Why I Don’t Look Like Other Girls- A Mixed Girl’s Journey to Discovering Her Beauty

In 7th grade, I found out I was African American.

To make it more clear: I grew up in a town where diversity was just a mere sprinkle on a cupcake, so when I came to middle school, there were plenty more sprinkles to cover that cupcake.  In elementary school, it rarely was addressed that my dad was African American because to the school board, they saw him as just another district dad.  We were just a family in our district that had two (visible) people of color.  In middle school, it was different. For example, one day in class, I remember an African American boy ask me if I was white or “black like my sister.”  It was then that I began to see that there wasn’t a stigma to being “half” until I was exposed  to my own culture.  In a way, I’m reminded of the stories in The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison based on the relationship toward beauty in a black or blacker world.

Discussing keywords such as African American, we talk about how it is and should be described (i.e. people of color versus colored people), but most rarely, we talk about how it defines us.

Monica Holland, junior dance major at the UW Madison, recently performed in a project called “Hair Stories: Exploring Identity Through Movement and Voice.”  The showcase was a means of demonstrating how our hair is deeply connected to how we view ourselves and how the world views us.  In the performance, Monica showed us what her hair meant for herself.  Through dance and spoken word, she addressed that she wanted to look like her other friends by straightening her naturally curly hair.  Yet, at the same time, she faced constant questions to wearing her hair natural.  Meanwhile, the other dancers acknowledged comments begging them never to cut their hair, and thus, realizing what those dead hair cells meant to their appearance.  In the dramatic finale, the star of the show partook in a live action haircut right on stage.

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Hair defines a girl in many ways, but it also defines a black girl in many ways too.  One time, I was at a store with my mom, and the salesman gave one look at my thick, curly and unruly hair and asked if I was black.  After this encounter, my mom told me that people can tell their own race through each other’s hair. As I began to notice and appreciate my hair more, details soon began to make more sense. Details like why  my grandma is no longer allowed to fix my hair with her ruthless “kink free” hair products; or why I am my hairdresser’s favorite client to wash and style hair.  But most importantly, it explained why my dad would get mad at my sister and I for constantly wanting to straighten our hair to look like our white friends.

With celebrities like Kerry Washington, Naomi Campbell, and more, I’ve noticed another African American feature, full lips.  Though my mom disagrees and says that my lips aren’t as prominent, I find myself watching them in mirrors, excessively.  To me, I’ve always found my lower lip as a little more fatter than my top.  I’ve tried sucking it in, but I soon realized I could not hold it in forever. Last year in my high school’s show choir, a girl (the one underclassmen who had no filter, conveniently) came up to me and told me that I had “big lips.”  Thus, the obsessing over my lips continued.

I still find it hard to find my race in the real world because it is often classified as either/or.  A popular example are the personal information boxes on forms that disallow me from choosing more than one race in the box labeled “check the race you identify with.” I’ve also learned I mostly had white friend groups, but if I were to have friend groups of another race then it would be exclusively just that race.  Even though I didn’t like being exclusive, I could never figure out how to combine both friend groups successfully.  I consider myself as being multicultural in that I love being both races equally, and I would appreciate if people were made aware of how non multicultural their actions-hierarchizing the “n” word in rap lyrics or other forms of “trying to act black”- truly are.

In regards to the multicultural versus racism argument, there is a theme of tolerance.  I find myself in a constant state of tolerance. Tolerance, in my self consciousness about my appearance or about how others view me, never goes away.  Yet, in a world that says “prove it” to other races, I still seek to find the beauty that a mixed girl like me deserves.

 

6 thoughts on “Why I Don’t Look Like Other Girls- A Mixed Girl’s Journey to Discovering Her Beauty”

  1. Thanks for sharing this! Sharing personal experiences is something that is very valuable. I find the topic of the hair very interesting. I agree that hair definitely says a lot about a person– it is their personality in a nutshell. However, it also can showcase their race, like you mentioned. However, I find it interesting how society looks down upon people who choose to change their natural hair to fit those of a difference race. Is it really that bad for an African American girl to relax her hair? On the same note, is it just as bad for a White girl to get cornrows? In society it seems that if someone gets a hairstyle that isn’t “native” to their culture, then either they’re “wannabes” or “appropriating” the other culture. This gives a lot of insight into how powerful hair can be and how much it says about a person.

    1. Hey Ali! I agree with what you’re saying of if it’s bad for a white girl to get cornrows and vice versa. Made me think of the recent “shocking” or “appalling” news of Justin Bieber getting dreadlocks. Thanks for the read and feedback!

  2. Taylor, thanks so much for sharing your personal experiences. My best friend is half white and half black and she frequently talks to me about the challenges that she faces as well. She has said that she doesn’t like when people try to force her into identifying as either black or white because she is both. Her dad who is African American doesn’t like it when she gets her hair treated to make it less curly and her mom who is white has always encouraged her to get treatments so her hair is more manageable. I always tell her that she should do whatever makes her fell the most confident and comfortable. I think when it comes to your hair, you should be able to express yourself in the way that it is colored or styled, despite your race.

  3. This was one of the most interesting posts I’ve read on here. I loved that you discussed experiences from your own life. This post reminds me a lot of the natural hair movement that is going on right now. Hair is a huge part of identity for everyone, but it takes on a whole new meaning for people of color when their hair may not fit the eurocentric beauty standards of today. I never really took the time to consider how this experience may be different for people of mixed races, and your post really brought that to light.

  4. I love that you brought up the intersection of literature, personal experience and dance. The discussion of all three is incredibly important in unveiling the multilayered social construct of race and identity. As females one of our visible displays of gender is our hair, the aspect of race adds to the societal idea of what “normal” and “beautiful” hair looks like. Thank you for sharing your story.

  5. Being Mexican and white, I found this post to be really interesting. Oftentimes I find myself feeling like I’m not quite enough of either culture or community and I wonder if other people feel the same way as I do. I also think your point about beauty and makeup trends was spot-on. Full lips with lipliner and other features typically associated with latinas seem to be becoming more mainstream and stars like Kylie Jenner almost appear to profit off them. It’s frustrating at times to think about that when many latinas used to be criticized for the same things.

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