Standing in the bathroom, a place of horrific and shameful abuse. I am getting another haircut that strips away my femininity. I’m 11 years old and in the midst of a war that revolves around my hair length. Much of my childhood has already been stolen. My inner little girl is screaming “Please mom, stop! Don’t take away my femininity! Don’t cut more hair.” The ache and fear inside of me are deep. This wasn’t a new experience for me, but this was the worst one I have had to survive.
I stopped verbally asking my parents to keep my hair long. I didn’t want them to know what I hoped and longed for. I feared them taking more away from me and I knew it wouldn’t have made a difference to make my longings known. One time as I was getting my hair cut at a salon, I took a risk to skirt around my mom’s intentions to strip me away from my beauty. I was brought to a crippling dead end. I had built up some courage and took a risk to ask the woman who was cutting my hair, “Would you let me keep my hair a little longer and not cut it above my upper ear lobes?” I hoped this woman would have replied with kindness and desire, but she looked at me with a straight face and replied “No I can’t, your mom told us not to listen to you and keep it really short.” My heart sank and I felt defeated, another person in my life shutting down my desires and my voice.
So here I stand, in the bathroom, my chest tight with fear and getting my hair chopped off. With each chop and small clump of hair falling to the ground, more of my femininity was falling away from me, leaving me to wonder if I was beautiful or girly. My mom’s dark desire was to make me feel homely as she would call me and more like an “it,” as my family called me.
As I was participating in a workshop in Seattle recently, I was brought to a point of curiosity that revolved around my short haircut and my ethnic identity. I looked up the meaning and value of hair in South Asian culture, since I was adopted as a baby from India, and found shocking and confirming words that made my eyes fill with tears. I learned that within my culture, hair is the ultimate identifier of beauty. As I was trying to seek understanding from what I was taking in, I realized there was a painful truth I had to name. My mom, “my family,” were white and intentionally abusing me and attacking my femininity alongside of my ethnicity by chopping off my hair.
I was being traumatized by overt racism.
I was being stripped of what my Indian culture calls beauty by someone who had power and authority,
Throughout my life, I have had to digest a handful of experiences of racial injustice from people outside my home, but haven’t yet had the eyes to see that racism began in my adoption story within my own family. I am sad for this little girl and want to join her in the grief, pain and fear. I want to stand next to her 11 year old, early adolescent body, in that bathroom and look at her with eyes of compassion and words of love and beauty. I want to take my hand, with tenderness and kindness, and caress her short hair. I want to tell her this, “You are fully girl. You are lovely. You are adorned. Your brownness is beautiful. And God created every piece and part of you with loving intention.” I want to grab a hold of her smooth, soft hand and gently soothe her skin with my thumb, while looking her in the eyes with deep love, affirming her brown skin is full of beauty.
Because of the love, truth and kindness I showed this little 11-year-old girl, she has learned that she is both fierce and lovely. These truths empower her to walk in freedom in her gender and ethnicity. Her hair was once a place of darkness and brokenness but now tells us a story of beauty and redemption. This little girl will grow up to live into her glory as a woman of beauty who dances in the delight of her brownness. She now get to choose to wear her hair long, wavy, in beautiful braids, or tucked into a messy bun. She is now free to be who God intended her to be!
Sandhya Oaks, is a woman of many passions, including, racial reconciliation, adoption, exploring the outdoors, a good cup of coffee and creating tasty charcuterie boards. She is adopted from India, and finds herself often crossing paths with and engaging stories of fellow adoptees. She is currently serving with Cru, Campus Ministry, in Minneapolis, Minnesota and loves shepherding, speaking and developing students from all backgrounds, places and spaces.