Tuesday, June 17, 2014

My 2 Year Natural Anniversary or: Why I Don't Care About Long Hair Anymore

I'm pretty good at setting non-weight loss related goals and sticking to them. Really, I am. So this past New Year's I was sure I was going to stick to my resolution of not cutting my hair. It's not that hard to not cut your hair right? And at the end of the year, I would be 2 1/2 years natural. My curls would be long like the light brown ladies you see in tv commercials (you know, that one light brown ethnically ambiguous girl smiling with a group of white friends).

Now, I had never wanted long hair before. All my life I had never made it past shoulder level. So why was I trying to grow it out now? Because my big chop freaked me the fuck out.
Why was I freaked out? A couple of reasons:
1) I had just randomly hacked at my hair with scissors (as is VERY obvious with the above picture) a la a mental patient in the movies right before they ship her off or Felicity as she was claiming her adulthood. It wasn't exactly flattering.
2) People would notice how fat I am without all that hair to distract them.
3) Everyone was staring at my face.

I was not expecting this freakout. I'm a feminist. I encourage other women to to cut their hair with wild abandon. I am smart enough to know that when I cut my hair people wouldn't suddenly go "hey, did you know Ijeoma's kinda fat?" And also, people realizing I'm fat really is not the worst thing in the world. 

This was a great opportunity to challenge these internalized patriarchal assumptions about what is valued in a woman in society.

Did I rise to the challenge?


I hid my hair in many sometimes ridiculous ways.

Giant head full of flowers, various wigs, multi-colored braids - I was in a very creative phase. Now, not all of this was to hide my hair, some of this was to put it away for a few months for it to grow faster. But it was all very confusing to my younger son as to how my hair was changing lengths and colors so rapidly.

When I did wear my hair out I was constantly fiddling with it. I had watched EVERY YouTube video about natural hair I could find. I tried every style I could find with the care of someone diffusing a bomb, because Natural Hair Gurus make your hair seem like it will literally crumble in your hands if you use a comb to detangle instead of your fingers.

Some of these styles looked great! Some of them didn't. But as time passed and my hair got longer and longer, I was having less and less fun. I realized that in the last year and a half that I'd been natural, I had lost the reason why I had gone natural.

I went natural to see what MY HAIR looked like. To enjoy what was coming out of my head. But what I was doing was twisting and retwisting, braiding and hiding under wigs. I was spending 3 hours setting my hair at night. How exactly was this natural?

And then I started seeing people with short natural hair - little curls springing out of their head looking great. They were enjoying the discovery of their hair.

So one day, after a disastrous flat iron attempt, I walked into a salon and said
"Cut it. I don't care. CUT IT."
I wanted it off my neck. I wanted it to flatter my face. I wanted it to just look cool because it was. I didn't want to fuck with it anymore.

And cut it they did.
For the first time, I was wearing my natural curl pattern. Styling was cut down to 30 minutes every 4 days. I was hooked. I had them cut more and add some highlights.
I'm crazy in love with my hair right now; with my hair as it grows out of my head. I'm fascinated by it, staring at how my curls change as it grows. I think I'll wear this for some time and then I will big chop again, because I really do feel sad that I missed out on enjoying the shorter stages. But for my next big chop, I'm going to do it better. 

Ijeoma's Tips for a Great Big Chop and Beyond:
1) Have a stylist do your big chop and try to transition long enough for them to be able to give you a shape that flatters your face and matches your style (if that sort of thing matters to you. If it doesn't, more power to you lady - you rock it however you want).
2) Simplify your products. If you find that you are having to layer 10 products on your hair - that means your products aren't working and you are wasting money. I currently style with a leave in, a styling foam, a little curl cream for my 4b strands near my nape and temples, and almond oil.  I have to buy new products about every 3 months or so. Natural hair maintenance is cheap y'all. 
3) Your scalp rules all. I was terrified to wash my hair more than every two weeks when I first went natural because so many gurus acted like shampoo was literally acid. But my scalp was NOT happy. And if your scalp isn't happy, your hair won't be either. And itching at your scalp like a crackhead from a Dave Chappelle skit is not attractive. I find that alternating a cowash and a shampoo every 4 -5 days or so works best for me. I also learned that my hair doesn't like they mystical magical shea butter. In fact, my scalp pretty much likes to be naked. I do my best to keep product off of it.
4) Your hair is still hair. It didn't become magical and fragile gossamer strands of silk and gold. It's fucking hair. You can comb it if you want. You can grease it if you want. It's hair. Hair should not take 20 hours of styling every week. You should not have to read the labels of your shampoo bottles like someone on Weight Watchers trying to calculate the points values for a box of cookies. The shit that would destroy your permed hair (overdying, burning the shit out of it with a flat iron every day, washing it with Drano) will destroy your natural hair. Stop freaking out about your hair. I'm pretty sure we all have real problems that aren't folically related that we could be putting that energy to.
5) Stick to simple styles most days. My current (and likely forever) style of choice is a very simple wash & go (and I do understand that with 4a hair it is easier for me to do this than many people with 4b or 4c hair). I used to live for twist outs, but the constant manipulation was taking so much of my time, and it was KILLING my ends. That brings me to the next item:
6) Get regular trims. Even if you are growing out your hair, get trims. If your ends are starting to get thin, trim it. If your ends are really fuzzy, trim it. If your ends feel dry, trim it. I personally find that my hair looks AMAZING when I trim it every 4-6 months. Your hair will style better, it will tangle less, it will look healthier, you will enjoy it more - which brings us to the last item:
7) Enjoy every stage of your hair. There is no awkward length. If you are at an "awkward" length, that just means you need a more flattering cut. Really, what does "awkward length" even mean? Is it a stage where your hair doesn't know how to make conversation at parties? Does it suddenly get acne and braces? It's like this supposed purgatory between short and long hair where you haven't earned the right to hair pride. This is like those women who refuse to buy nice clothes until they lose weight. MY FAT ASS DESERVES FASHION, and your hair deserves to be enjoyed at every length.

Actually, that reminds me:
8) Length checks are bullshit. Really, who the fuck MEASURES THEIR HAIR? Good lord, can we just let one part of ourselves just be without rating, measuring or weighing it? It's hair. It will grow. The time will pass. It doesn't matter if it grew 1/4 inch last month vs 1/2 inch last month. STOP MEASURING YOUR HAIR FOR GOD'S SAKE.

So that's it. This is my slightly overdue, very overlong, 2 year natural anniversary post. To all of you in some stage of a natural hair experience, enjoy it.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Checking up on Goals

Hi friends!

As you may remember, at the beginning of the year I decided to join in on the whole "New Year's Resolution" party. Well we are 1/3 of the way through the year and I suppose it's time to check in.

So how are we doing? Is my life crazy brand-new? Is it the exact same and maybe I'm wearing the same pajamas that I was when I wrote out my resolutions? Let's see!

Goal 1: Buy a House

Wow - I put the big one first, didn't I? After years of debt and laughable credit, I finally felt like maybe this year I could achieve my grownup dream of buying my very own house. So where am I?

You guys, it looks like I might actually do this one.


So, I got my pre-approval, I will likely have my down-payment (from the job I quit - I'll talk about this later) in a few weeks. I have an accepted offer and the house has passed inspection. If all goes according to plan this little fixer will be mine.

If it does work out, prepare for this blog to suddenly become Ijeoma's Blog of Talking About Her House All The Time. Also, you can all come over for dinner (before everything is covered in laundry like current domicile). If things don't work out, well that will be sad and awkward. I'll keep you posted.

Goal 2: Resist the Urge to Cut off all my Hair

I had to cut it. I just couldn't handle it anymore. I don't want long hair. I have wigs for that. I DO WHAT I WANT. Also, purple lipgloss is my new slow jam now.

Goal 3: I'm not the Person who Sleeps with Fucked Up People Anymore

My goal of dating people I like, sleeping with people I'm attracted to. All those things normal people do. Let me tell you, this one is a lot tougher than I thought it would be. Do you know what I'm really bad at? Grownup relationships, talking about feelings, daring to make plans more than two weeks in advance. I'm kind of a mess at it, a neurotic mess who constantly wants to yell "fuck it!" the moment I'm stressed. But I think I'm doing it, I'm doing okay? Right now it's worth it.

Goal 4: Change my Name

Ugh, this should be the easiest goal on here but THE DMV IS THE WORST. Like, part of my brain knows that an hour or two at the DMV is less worse than walking around with the last name Jacobson instead of the way awesomer Oluo forever, but is it really?

So this is where I am now. I'll keep you posted on everything as it progresses...you know, eventually.

Friday, February 28, 2014

When I Started Really Talking About Sexual Assault

I used to be like those girls in the movies. Slightly scared, physically distant, a little sad. I was a girl with a secret. And if I met someone, and I trusted them more than anybody in the world, then I would confide my deep dark secret: I was a victim of sexual abuse and assault. My confidant and I would cry together in the moment, knowing that we were never to talk about it again.

I didn't talk about these experiences because if I did, it meant I was a VICTIM. You showed you were okay, you were strong, by never ever talking about these things. Women who talked about their sexual abuse were whiners, in need of attention, stuck in the past.

When the uncle who had sexually abused me as a child was released from prison (for his second rape conviction, unrelated to my abuse), I didn't say anything, because I was okay. Everything was cool, I was an adult now. We were all happy to have my uncle back and hoped he would stay clean. But I started isolating myself. I stopped taking out the trash or doing laundry and my home became a fortress of junk that I would hide inside. I would sit in bed eating boxes of mint oreos all day long. I gained 20 pounds the first month.

I couldn't say that I didn't want him at my birthday party. I had no choice but to sit across from him at family gatherings. I brought him Christmas presents and left early. Rather than say, "I don't want this person in my world" I removed myself. Because the only other option was to yell "child molester!" at the dinner table. The only other option led to my grandma crying, my mom knowing that she failed to protect me, and my uncle being cut out of the family.

The fact that I was willing to keep such a dark secret was obvious to predators. I was an easier target, someone who hadn't said anything in the past and wouldn't say anything in the future. This cycle repeated itself with my mom's boyfriends, and later with my own boyfriends.

I eventually solved the boyfriend problem by only dating guys so obviously unsuitable that I'd never dream in confiding in them. Men that I could keep at a cold difference and then toss away when I started to feel exposed. But a few years ago I found myself crying over a pretty long relationship with a guy that I hadn't even liked. I didn't like talking to him, I didn't like sleeping with him, I didn't like his face. And when it was over, I was crying because that was the closest to intimacy I had gotten in years.

I realized, finally, that I was doing things that didn't make sense to me. I realized that I wasn't in control. And I started talking.

When I started talking about sexual abuse I was very scared. I was breaking the illusion of cold, detached, self-controlled grownup lady that I had worked so hard to cultivate. I started with my closest friends, just putting it into convos about childhood where it felt the most appropriate. I was prepared for drama. I was prepared for uncomfortable silence. But the reaction I got completely stunned me. This is the reaction I got from most people:

"Yeah, I kinda figured something like that had happened to you. Something like that happened to me"

That was it. Conversation over. Big secret wasn't that big of a secret. Nobody cried. Nobody looked at me differently. I was able to breathe a little easier.

I was able to realize that I really am okay, but it doesn't mean I'm unaffected.  I like to think of it as like a bad car accident in which my arm was injured. I have a scar. My arm moves different. I can walk around pretending that the accident never happened. Everyone trying not to look at the scar. Thinking that there must be something wrong with my brain that prevents me from lifting heavy objects. Or I can say, "I was in this accident. This is my arm now. It's part of me, but it isn't who I am. I need to find a new way to lift this load."

When I was able to talk to other people about what happened to me, I was able to say that I don't want my uncle around. Just like that. I could just say it. It didn't have to be a big production. Nobody had to pick sides. I was able to say, "I don't feel safe when he's around and I have a right to feel safe. Please don't bring him around me and don't talk about him." If people didn't respect that I was able to remove myself from the situation without a moment of guilt. Because once I was able to admit to myself how much it affected me, I was able to see how perfectly fine it was for me to not want to be around him.

I was also able to recognize the ways in which it has affected my personal relationships. I can see when I'm surrounding myself with spectacularly broken people and I can stop and say, "I'm protecting myself right now. What am I protecting myself from?" Sometimes I realize the threat isn't real and I don't need to protect myself. Other times I decide that even though the threat isn't real, I really don't feel like summoning the strength to change my behavior. But regardless of what I decide, I know that it's a choice I'm making. I can't describe how much better that feels than floating around as someone who mysteriously finds herself in the worst possible relationships.

I have been surprised by all the little benefits that I've received from this new openness.

  • I'm a hugger now. I never was. I'm able to better recognize platonic affection and now I'm all about hugs. 
  • I'm asking for things I want. I'm a little less preoccupied with keeping what I have safe. I'm now slowly asking for more from my relationships. This is still a real struggle for me, but I'm getting better.
  • I don't have sex with people I don't want to have sex with anymore. Sex is mine now. 
  • My oldest son is in puberty right now, and I'm realizing that even though he's becoming a grown man, he's not a threat. I've raised a good son and he's going to be a good adult. 
  • Now that I'm better aware of my boundaries and what I need to do to feel safe, I'm travelling more. 

I'm sharing this all with you because one of the things that has become obvious to me as I've become more open with my experiences with sexual assault is how very common it is. I'd estimate that at least 75% of my female friends have experienced sexual abuse or assault in their lives - and we aren't talking about it. Now that I'm honest with myself I can see it in my friends. When I see a friend struggling, trying to put into words why she is acting the way that she is, I offer up "well, this is what I do when I don't feel safe, and this is why." and their story pours out of them. The relief to just be able to say, "Ok, what I'm doing is making sense now that I can see the whole picture. I'm not alone. I'm not crazy." is palpable. My friends have been able to help me as well. They've been able to see when I'm reacting to past hurts and not the present situation and they've brought that to my attention. They've been able to kindly let me know when it seems like I really am not handling things well myself and need some extra help.

You aren't alone. You aren't crazy. You aren't defective. You have nothing to be ashamed of. Everything you are doing has a reason, and it's a good reason. You can talk about it and figure out if that's something you want to keep doing. You don't have to say anything if you don't want to. But know that there are so many of us struggling with learning how to lift those heavy loads again. It's a lot easier if we can do this together.