boaw-2013Last year, the fabulous August McLaughlin organized the Beauty of a Woman Blogfest, inspired by Sam Levinson’s poem of the same name. As Levinson writes,

The beauty of a woman is not in the clothes she wears, the figure that she carries, or the way she combs her hair. The beauty of a woman must be seen from in her eyes, because that is the doorway to her heart, the place where love resides.

BOAW 2012 was an outpouring of love unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Each story celebrated beauty in all forms, from funny and light-hearted to dark and thought-provoking.

Judging from the entries that I’ve had the chance to read, BOAW 2013 is shaping up to be even better. Participants and commenters will be entered into a contest to win an Amazon Kindle Fire (or a gift card for the equivalent price), so be sure to visit as many as you can starting Friday, February 22nd.


I have spent a lifetime taming myself into conformity, striving for perfection.

As I write these words, I know I am not alone. Women have been poking and prodding, shaving and waxing and grooming for ages. Throw in capitalism, consumerism, and advertising, and we are faced with a vast juggernaut that tells us that beauty is external. It comes out of a tube, or from a surgeon’s skill with a knife. It can — and should! — be purchased.

And so here we are, tethered to cosmetic bags and beauty tools, to makeovers and plastic surgery and countless other means of “enhancing” our looks, all in the name of attaining the unattainable. After all, standards of beauty are ephemeral. They shift like the desert sands, and we chase after it, pretzeling ourselves into endless contortions along the way.

What do we lose in this quest for perfection? And what happens when we discard “natural” for predefined notions of beauty? These are a couple of questions that prompted me to give up the one beauty tool I thought I’d wield forever: the flat iron.

sc0005dc7dI started out life as a curly-haired girl, but those curls were wide and shiny and perfect. They behaved, coiled just right at the ends of my hair. Eventually they fell out and I was left with hair that was thick and straight, so long I could sit on it. My mom used to call it my “crowning glory,” and I believed her. In my childhood daydreams my hair transformed me into a raven-haired Rapunzel, or Princess Jasmine, made me the sort of girl worthy of marrying a prince.

Then sixth grade rolled around, and my hair transformed into a coarse, frizzy, crinkling mess. I had no idea what to do with it, so I just kept brushing it out, which made it even bigger. I might not have cared so much if it wasn’t for my classmates. To them, my hair was a source of endless entertainment. When teachers weren’t looking, they sat behind me and tossed balled up bits of paper, staples, and the occasional pen into it, just for shits and giggles. The on-going joke was that everything stuck to my frizzy mane, turning me into a human felt board.

I never told on them, and I think I even laughed along after a while. After all, it was easier than crying. But it left me hating my hair even more, cursing what had happened to it and wishing for the old days when it was still pretty. When I discovered that there was a way to rid myself of those hated curls, I took it and I didn’t look back.


Photo Source: Dee West

I remember my first flat iron well. It was by Hot Tools, the cheap kind–black plastic with bronze plates, nothing fancy. Mastering the proper technique took me a few weeks, but once I got the hang of it, it was straightforward. Simple. So darn easy to iron out my hair, to transform the bird’s nest on my head into some semblance of order.

That flat-iron became a third appendage. I thought of it as a life-saver, but in reality, it ruled my life. I got up an extra hour early each day, and refused to step foot outside the house unless I thought I looked completely perfect. So what if my hair turned brittle? If I had to avoid all forms of water? Who cared about the split ends, or the breakage, or the occasional burns? My hair was straight. It was flat. It was manageable. The discomfort was a small price to pay.

And on it went for ten years. I invested in fancier flat irons, the ones with “ionic technology” that could be cranked up to 400 degrees and beyond. All the while, taming my hair into submission started to take a toll on my psyche. Flattening my curls began to feel like destruction, destruction of who I was and where I came from. It was partly because I started to think of my hair as part of my heritage–something I inherited from my mother’s family, a remnant of my blackness. And it was partly because I wondered exactly why I was so afraid of showing my true self.

It was October of last year when I decided to try going natural. It was scary at first–walking around with big curly hair means that I stand out from a crowd. My hair doesn’t behave. It’s barely manageable. It’s a little crazy, but the strange thing is that I’ve started to like it. Maybe that says something about who I am inside–a soul that is a bit chaotic, and a lot wild.


And, really, who wants to be manageable? Well-ordered? Well-behaved? When we iron over who we are, destroy our natural selves in favor of conforming with the beauty standards of the moment, we de ourselves a disservice. As Clarissa Pinkola-Estes writes in WOMEN WHO RUN WITH THE WOLVES,

To take much pleasure in a world filled with many kinds of beauty is a joy in life to which all women are entitled. To support only one kind of beauty is to be somehow unobservant of nature. There cannot be only one kind of songbird, only one kind of pine tree, only one kind of wolf. There cannot be one kind of baby, one kind of man, or one kind of woman. There cannot be one kind of breast, one kind of waist, one kind of skin.

There is power in claiming what is natural in each and every one of us, in rejecting the one-size-fits-all notion of beauty. We can release our need to be completely perfect. Better yet, we can give way to the wild within.

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