By Nakeisha Campbell
I like to think of my thick hair, my dark skin and my extensive collection of sundresses as physical extensions of me. Of course, I’m not defined by one thing completely. I am not defined by the dark hair extensions that swing down the middle of my back. And I am not defined by my dark skin that is peppered with old mosquito bites and tiny scars. But, collectively, they still shape who I am and how I want to be seen. All of these things are not just physical attributes. But rather, they are like the pieces that make up the puzzle of me.
These thoughts occurred to me while I listened to India.Arie’s “I Am Not My Hair” the other day.
I sang along with her:
“Does the way I wear my hair make me a better person?
Does the way I wear my hair make me a better friend?
Does the way I wear my hair determine my integrity?
I am expressing my creativity!”
…I am expressing my creativity. That’s when it suddenly hit me.
I began to view the song in a completely different light, because all along, I was under the impression that what I did with my hair was completely irrelevant. We are much more than the texture, the color and the style of our hair. And of course, we are much more than our complexion, our style and our other physical attributes, because it’s what’s on the inside that counts. “I am a soul that lives within…”
I couldn’t agree more. But here’s the part that I missed: Although our physical appearance holds very little value compared to our personality, how we choose to present ourselves is an extension of who we truly are. They are parts of us that we can garnish, nurture, embrace or change. What we decide to do with these characteristics will speak volumes about our originality.
So of course, no one person is defined solely by their unruly curls of hair, their pale skin or their numerous piercings. It’s still a part of who they are, and it does reflect their personality. But unfortunately, the majority has this nasty way of reducing people into a single characteristic and mislabeling them.
The main problem is that we’ve grown up in a world where we are pressured to accept social constructs of beauty. Apparently, not all physical features or attributes are unique qualities that make us beautiful; but rather, certain attributes are categorized “good” and “bad.” In fact, I’ve seen it everywhere since childhood. Years of television, overheard salon discussions, glossy magazine covers and billboard ads taught me that straight hair meant “good hair,” that light skin meant you were “beautiful” and that a slender body made you “attractive.” I internalized these ideas of what beauty truly meant and it had quite an impact on how I saw myself. At one point, I even begged my mom to get my hair straightened because I wanted to look like the girls I saw on TV and in magazines. I too wanted to become pretty and light-skinned with stick-straight hair and a skinny body, because I was actually convinced that looking this way would make me popular and successful.
But see, little did I know just how powerful the media was. While I was always fascinated by the by the way it can influence and shape people’s thoughts, I realized how it led me to equate certain physical characteristics to success. I realized that the media was teaching me to value physical appearance above things like intelligence and character. And to this day, so many films, shows and sitcoms continue to subtly ingrain the same idea in its viewers.
It was mainly because of this that I immediately took the message of India.Arie’s song to the extreme and believed that physical appearance shouldn’t really matter at all. But furthermore, I get the feeling that it’s part of the reason why so many of us tend to get defensive about our hair, our style, our size, our height or the color of our skin.
It is beyond frustrating when people try to judge and define us through a single attribute. But while it’s true that we are not defined by any single characteristic, all of our features still contribute greatly to who we really are. Of course, it’s wiser to put more effort into your character than the shape of your body or the smoothness of your hair. But, our physical characteristics are the things that set us apart on the surface. We are not just human mannequins with souls. And the beauty of it is that we are free to express ourselves in any way we see fit. How we use our attributes to express ourselves can tell strangers a story about who we really are, because it’s like we’re showing the world a piece of our souls. Just by wearing those cut-off jeans, that special lavender sweater, or maybe by wearing your hair in a messy up-do, you’re making a statement about who you are.
How we choose to present ourselves frames who we are.
So while I understand that personality is much more important than physical appearance, it’s no excuse to completely disregard what is on the outside. And, while it’s great to embrace the beauty of your physical appearance, it’s no excuse to obsess over looking “perfect.” The key here is that every single characteristic, no matter how small, is a part of who you are. Absolutely NO size, hairstyle, skin color, tattoo design, piercing or outfit will make you any less of a human being.
About Nakeisha Campbell
She’s an ambitious 20-something-year-old who has a dangerous obsession with chocolate and young adult novels. After graduating from Baruch College with a degree in Journalism, she started her own blog for book reviews and show recaps, which she really enjoys. Other than sticking her nose in a book and typing away at her laptop, Nakeisha also enjoys baking, coffee, and long walks to the bookstore. If you visit your local Barnes & Noble, you just might find her sitting at the reading area with her face hidden behind a novel.