively impact student achievement. Internalizing how big the problem is negates your ability to do your part. Reflecting on how many children are behind grade level negates your ability to do your part. Bitching and moaning about overpaid administrators, low teacher pay, and apathetic Central Office Staff negates your ability to do your part. Challenging an innovative practice in favor of nurturing an ineffective one negates your ability to do your part. Change is, in large part, about the decision-making process, and where there is the least bit of indecision, your ability to do your part will be impeded.

But, what does all of that have to do with hair, Andi? Speaking of change…

Motivated by the fitness results of a good friend and colleague, in late-Spring 2013, I joined an outside, Marine Corps-style fitness program called USMC Fitness Boot Camp (www.usmcfitnessbootcamp.com) run by commanding officer and founder, Sgt. Tony Ludlow. By the time school ended in late May, I was over the initial soreness and exhaustion one feels when you finally start “taking care of” your body. For all of June and most of July 2013, I was determined to jumpstart my weight loss goals and work hard, on most days twice a day for an hour each, sweating, running, lifting weights, along with cardio/fat-burning exercises under the watchful, comedic eye of Sgt. Ludlow. All was well until I noticed the condition of my relaxed hair. I remember feeling a great deal of resentment about my normal routine of going to the beauty shop weekly or bi-weekly. Since I was too tired to style my hair, only to go right back out into the Memphis heat, sweat profusely, and destroy any semblance of a “style,” I needed a Plan B. More important, it was a huge waste of money to even visit a salon for professional hair care, so I got the bright idea to “go natural.”

“Going natural” did not have any significance attached to it other than making my life easier so that I could do what I wanted to do over my summer vacation-work out and take better care of my health. My relaxed hair was an impediment; it was in the way. So, I cut it off. Just that simple. I didn’t discuss it with anyone, and I cut it myself. It was imperfect, and I was not trying to make a fashion or political statement…I just wanted to work out everyday and rest my body when I wasn’t working out. I never went to a professional stylist or barber; my mom clipped away  any “loose ends,” and I tried to make the most of it for about eight weeks.

In my very first post, I briefly discuss that my husband is not a fan of short hair, so as soon as his criticism of the “look” became uncomfortable for me, I succumbed to the pressure and went back to a relaxed, short cut. Luckily, school was about to start again so my exercise activity would lessen. I did not mourn the loss of my natural ‘do. In fact, I was a bit relieved. “Going natural” is more work than people think. I would even venture to say, reflecting on my two most recent experiences with natural hair, having relaxed hair makes you lazy about hair care, in general. I never cared as much for my relaxed hair as evidenced by the ways I now love on my natural hair. That’s the cold, hard truth.

Here I am arriving to a morning Boot Camp session, June 2013:

And again…sometime Summer 2013. My hair was pretty much one length all over, and at that point, it had not been permanently color-treated since the late 90’s. From time to time, when I my hair was newly relaxed, I would add a semi-permanent dark rinse to infuse rich, shiny color. 

That encounter with my natural hair at 45 years of age was short-lived because I lacked the motivation to continue to care for my hair in its natural state. I was looking for support in order to maintain the look, the state of being, and when it was lacking, I folded.

My mother has worn her natural hair for several years now. Yes, I look very much like my mother in this picture of her:

She, like my cousin Len, isn’t shy about wearing a wig every now and then. Here she is on my Wedding Day wearing a salt and pepper number:

While I’m sharing the maternal side, here’s a peek at my father:

With a finer textured hair, my father was fresh from the barber shop in the picture above, but in the one below, his hair is a bit longer:

But, again, what does all of that have to do with hair, Andi? 

To me, there is a certain authenticity in making the decision, finalizing the decision to wear your hair in its natural state. The authenticity I craved was somehow connected to my entire being…hair was just a part of it. I wasn’t ready to be authentic, nor vulnerable enough to let others see my natural hair in 2013. I didn’t want to answer questions. I didn’t want to deal with the loss of relaxed control. I didn’t want to deal with styling trials and tribulations. I didn’t want to think too hard about what it really meant to wear my hair natural.

I’m so over that.

You Would Be…If Only…

How many of us have heard the accusatory words, “You would be…if only…”? The words imply not only that you’ve done something wrong or that you’re not quite good enough, but that the person stating their opinion knows exactly what would cure your deficit and make you more acceptable in their sight. Even if stated in a loving manner, these words, more often than not, hurt us.

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So many times, I have reflected on myself, my friends, my family and the countless conversations about what each of us would change about ourselves, if we could. Some of the changes are purely physical-my spider veins, his skinny legs, her love handles. Or the conversation might center on emotional strength-my weaning patience, his lack of commitment, her intolerance for diversity. Perhaps the issue is deeper-Am I enough? Is he stronger than he thinks? Is she capable of moving in the right direction? All point us to a place of questioning ourselves, our intentions, our efficacy, and our innate ability to make smart choices. What makes the situation sticky? It is our insistence that the opinions of others really don’t matter to us. But should they?

Courtesy of Inspirations.allwomenstalk.com
Many of us have suffered in familial relationships where we have felt the discouraging sting of not being accepted fully because of how we act or look on any given day. Experimentation or just “being ourselves” is often discouraged, and we are reminded that how we look and act represents “the family,” “your people,” or “the legacy.” I’m not a parent, but I can imagine the agony any parent might associate with the actions or activities of their offspring which may cast a disparaging light on the family. As an educator, I’ve often attended parent-teacher-student conferences and heard the very words, “We didn’t raise you like that.” The admonishment is just as embarrassing to hear as it is to make; the implication is that you would be pleasing to me if only you did what I raised you to do which is always the “right” thing.

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In romantic relationships, control often is exercised by one partner or the other when stating those disapproving words, “You would be…if only…”. While we know that we teach others how to treat us, if someone you love disapproves of you, it is not only hurtful, but unsettling to your sense of well-being. Unfortunately, insecurities may settle in and become the basis of our future dealings, which may, in fact, cause irreparable harm if the relationship is new, developing, or uncertain. Sometimes, the actual words may not be spoken, but a disapproving glance, the silence associated with an anticipatory acceptance, or the communication of distaste to others builds resentment and detachment in romantic relationships.

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In friendships, we say that we want transparency and honesty; however, when we hear those words, “You would be…if only…,” we feel judged. Unconditional acceptance, while it is desired, is not truly expected from our friends. We hope that verbal criticism is constructive, in our best interest, and extended in love. What happens when it’s not? What happens if your friend criticizes the fit of your new dress, and you disagree with her assessment? What if the issue is semi-permanent, like your new platinum blond hair against your cocoa brown skin? The criticism takes on a whole other feel. Not only is your new hair color an issue, the skin you’ve always been in is now an issue. Or is it still really about the hair? Can you truly be a friend if you withhold judgement when your friend is traveling a slippery fashion slope? Can the friendship survive a dose of honesty that is based on an opinion?

Truly loving yourself comes from being self-aware and forgiving of your flaws. It means that larger than average nose you inherited from your dad’s side is loved. It means those curvy hips and thighs you got from your momma are cherished. It means those teeny tiny boobs you were born with are yours to adore. It means that propensity you have to use strong expletives to signal disapproval is managed. Can you be proactive and physically modify that less than perfect nose, those challenging hips and thighs, the small breasts, your fussing and cussing side? Sure! When you encounter another, who attempts to place a value on your connectedness based on how you act or look, you may re-examine your flaws. This re-examination can be healthy, particularly if the flaw causes dissension or a disagreeable nature that prevents others from connecting with you. Sometimes change is what we need.

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Now that I have made the best hair resolution for me, which just so happens to be the decision to never again chemically alter my natural hair, I needed to get through a period of uncomfortableness with what my hair represented, not just to me but to those I choose to love. Every day, I grow more certain that I could be anyone except me if I don’t learn how to balance my perceptions. Before I big-chopped, I had all of the lengthy conversations in my mind about the image of me. Although I’m just six months into my journey, I’m still amazed when my friends or family ask me about coloring my hair, cutting my hair, or “styling” my hair. Yes, I’m always pleasantly surprised when anyone says, “I love your hair, Andi!” I’m even more thrilled to hear, “I love that YOU love your hair, Andi!” And even if those words are never uttered by those I love, deep down inside, I continue to expect the freedom from judgement…I expect the “You would be…if only…” thoughts to remain somewhere dangling in their own head, and more appropriately, on their own hair.

 

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Me, Loving The Skin and The Hair I’m In

The Big Reveal: January 2016

New Year! New Attitude! New ME! I spent the last 15 days or so of 2015 getting used to my new hair and introducing my new look to my family and my close friends. Now, I would take my “show on the road” by returning to work after the holiday and returning to social media after a ten week hiatus.

This is the first picture I posted on FaceBook after my hiatus-January 2016:

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My new look was well received by my students and colleagues, as well as by my friends and family on social media…there was, of course, that other acceptance, my husband, Frank. His acceptance of my hair deserves a separate post, so I will return to Frank’s love (or lack thereof) of my hair much later on during this journey. My hair journey is just that-about me and no one else.

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Over the next few weeks, I became more intimate with my growing TWA, and I was excited about the health of my hair-I wore those wiry graying temples like a badge of courage! My hair seemed to get thicker by the day!

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Hair 4

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Overwhelming, the response to my Big Reveal was positive. There is always the occasional, “Your hair looks good on you! It wouldn’t look good on me.” “Why did you cut your beautiful hair?” “What happened to your hair?” “What did you do to your hair?” “Are you going to color your hair?” And of course, my favorite, “What does Frank think about your hair?”