My nose is like a mountain, in-your-face-kind-of unavoidable. My dark skin makes me want to go through a permanent whitewash. My skin colour is ghastly transparent, like a cross between Casper and Aloe vera gel. I have crooked teeth, strung together like abstract art. I have a pimple brigade fighting for territory on my face. My chin has its own continent. I’m thinking of using my scrawny hands and feet for a scarecrow business. I’ve decided to rent out my butt, it’s taking up too much space.
Are those some things we grew up saying or thinking about? Maybe our versions weren’t disguised in such light-hearted banter. Maybe our versions were more alive, more heart-breaking, and more horrific.
What makes us turn on ourselves like parasites? There is one answer that makes more sense than others. It begins real close. At home. At School. At a friend or relative’s place. In the playground. At the mall. It begins in our bedrooms, in the kitchens, with permanent abodes in our bathrooms; where the mirror plays a huge supporting role.
And this is how it starts. Replace the characters, plot, dialogues and setting, but the heart of the story remains eerily similar.
One fine day, a happy little toddler becomes a pre-schooler. Subtle sparks of thought and the alien concepts of comprehension begin to sprout in that little head. It almost feels like spring, with so much to marvel at and discover, until it doesn’t.
“You have funny hair“, says a friend, on an unfortunate day, to the unfortunate little lady. Nearby class fellows gather around, make a circle and start snickering and pointing.
Sure, her defences creep up, like mutated tree roots, sheltering from outside crap. She might say something mean in return. She might even push or shove, feigning bravery. She might stay silent and act as if it doesn’t bother her. Oh, but it does. It bugs her bad. Her defences are not strong enough to shield her from the worst critic of them all, herself. That remark right there and then, imprints a painful and permanent bruise, like a medieval branding iron meant for lifelong torture. Next time the girl stands in front of the mirror, with half-opened eyes, trying to brush her milky-teeth, she notices her hair. For the first time. And she doesn’t like what she sees.
Family isn’t too welcoming either. As she adds a few inches to her height, squiggly strands transform into frizzy monsters. Or so her siblings say, in between occasional teasing ventures by other loved ones. She smiles at first. The second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth,…millionth time too. But then she doesn’t.
She painfully sheds her pre-puberty skin and discovers the world of, and for, the ‘pretty’. Makeup. Clothes. Fashion. But the pin bursting her bubble is always her hair. She wants to show-off her pretty-card. She is desperate.
Then, she discovers magic. A device that could crease out the ugliness. She saves up her pocket-money and birthday money to buy her enchanting wand. She turns thirteen with her new best friend safely tucked in her bathroom cupboard. Her hair straightener.
She straightens her hair more than she eats. More than she laughs. More than she cries. Because she can’t imagine stepping out of her room with Medusa-like entities hanging over her head. She sometimes hates her hair so much that it hurts her heart. And unknowingly, her hair too.
Along with the hair hazard, she gathers other common inflictions of her age, like insects on sugar. The weight bug. The skin bug. The voice bug. Her self-esteem melts away, like the wicked witch of the West. Wicked, because it is a cowardly, sad little excuse of an emotion that is too weak to stand up for itself.
One day, she opens up to an old friend. With tears blurring her pupils, she says that her hair’s as dead as a door. And that she sometimes thinks of letting it stay in its natural form. But when she catches a glimpse of her burnt mop in her bathroom mirror, she quickly reaches for the straightener.
She tells her friend that she doesn’t have the strength to fight.
She never did.
Or, that fateful day many years ago, she would have gone back and told her mom and dad everything. And if her parents had the hindsight, they would have convinced her that she had the best hair in the world. And that she should never let anyone make her feel otherwise.
Next day, the girl would have gone back to school, a bit scared but ready to take on the world with her funny hair.