My young daughter asked me yesterday “What would you think if I put purple highlights at the end of my hair?” I looked at her for a few seconds and said “You have purple highlights at the end of your hair.” She looked at me in that ‘Oh grief’ way that budding teenagers do, a little while before that you’ve ruined their lives rather than nurtured them toward adulthood. “I mean, would you like it?” I gave her that ‘Oh, I wish I could raise just one eyebrow’ look. “Would you like it?” She gave up. I went on to tell her, again, that what’s more important to me is that she feel comfortable about how she looks to herself; trying to please other people with looks is a road to somewhere that you can never reach.
I’m not sure if she got the point.
I don’t watch award shows like the Grammy’s, much as I don’t watch pageants. But, because our lives are so interconnected, I got to see many things that so-called celebrities wore to the latest and greatest music award shows.
Whether it was Joy Villa looking like a bag of onions, or Madonna trying to look like a matador (or whatever the female equivalent term is), or the pair of ladies with dazzling white hair, or Rihanna looking like a rose upside down (or was it a pinata?), I could understand that my daughter thinks that image in the eyes of others matters.
Well, I’m of the school that says if you are at peace with yourself as you are, go forth.
But, there’s a little trap when one doesn’t endorse enthusiastically what someone wears or how they look or do their hair: you surely don’t care. Well, I do, but, look, it’s your body and your choices, not mine. If I wish to copy or complement or event compliment, in some sense, then that’s my choice. I don’t play that game well where you stand accused because you refuse to say something gushy about what someone wears. I’ve also been in the boat that was sunk by “Why are you commenting about how I look?” I only need that broadside once.
Some, maybe many, Jamaicans can’t leave it alone though. I’m sure that if I raised the topic at random with 10 people today, I’d hear about what the person was like who wore ‘those clothes’. We know that she’s [fill the gap], or that that one is [fill another gap]. We want to read much into any and everything. Maybe, they are right, but do they need to, or should they care?
I’m trying to draft a book, and yesterday, after trying to figure out if I needed another programme to keep chapters in better order, I started writing a section about ‘being black in a world that is mainly white’. I have the images in my head of how I think I looked when I left Jamaica (not really conscious about my colour) to how I think I looked when I went to England as a small boy (still not really conscious of my colour) to how I think I looked when I got a job in an institution that had one black professional–me–on staff. I have to admit that I never really saw myself sticking out. I blame that on being told that what you can do is what is important, not how you look. I don’t know where my parents got this notion, but thank them for it. I think I can blame that basis for what is a good dose of contempt for those who love to label people (often wrongly) quickly.
Anyway, all of this fell on the day when I learned about a project that is opening soon in London, about the black experience in Britain during the 1950s and 1990sp. It’s part of the ‘Staying Power’ project. This latest aspect is about photographs that capture reactions to the black inflow to Britain.
This photograph is of a pretty common sight in London in the 1970s, by when a new generation of black children was well into its teen years. The fact that these schoolgirls could stand and look like friends should never be confused with the fact that they might not have been very close outside school or that parents and relatives might not have had much time for each other, across the colour line. It also doesn’t touch on the fact that then, and now, people will cast you because of how you look. Dress how you want, it wont take away the taint that is cast on you by those who don’t like ‘coloured’ people.
I don’t think my daughter’s interest in purple highlights is because she feels out of place because of her colour, but she’s struggling to establish an identity. I also have a place holder for a chapter on that, but I think it’s going to be complicated to write.
Anyway, I look forward to seeing if and how she does the little tint job. I hope she gets rave reviews. One of her cousins, who’s now in the US training as a swimmer sent home a picture of himself with bleached hair.