There hasn’t been many of these stories that I felt I could relate to. Believe me. When I started reading the first story I was like, oh shit, how am I going to write about this woman’s experience in a community that I am not a part of. By the end, I was like damn, this story about a black woman’s struggle with self identity and her hair is one that I needed.
The first story I read was From Americanah (2013) by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The story revolves around Ifemelu’s experience going through the world having insecurities about her hair and needing it to look a certain way to be pretty because society told her that is what beauty looks like. When her hair gets damaged and she has to cut it off, her self esteem plummets. To top it all off, she finds out that her boyfriend is cheating on her. It isn’t hard to imagine how she is comparing herself to his side hoe and all of his ex girlfriends. When describing the other woman, Ifemelu describes her as “a woman who liked her hair and thought Curt (the boyfriend) would too”. Not only does she not like her hair, she hates that she feels that way. I know exactly what she is feeling. I had someone I was talking to tell me that my insecurities were unattractive. Like, damn. People always joke about the hippies in the 70’s being all peace love and whatnot. But, is that such a bad idea? That we could just love and support everyone? This story also makes you think about the structural issue of magazines/society telling these young African-American women that they need to alter their hair (to make it straight and to look more like white women) in order to look beautiful. So not only do we need to change how we talk to other human beings, we need to change the structures that shame people for the purpose of selling a product.
The second story, Big Yoga Student (2012) by Kimberly Dark, continues the same narrative of dealing with self image and they pressure people put on you and your image. This story follows the author through her experience being an active person, as well as a yoga teacher, while also being considered overweight. She talks about how she had to come to terms with one thing: “living a good life is more about acceptance than it is about attainment”. Dark chooses to live her life not with the concern of attaining a small goal weight, but being fit, healthy, and accepting herself for who she is. It is also interesting how Dark describes peoples’ reactions to her weight when they come into the yoga classes she teaches. They either walk out because they don’t think she could teach an effective, rigorous class, or they pity her and say she’s brave for doing what she does while being so large. Fuck these people. Fuck the people who think that overweight people doing exercise/ go to the gym are brave and go around making comments that they wouldn’t to a skinnier person, regardless of if it positive or not. The extra attention on top of worrying about getting in shape is what keeps overweight people from wanting to go to the gym. Now, its not just yourself you are trying to impress, its everyone else who you seem to have to prove yourself to. I think it is stories like Kimberly’s that give people who are uncomfortable with going to the gym some motivation that you shouldn’t worry about getting the skinniest body or worrying about what other people think. You can just focus on you. I think that the point Kimberly is trying to get across is fuck everyone else and do you. And as a society, we need to stop being so judgmental and just let people live their lives without adding any more stress on them than they already put on themselves.