Week 43: Unleashing a head of big, brown hair

An exploration of identity and acceptance of self

I had set out on #myvoyagehome, intending the year to be one of exploration — of both the world outside and the world within. And part of that exploration was the decision to grow out my natural hair.

For 15 years of my life, up until about a year ago, I had been chemically rebonding my hair. Essentially, that meant, for 15 years, in roughly every 8–10 months, I would be sitting in a chair in a salon, for 4–5 hours on end, letting someone change the texture of my hair (I did a double take after writing this sentence and had to reconfirm in my head that it was indeed 15 years).

For those who are wondering what rebonding is,

Sleek, silky, straight”. Not coincidentally, those were the words used to describe the standard of “beauty” for ethnic Chinese (and other Asian cultures) when it comes to hair (might I even dare to add the term jet black to the set). And it was precisely those words that led to my first taste of rebonding.

Growing up, I carried on me a head of big, brown hair. Living in Malaysia, the humidity would often mean my hair seemed frizzy, messy, wiry, bushy; actual words that people have used to describe my hair. I was even described to be akin to a lion. But no matter how much time I spent combing, brushing, pulling it straight with a straightener in the mornings, I was still Hermione (albeit muggle and Asian).

Hermione’s “bushy brown hair”

Perhaps, deep down, the act of changing my hair was a reflection of my younger self’s need to be “right”, to fit in, to gain acceptance from the crowd. Perhaps, it was also not getting the right information, the right support, the right influence at the right time.

It was only in the past year that I’d learnt that different hair textures warranted different maintenance routines, different hair products, different levels of care; just like how different people needed different support and nurturing to bring out their best selves. And it wasn’t until then that I realised there was nothing ever “wrong” about my big, brown head of hair.

Photo by Alexander Grey on Unsplash

Can the simple act of accepting yourself as you are be that last rebellion against societal norms and pre-defined boxes?

As I was drafting this week’s story, I quite fittingly came across the Museum of Modern Art’s Salon 33, themed — Hair. In this curation, they discussed, amongst other topics, the history of hair, the effects it has had in politics, on societal statuses, on the display of power… (I strongly recommend you watch the YouTube video linked above).

And I couldn’t help but wonder, can a simple act of embracing your own hair be a pebble that creates a ripple stretching far and wide? Can the simple act of accepting yourself as you are be that last rebellion against societal norms and pre-defined boxes?

Last weekend, I went for my first haircut in a while, where I didn’t also ask for my hair to be rebonded.

And for the first time in a while, I walked out excitedly, as if saying to the world— I am here, this is me.

I packed up 8 years of my life in Melbourne in December 2021 to move to Singapore to be closer to home and also to explore the world outside of what I already knew. This is a year-long series of reflections on #myvoyagehome. Thank you for being a part of my journey.

Week 40: Detours

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Wen Xin (Gwen)

Welcome to my thoughts and documentation of life’s adventures.