‘Cause Im Not Beautiful Like You, Im Beautiful Like Me

The Loge of the Empress in the upper enclosure...
The Loge of the Empress in the upper enclosure of the Hagia Sophia. From here the empress and the court ladies watched the proceedings down below the basilica. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The Church of the Holy Wisdom, commonly known ...
The Church of the Holy Wisdom, commonly known as Hagia Sophia in English, is a former Greek Orthodox church converted to a mosque, now a museum, in Istanbul. It is universally acknowledged as one of the great buildings of the world. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Angry Girl Rock Band: Joydrop.

This is going to be a strange combination of my experience in the Hagia/Aya Sophia and my personal experience of , connected by the thin line of peace. That quiet inner peace you get when youre in tune with the world and yourself. Its a feeling I had in the Hagia Sophia and one that Im developing when looking in the mirror.

Its also about the feelings of beauty when you are so out of place in a culture – every time I see a group of locals on the street and I hear them laugh really really loud as they pass – I “know” they are talking about me and how odd I/my hair/my height/my whatever looks compared to what they are used to and I feel strange. Its not an automatically bad feeling, but after a few days of it – its really hard to feel positive, especially sitting in our new hotel in Izmir where the entire wall seems to be a mirror. And I feel ginormous. Like the bed in comparison behind me seems small – and its a full.

Its hard in a world where most people (from my perspective) seem to fit in to be in a place where you are constantly reminded that you are not the norm. Yesterday, we went to a park where all these elementary children were walking by. Every single one of them wanted to wave and say hi to the obvious foreigner. The friend I am traveling with, everyone keeps speaking to in Turkish. I get the “bye-bye” on the plane and he gets – well – whatever they said in Turkish as we got off.

Im not sure what I want exactly. Its not a bad thing to be different. Part of it means that I dont have to work that hard for people to remember me. At church, at school, apparently around the world, there’s just one me. Except for that girl my best friend saw in France who looked just like me. It also sometimes means people want to talk to me. Especially when Im new in a ward, people love to come “fellowship” me, assuming Im lost or a new convert to the LDS faith. It makes breaking the ice a bit easier, which is always a welcome event. But its also jarring. In my head Im just like them. The world is pretty stable from my perspective, so I think oh hey Im Mormon just like the rest of them, or Im a tourist just like lots of people walking by. And then there’s the wake-up call from my black friends learning Im Mormon saying “You know you’re black right” or the 10th Turk that day calling out “I like your hair” that just makes you think, right not the same, mental readjustment. Sometimes its not just physical traits – its also hearing from someone you trust, that you’re particular about things and people, while you think “I go along to get along all the time!”

The image I have in my head of what I look like and act/think like in comparison to the rest of the world, isnt as stark as it must be to them.  But when I take a beat such as when I was in the Blue Mosque earlier today, or the Aya Sofia earlier this week, I feel in sync with myself and my life again and its like the external forced awareness melts away again. There is something about places of worship – even if they are not currently used as such – that houses that quiet hushed peace that is so hard to find in everyday life. You can be in a room that people made beautiful in an attempt to express their devotion to God and feel the combined prayers of thousands of years of petitioners. You remind yourself that there is a God, and Im doing my best to do the things He wants me to do. It makes you feel a lot less alone and spotlighted when you are so out there on the spectrum.

Right now, doing what I think God wants, involves traveling and going places I have dreamed of going my whole life, while dealing with the truths you learn about yourself when you step outside of your normal routine. Im also grateful to be traveling with a friend who is far more flexible about some things than I am, and is always in a good mood regardless of outside events. Except when there is snoring.

So I may not be the size or look or personality that I think constitutes beauty – although that odd man the other day seemed to be a fan – but there is still a way to feel beautiful and content and at peace in a lonely world; if I can just remember that after each small crack in the foundation.

You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman

English: Wild hair
English: Wild hair (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My newest thoughts brought to you by Aretha Franklin. So for me the point of this blog is to talk about all three categories of my fabulously obvious title. So I try to mark by category what I think each post refers to although there is apparently massive overlap. Hard to tease them out in my life.

Today’s topic: Good Hair. I still havent seen Chris Rock’s documentary (on the list), but I have mostly whats considered good hair. Its curly and crazy, but it grows pretty long and stays straight with enough heat and no humidity. When I was really little, I used to cry everytime my mother tried to comb through my hair, and my sisters and I wore it in a ton of random braids sprouting out of our heads with the bubble bands that used to pop your finger and hurt terribly when you missed. But in 7th grade, surrounded by mostly white students with awesomely straight hair I desperately wanted to wear my hair out.

Thus began my Fridays of sitting 3 hours in a chair, while I was burned by extremely hot combs that sat in little metal ovens. You would sit in various chairs, while the sylist feathered other people in and out of your appointment time. It took HOURS to get it straight, and then no washing for as long as you could stand it and then back to the chair. Its a different life than most people – everything dries out black hair and scalps, so the less washing the better – and it does handle oils better than most white hair, but still it gets dirty. So every two weeks back in the chair. I tried relaxing it once in 8th grade. That resulted in me cutting most of my hair off, as it was damaged, not at all straighter, and it never grew past my boob again. It used to be all the way down my back. Im still occasionally sad about that experiment.

So I kept up that schedule – the chair and two weeks, through volleyball practice, track meets and summers, until college. Going east one would think it would be easier to find someone to deal with my hair, but even black hairdressers there had problems. So I started washing it on my own and trying curly every once in a while – in a big ponytail at the back of my head. It was crazy. And then when I moved to Utah – I let a white stylist handle it and it wasnt so bad. It didnt get as straight as it used to in California or for as long, but it was better than straightening it myself, which was never going to happen.

That story may feel fairly benign, but its amazing how much all women define themselves by their hair. Maybe because it takes so long – men can buzz their heads look like an idiot for two weeks and then its over. Hair grown back. Women are sort of committed to those bangs the second the first cut is made. I dont think even I realized how much having crazy frizzy hair was bothering me until I went to Hawaii, and I saw the Islanders walking around with their version of combed out fro. It was like heaven, and the first time I saw a white girl with her blond straight hair I was incensed. What were they doing here ruining the minorities’ good time? Ive never so quickly irrationally hated a person or group except for that first week in Hawaii. It was like paradise marred by the people I had finally escaped. The feeling of having found my people, my place was  lanced every time I saw straight short skinny mainlanders. I got over it eventually, but its probably why I like New York. It feels like freedom from an oppressive standard – and while it may not be their fault, its certainly stiffling to try to live amongst them as one who can never conform enough, even if I wanted to. Genetics is drawing that line in this instance.

So I finally gave up. I mean a bad short haircut saved by me figuring out that curly hair actually worked in it forced my hand, but still, in the past year and a half its never been straightened. Its a whole new world. I didnt do it to reclaim an identity or make a statement – it was too much money and time to maintain the straight look and I decided I no longer cared. Its amazing how much my hair means to people. To my mother, born two generations ago, its claiming “bad hair” and looks wild and crazy and unprofessional. To her, Im giving up the fight to assimilate in and gain the privileges her generation fought for but so clearly showcasing the things that are different between the two races. On the other hand, I get so many compliments I get on my hair from all people. Black, white, asian, etc who just looooove how much volume I can get and how it just seems to work. For me, I love waking up each morning to the ever growing mass, sticking in a few random bobby pins and going outside. Its my own liberation from myself and the norms I thought I had to live by. Now I spend my money trying new curly hair products – I still swear by Kerastase and now Devacurl – in case anyone was wondering.

So now there are people who know me who have never seen my hair straight. Its funny how we can change so much so fast – even though it seems so small. Maybe one day Ill go back to the occasional blow out, but until then, freedom is looking pretty – literally.