"The concept of being ‘in possession of one’s self’ is about reclaiming that of yourself which has been defined externally, generally though lack of or skewed representation. I have come to the realization that my body is my own, I may share it with another, and that is a gift and a pleasure for both of us, but first and foremost it belongs to me."
On the 3rd of June 2018 I shaved my hair. I had been growing my afro for 10 years. I also had authored this blog for the past 5 years. The blog was inspired by my journey of embracing and learning to manage my hair, but ultimately it was a journey of reclamation of self; reclamation of my blackness. In that time I wore my afro like a badge of honor. My afro was never ‘just hair’ it represented my heritage, my celebration of blackness, and my resistance to a beauty ideal that didn’t include me. That journey ultimately went 180° to where I had transcended the need to make a statement of my blackness; I found that ultimately I am more than my blackness, it is one part of who I am, but by no means my sole identity. I am the central point at which my converging identities intersect. I am all of them and simultaneously none of them at all. I certainly didn’t need to assert my blackness anymore, at least not through my hair; however I discovered other parts of myself that needed reclaiming.
The concept of being ‘in possession of one’s self’ is about reclaiming that of yourself which has been defined externally, generally though lack of or skewed representation. When it comes to women’s bodies we are sold this false ideal: breasts pushed up and molded into this ‘one shape-fits-all’ cup, everything must be tucked in, neat, floral scented, and god forbid you have any body hair- the antithesis of femininity. This creates a discord with so many women because it is an impossible ideal to live up to. For me the reclamation of my body and femininity goes hand in hand with the reclamation of my sexuality. I believe it is a process of discarding the false narrative, it is a process of self definition, of re-education, if you will. It is a process by which we get to rewrite our own narrative.
So how have I begun to reclaim my Self? Well for me it has started with how I view my sexuality, it has always been something that I have not been entirely comfortable with, something I hold out on for fear of being seen as ‘easy’, and given in exchange for a man’s commitment. It’s always been something that has been manipulated by me (unknowingly) but never for me; never for my own pleasure. That has so far been the biggest part of the journey, and it is an ongoing process; to disentangle my sexuality from a man, ultimately from the patriarchy, and to reclaim it, so that I can redefine it, and take pleasure in it. To be the possessor of my pleasure, to decolonise my sexuality- it is the process by which I discard the images that have been sold to me of what female sexuality is supposed to look like. I have come to the realization that my body is my own, I may share it with another, and that is a gift and a pleasure for both of us, but first and foremost it belongs to me. My body does not exist for the male gaze, and my sexuality does not exist solely for male consumption. It may seem like a simple thing, but the reason why this is so important is because a woman’s sexuality has been completely defined by her interaction with a man, and that has bled into rules and expectations in dating, how women percieve their own self worth and value, and has almost completely stifled a women’s experience of her own body and sexuality.
Right from the very beginning the whole idea of virginity centres men in women’s sexuality, because it is the penetration of a penis into a vagina that determines whether a woman is a virgin or not; whereas men have no marker of virginity. The whole idea of ‘saving yourself for marriage’ is an expectation put on girls more so than boys and I believe that, particularly in a religious context, it dis-empowers a woman and places her sexuality in the charge of someone else -some man in the future- it also robs the woman of the ownership of her sexuality. It perpetuates the idea that a woman’s sexuality is not her own. This is not to say that anytime a woman chooses to wait for marriage to share her sexuality with a man that she is disempowered, simply that in the religious context it was not designed to empower a woman. Your sexuality first belongs to your father, then to your husband; it is never yours. Even the term ‘saving yourself’ in and of itself is indicative of how it is believed that through having multiple sexual experiences your value is gradually diminished
There is nowhere where it is safe for a woman to be sexual, a woman expressing her sexuality could get her harassed and violated, and this is where, I think, a big part of reclaiming self must take place; to reclaim my pleasure, to reframe it, to state it and affirm it. A big part of what is causing a culture of women being violated is the fact that girls are not taught sexual agency, we are not taught what is pleasure and what is pain, how to make the difference, and how to accept one and to reject the other. Boys on the other hand are taught entitlement to a woman’s body, so when these two meet it creates a culture of girls who don’t know how to identify what they want in a sexual encounter, and boys who take advantage of (and even prey on) that vulnerability. The issue of sexual violence against women cannot be summed up by the hashtag #MenAreTrash’; the problem is our entire culture. Once I started to reclaim my sexuality I realized that what is presented as sexy- as defined by men- in mainstream popular culture is nowhere near what is actually felt by me as sexy, and I really started to reject that image, and didn’t want to perpetuate that ideal in the way that I represent myself publically.
As much as cutting my afro was renouncing the need to make a statement with my hair, inadvertently I was making somewhat of a statement, even if only internally. I cut it and for the first time I wasn’t worried about looking pretty, or how desirable I would be. I was looking for my Self. I may not have expressed it in that way at the time, but that’s exactly what it was. I had been doing so much work on myself, and on my life, and I felt closer to my real self than ever before; and I wanted my outward appearance to be representative of that. Who knows the depths that this journey of reclamation of self will take me, but what I do know is that just the act of examining and questioning our ways of being is so crucial to living a fully awake life. I wish that for everyone.