OP-ED: Self expression aids in self acceptance


Photo courtesy of Kristen Bowman

Kristen Bowman, Contributor

Growing as a person is an important quality of college. This time of our lives is when we go to new places, figure life out for ourselves and try new things. Over the duration of my experience I knew that I wanted to make a change to my appearance that would help me to not care, as much, about what others thought of me. After great thought about how I would push myself to a new limit, I decided to get dreadlocks. Of all the things that I could have done for self expression, I decided to go with dreadlocks because I loved how they looked. However, at the time I did not know that they would become a defining factor of who I am today.

When I first got them, I was super insecure about what others were going to think of me. I started out being a half-dread-head, which means that only the bottom layer of my hair was dreaded and the top layer was combed out. This allowed me to experience having dreadlocks, without forcing myself fully into it. For a year, I played with exposing the under layer of my hair and hiding it because of fear of the remarks of others.

Throughout the beginning, the comments that people made deeply hurt my feelings. I can still remember the mean things that people said to me about my hair, but they justified their comments and their mean looks because my style went against the grain. However, just because I am different, does not mean that people can look down on me.

However, the hardest comments to digest were the ones that were indirectly mean or a backhanded compliment. I would way rather people told me how they honestly felt, versus trying to hide their disgust. For example, one individual said, “Well, the top of your hair looks nice.” While that’s the words that were said, it was not exactly what they meant.

Yet, through this hard time, I did not give up. I knew that if I cut the dreads out, I would be letting the people against me win. Which, is opposite of my goal. My goal was to do something that helped me to be happy with who I am, so cutting them out would have put me further away from my goal. So, I needed to make a change. I decided that the only way that I could accept who I am is to fully express myself. I started to reveal my dreadlocks more and ignore the looks of others. Eventually, I realized that those around me probably were not even looking at my hair and if they were, then they could talk to me about their thoughts.

After realizing that the thoughts of others are not my problem, I grew tremendously as a person. I realized that if people are having a thought that is important enough to worry about, then they should vocalize it. It is not my problem to worry about what other people are thinking. I can only control what I am thinking.

Yet, after a year of dreadlocks, I knew that I was not done with finding myself through self expression. I decided to get a perm on the top layer of my hair. I loved it! My hair was curly and beautiful with the dreadlocks underneath. However, because of the volume of the curls, my dreadlocks were once again hidden. So, after this, I became a full Dread Head. Since then, I have had the majority of my hair dreaded. While my bangs are not dreaded, it is because of the flexibility that I like for my bangs.

Overall, the purpose of sharing my dreadlocks story is to say that it is about finding what makes you comfortable and happy. I know that since I have endured hardships of judgment, I am a better person. To this day, people still ask me about my dreads and it is one of my favorite conversations to have because I am so proud of them and the work that I have put into them.

When people ask me about them, they normally ask, “How long have you had dreads?” And I reply with the most current answer. But then so many people have the next question of, “When will you cut them out?” This question makes me laugh every time. It is honestly, a pretty rude question to ask. I do not go up to everyday people and insinuate that they need to change their hair style by cutting it. While I do not get offended at the question, I think it is a perfect example of how we try to put everyone in the same box and if they are different, we suggest that they change their looks to go back in the box.

Furthermore, people frequently discuss with me the importance of changing my hair before I start my career. However, if my future career tries to change a significant part of who I am, then would I really want to work for them anyways? If even my appearances are not up to par, then how will they accept my work and recognize all of my efforts? I say all of this with reason. I do keep my hair clean and strive to make it look nice, but I do not believe that my hair should be a defining factor in acceptance from others.

I do not plan on going back into the box of dreadless hair for a while, because it works for me. I am not saying that everyone should go get dreadlocks in order to get out of the box, but I am saying that we all should try new things to find the best versions of ourselves possible. I think that possibly the most important part of college is getting out of our comfort zones to be able to experience new things. Additionally, we should not judge others because they are stepping out of their box. If we want love and acceptance, we will have to give love and acceptance.