I open the box of cheap hair dye. It reads, “Luminous highlights for dark hair.” After months of begging and listening to my mother’s warnings, I finally have her permission to dye my hair for the first time. No one else in my 6th grade group of friends is allowed to dye their hair yet, and I feel supreme. Inside the small package, there is a bottle of hair dye and also a pouch that reads “bleach.” I’m not very informed about hair care or beauty products, but I feel a tinge of nervousness when the stuff that my mom uses to clean floors is about to be put in my hair.
“Mom, why is there bleach?” I ask.
“Don’t worry. That’s hair bleach. It’s supposed to go in your hair,” she replies.
I exhale and become less tense. I still have a lot of questions, but I decide I will let her start. She runs her fingers through my thick, dark hair and begins to separate it into sections. I look up and see my reflection. My skin is bronze, even with the absence of sunshine. I look at the picture of the girl on the hair dye box sitting on my bathroom sink. She is smiling big and bright with perfectly pink lips, a ski-slope nose, and fair skin. Her “dark” hair compliments her hazel eyes.
In my mind, this box of hair dye would somehow magically erase all my imperfections. I was planning on washing my hair, letting it dry, and looking at my beautiful golden locks unfold in front of my mirror. All of my expectations were slowly beginning to diminish the further the hair-dyeing process continued. My mother was certainly not a cosmetologist, but I had trusted her with my hair. The box came with simple instructions, which I had made sure to translate into Spanish to her, and I could tell she was as clueless as I was as she lathered my hair with the hair bleach aimlessly. I began to panic every time I looked up at the mirror, but I would try to reassure myself that my hair would look pretty when she was done. I would be pretty when she was done.
The process was long and miserable. There was constant tugging at my hair and the smell of hair bleach and dye would linger in my nose for the next few days. The chair I had been sitting in was far from comfortable, and my mom had demanded I sit still continuously. I thought it would all be worth it, but when my hair was finally dry, my excitement took an abrupt halt. My hair looked nothing like the golden locks I had envisioned. My black hair was mostly still there, and the “highlights” looked like brass. My face felt hot and a lump began to form in my throat. I was distraught. A million worries began to pop into my mind, but my number one worry was that I had to go to school looking as ridiculous as I did. My plans of transforming my entire appearance were destroyed thanks to cheap hair dye.
My middle school years were plagued with my disastrous attempts like this one to alter my appearance. It seemed that no matter despite how horrible the results were, I still continued to try and change. My eyebrows were once bushy and almost connected, but I spent so many nights ripping them off that they now grow patchy and in a strange array. I remember countless hours of clicking through YouTube tutorials on how to make my eyes look big using cosmetics or tutorials on how to make my skin lighter “naturally.” I would spend nights planning out how I would change my hair and how I would wear my makeup. Although, many of my plans fell short because I didn’t have the materials nor the skill to most of the things that I wanted. I became obsessed with watching beauty gurus, and I even convinced myself that I would be able to look like the skewed image of “pretty” that I had created for myself. These things certainly weren’t what I should have been focusing on as a preteen, but that didn’t stop me.
When I would think of my appearance I often used the term interchangeably with my worth. Most of my idols at that age were beautiful women and girls who had colored eyes and silky, light hair. As a child, my dolls did not even resemble me. I would always pick out the pretty dolls, with blue eyes and golden locks. It was this type of thinking that lead me to believe that the characteristics that defined me were a burden. I hated summer because my skin was already “dark enough” and the sun would disgrace me even more. I hated my nose because it was too wide, too long, and too crooked. I could never see the beauty in my dark brown eyes because I had spent too much time admiring eye colors that I thought were prettier. It had never dawned on me that my heritage, which has given me my defining characteristics, carried its own beauty.
Now, I know that my “imperfections” were only the result of my apprehension to accept my culture. They were a result of the predominantly white school which I attended during my middle school years. I had spent these years denying my Latino background because I never saw it as appealing. When I would look into the mirror, I would always find ways in which my face did not match up to the Eurocentric standards of beauty that had been ingrained in my mind for so long. At the time, I wanted nothing more than to wake up one morning and look like the girl on the hair dye box. I had never resented a face more after all of the trouble I put myself through. It wasn’t until recently, as a 16-year-old, that I began to realize that these characteristics were a part of me that I could not mask. I have been able to expand further on the word pretty. I now know that it is not a word that must be skin deep. I have learned that I have a pretty mind, a pretty heart, and a unique exterior with its own beauty.
From Instructor Poole:
I chose this essay first and foremost because it’s well-written and it feels honest. It’s also an act of courage; Daisy has written eloquently and with humor about a potentially painful episode of her life. Writing about our own experiences is something that’s often a lot more difficult than it seems, and Daisy has done that well in “Redefining Pretty.”