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Spirals of Healing

by Dré Pontbriand about a month ago in feminism

How embracing my natural curls brought me home to my authentic self

Tears stream down my cheeks as I flip my midnight ringlets back and forth. The Costa Rican jungle has imbued them with a life all their own. This is far from the first time I’ve cried about my hair in a bathroom mirror but it is the first time that they’ve been tears of joy. I am unburdened by limitations, as I realise that in this very moment, I am the most radically authentic version of me.

I must have been about five years old when the programming began seeping in. I started noticing that my role models routinely sizzled the waves right out of their hair. I realised that my Barbies and the beautiful women on TV's sleek tresses looked nothing like mine. As I got older, I heard echoing voices saying things like: “Straight hair looks more put together, more professional.” To top it all off, friends and partners would frequently tell me how much prettier I looked with a texture that wasn’t my own. So, I began investing thousands of hours and dollars into forcing my lion’s mane into submission. This would set the tone for how I felt about my appearance, and ultimately myself, until my late 20s—it would be the first part of me I’d learn to hate.

I remember once, upon noticing that my chemical straightening treatment was wearing off, justifying my frizz to a shop attendant. “The humidity must be really bad here because I have super straight hair.” Lest anyone think that my waves were a testament to the fact that I was some sort of wayward woman. But what good were silky keratin tresses that had me permanently at war with my own nature?

They say that healing isn’t linear, that it comes in spirals. In my experience, this has been true both figuratively and literally. The radical acceptance of the spirals upon my crown has been a powerful catalyst for one of my most profound journeys of self-reclamation to date.

My curls have taught me what it means to release control, to be unapologetically too much, to allow my inner wild woman to roar in harmony with Mother Earth’s perfection. I feel my inner fire ignite as I smile into the truth that I never want to be “professional” or “put together”. I want to be like my curls: imperfect, untamed, and irrevocably free.

Today, after what feels like a lifetime apart, I finally recognise the woman looking back at me in the mirror. Not because of her hairstyle but because she has finally remembered how unconditionally she loved herself before the world told her to stop.

I see in her the fierce little girl who never apologised for taking up space and I am transported back in time to the fateful day when that all changed. I can’t take away her pain around being told that she ought to shrink but I want her to know that she’ll eventually return to grandness. This letter is for her.

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Dear Seven-year old Dré,

I see you in your pink and purple sequinned tap recital costume. You’re magical even with those shades of heartbreak dancing in your eyes. Today is the day you learned that you need to be smaller—the day that your spark was extinguished. I wish I could tell you that it’ll be back soon but the truth is that it’s going to take you over two decades to feel safe enough to light it anew.

I know none of this makes sense to you now but one day, you’ll understand that you’re not too much. It’s simply that your unapologetic confidence and wild nature is a threat to a system that profits off self-doubt and smallness. Your loved ones are just trying to protect you from ruffling too many feathers until you’re strong enough to handle the backlash.

You’re already aware of so much at your tender age. You see the immense suffering in the world and wish you could wave a magic wand to make it all go away. You’re certainly going to try. You’ll spend years believing that your worth is dependent upon your ability to swallow the pain of others, to carry the burdens of a broken social system. You’ll think you need to start a movement but in time, my love, you’ll understand that you are the movement.

You won’t realise that you’re on the frontlines of a war, as the one being waged against you and your fellow sisters is subtle in nature. It's disguised under the glamorous façade of the "beauty" industry. You’re going to be lead down a path so far from your truth that you’ll often wonder if you’ll ever find your way back. The armour you’ll wear will be heavy and you’ll struggle to recognise yourself.

With each passing year, you’ll continue getting smaller and smaller. You’ll shrink to fit into tinier socially imposed boxes until only a shell of you remains. Your extroversion will become introversion. Your ease will become struggle. Your self-love will become self-loathing. I can’t sugar-coat this for you, beloved— in an attempt to connect with the world around you, you’re going to abandon yourself time and time again.

You’ll internalise things like European beauty standards, colonialism, racism, and the patriarchy, allowing them to make you feel perpetually less-than. Most of the women you look up to will be on parallel paths of self-abandonment so you’ll learn that you too, should take up less space.

>By age 9, you’ll have noticed that the most beautiful women in the world, including your mom and your sister, can’t stand their own reflections. You’ll follow in their footsteps.

>By 12, you’ll be taking a clothing iron to your head to fry out the precious ringlets you’ve been taught to hate.

>By 14, you’ll be throwing up a third of your meals and wearing blue contacts, hoping to resemble the thin blondes you see in magazines.

>By 18, you’ll have fallen deeply in love with the first of many men who will want you small enough to be kept in his back pocket.

>By 23, you’ll black out regularly in search for freedom at the bottom of a bottle.

>By 24, you’ll have spent thousands of dollars on toxic chemicals masquerading as beauty elixirs promising to render you lovable.

>By 25, you’ll have hit rock bottom and you’ll slowly start to rebuild. This journey will bring you to your knees but in the spaces between the hurt, you’ll catch glimpses of your true self. This will be the bread crumb trail that will lead you back to the innate magic of your being.

And one day, little one, as impossible as it might seem, an unburdening will take place. Piece by piece, and then all at once, you’ll find yourself whole again. The millions of tears you’ll have cried when looking in the mirror will have become tears of joy. You’ll see yourself again not through society’s distorted lens but through your own glimmering eyes. You’ll feel the shackles of societal pressure and ancestral trauma dropping from your limbs as you realise that they were never yours to carry. The armour you’ve worn will be rendered obsolete by your courageous rebellion.

Every step you’ll have taken along the broken road will suddenly make sense. Though the pilgrimage will have been long, in what will seem like one fell swoop, you’ll remember who you came here to be.

You see, your spark never really went out. It was just temporarily hiding from the torrential downpours of a system that fears the wildfire of an empowered woman’s radical self-love. Your inner flames will be fanned as you remember your role as a fire-starter, here to help burn down the systems that have kept the feminine small.

Perhaps most exciting of all is that you’ll discover that you’re not alone. You’ll look around to find countless sisters rising alongside you and you’ll help walk each other back home.

Finally dear one, please know that it’s not wrong or conceited to love yourself because when you love you, you give another permission to love her too.

With deep reverence and unconditional love,

Thirty-year old Dré.

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With this story, I make a promise to the generations of little girls who will come after me. I vow to show up in my most authentic expression, no matter how challenging it might be. I know there will be days when old programming creeps in and I feel inclined to hide, to pick apart pieces of who I am. On those days, I’ll think of those little girls and muster up the courage to love myself not for me, but for them. I vow to love myself so fiercely that they grow up with no reason to believe that they shouldn’t do the same.

feminism

Dré Pontbriand

Writer. Alchemist. Freedom Enthusiast.⁂

Read next: Why I'm Obsessed with the Bloodshed of Birth

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