Gifts

This hair is a gift. This skin is a gift.

I try to remind myself of this, because honestly sometimes it’s hard to remember. I try to remember this now more than ever, especially since now I have a little sister. After twenty-one long years as an only child, my mother had another daughter. She’s three now and wild in a way that’s both admirable and irritating. She leaves no mystery as to what’s on her mind, always makes her objections known, and is the most stubborn and willful person I ever knew.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I admit that I don’t care much for children and my sister is no exception. I like quiet, uninterrupted breakfasts. Excluding my daily walks, I don’t really care for the outdoors either. I don’t know how to interact with children, and to be honest, have never had much of an interest. Even as a child I had little interest in other children. (I was that obnoxiously precocious kid that always wanted to sit at the adult’s table.)

I will say that for all her terrible toddlerness, my sister is remarkably patient. Not so much in the way of waiting for an ice cream cone or a trip to the park, but she is incredibly patient with me. She shrugs it off and doesn’t hold it against me when I bristle at her having interrupted my writing. She never stops trying to engage with me, despite my being an occasional sourpuss. Instead of her favorite game of dress-up and pretend, she suggests for us the quieter task of coloring together. Sometimes, she sits at the table with me in quiet, scribbling nonsense in her construction pad while I type away on my computer. She tries, in her own way, to relate to me somehow.

I suppose you’re wondering now what all this has to do with my hair, or my skin for that matter.

One of the first things people noticed about my sister was her color. Upon seeing her for the first time, people would almost always comment on her color. “She’s awful brown,” my aunt said the first time she’d held her. You see, my sister’s color came as a surprise. My mother, her sister, and myself—nearly the entire side of my mother’s family, really—all have lighter skin. We all come in shades of tan but my sister is a deep mahogany. Even my mother remarks on the difference in color. “I thought she’d be lighter,” she’s said more than once.

You forget how early it starts, how young we are when we first begin learning to find beauty in only a few choice shades. How we are told coils are in need of being tamed. How we look for mirrors in the world around us but find no reflections of ourselves, or worse yet, grossly distorted images, sad caricatures bearing no resemblance to us at all.

My sister favors one of her dolls over the other. She doesn’t like the look of the black one. The dolls are the same, save for the difference in skin tone. Same brand, same features, same hair. But the black doll “looks funny” and “isn’t pretty” and is neglected in favor of her lighter companion. It shouldn’t come as a surprise really, the doll test has been recreated numerous times over the years, with similar results.

But my heart sinks low when she tells me she wants to have “straight pretty hair” like Mama and me, that she doesn’t like her hair. I worry about the day she’ll compare her color to ours, if she’ll see deficiency in difference.

I’m growing out my natural hair now, much to the chagrin of my immediate family. I had “such pretty long hair,” so why was I ruining it by letting it be, by wearing it the way it grows out of my head? My natural hair is “a waste” and “unbecoming.” My mother doesn’t think it “suits” me, and if I’m being perfectly honest, sometimes I don’t think it does either. But I have to remind myself that this isn’t the truth, it’s just what we’ve been taught.

So I try to remember, especially on the days I don’t feel confident or pretty that yes, this hair is a gift, this skin is a gift, in hopes that one day, my sister will know it too.

–M

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