JOSIE BAIRD

I do not think that I actually felt powerful until I started taking women’s study classes. Being able to articulate my experiences, history, and how these impact me has been extremely uplifting and powerful. Through these articulations, I have found beauty, pain, and ways I can improve. I am learning to be empowered by my existence and ability to thrive and create change. This journey has made me feel extremely powerful.

As a kid, I remember walking to school with my head held high, a head full of braids, and a fluffy jacket-to combat the cold. At four feet tall, holding tight to my mom’s pale hand, I could see the unwelcoming faces adults casted upon my mom and I. I went to a predominately white school and felt like an outcast. As one of the few mixed race children, I was often called “Oreo,” “white washed,” kids would sing, “look at little Josie and her afro puff.” My hair and skin color were the two things that set me apart. I did everything I could to blend into my surroundings; I decided that the first trait to go were my untamed tresses. After weeks of coming home crying, my mom felt defeat and took me to the salon. As the man combed out my hair, he asked if I was positive I wanted him to straighten it. At the time, I had no idea I was conforming to white standards of beauty I saw around me. My once coarse hair was now straight as a needle. When I returned to school everyone loved my hair, asking to touch and play with it; I was finally beginning to get the attention I wanted. After years of chemically relaxing my hair, I began to forget its natural state. I was losing my roots, along with my identity as an African American woman. I spent hours getting ready, continuously pressing my lifeless curls down until they submitted with defeat. Although I was transforming into what everyone wanted me to be, I did not feel beautiful; while conforming to social standards, I lost who I was. It was not until my junior year in high school, peering into a magazine, that I realized why my definition of beauty had been tampered. I observed the magazine, seeing no one of color, and asked ‘where am I represented in these pictures?’ I dropped the magazine and confronted the mirror, and asking aloud, “Who are you?” I looked back and forth between the magazine and myself. From the corner of my eye I saw the red scissors which sat on my night stand. I released my needle-straight hair from the pins holding it up, picked up the scissors, and began to chop-until about an inch of hair was left. I looked down at my hardwood floor, now covered in hair, and felt a sudden weight lifted off my shoulders; I felt as though I had cut the chains binding me to all of my labels-Oreo and white washed-I was now free. The societal definition of beauty affects millions of people every day. As an African American woman affected by these social extremities, the importance of sharing my story with young women is critical. I wear my natural hair to not only change the definition of beauty, but to inspire men and women everywhere. Although one cannot pick their family, complexion, or facial features, we can transform our definition of beauty by celebrating and accepting our individual differences.