The Strength That Defines Us
"What I do with my hair shouldn’t affect how I’m treated or perceived, but unfortunately it does."
—journalist Christiana Amarachi Mbakwe
My son was five when he announced that he would no longer cut his hair. He hated going through the whole process. He also liked his hair and was done. I agreed; I, too, was done fighting with him about haircuts. As time went on, I marveled at the beauty of his hair and the way his curls frame his face.
Soon the questions started about why his hair was so long, and comments about how I was “confusing” him by not cutting it. I ignored it all.
Then the bullying started. At first it was a few people calling him a girl. We would correct them and move on. Then it became vicious enough to send him home from school in tears, the teachers all saying What did you expect? and that if I want people to see my son as a boy, then he should look like one.
My heart broke the day he stood in the bathroom crying. He handed me a pair of scissors and told me to just cut it. He was done and he was tired. I told him how beautiful his hair was and how sad I would be to see him cut it. When I asked him why he grew his hair, he said he felt things through it. He said it connected him to his indigenous heritage that he could not claim officially. He said that sometimes it was his hiding place. But he was tired of being teased and tired of being called a girl when he wanted to be called a boy.
So I found pictures of indigenous men with long hair, and asked him what he saw in the pictures. He said he saw strength and pride; fierceness and sadness. I asked if he thought these men were teased over their hair. And he said no, but that if they were, they probably wouldn’t care. I told my son that the strength he saw in those men was the same strength I saw in him.
My son is now fourteen, almost six feet tall, and has facial hair. His hair is still amazing. He pulls it up in a messy bun and no longer lets me comb and brush it. He still gets questions about cutting it. He’s been called gay and Trans and queer. None of which offends. He sees it as a compliment. He endured the bullying and now stands strong. Not because he has long hair, but because he didn’t let others define what being a man or male meant to him.
Spirit of Life, may we all be so bold as to not let the world define us by its standards but rather by what is in our own hearts.