Rituals of the Body

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I grew up not being allowed to dye my hair. It was the school’s policy that we couldn’t have unnatural hair colors—the specific colors that I wanted of course. Thankfully for my parents, that caused me to never ask for it. I knew either way when I moved out, I would do it. There were a lot of things I was wanting to do in my life, the first and utmost importance was dying my hair. I needed to say ‘please notice me!’

The week after I stepped foot into my first college dorm, I already had colored stripes. Then a week later it all was purple. Then bright blonde. Then pink. Then lilac. And green and orange and blue and red. It’s back to brown for now but ideas are churning for the next color combination.

There are other things I am still trying to do in my life, like figuring out how to move my body like a normal human, not looking at it like such a foreign object, and really trying to understand what it means to have my face. Peering into the mirror, I see my face, my nose—I clothespin open one eye and then the other and try to make the wackiest faces I can. I smile. Usually pick out a spice that no one bothered to mention to me. And then I try to make the most sultry face I can. (Can you even imagine such a face from me?)

I try to look at it objectively, like a scientist weighing pros and cons. Okay that nose is crooked, that forehead is far too large, the eyes bug out a bit, but the eyebrows are pretty good now that it’s in style, the mouth is nice. Lips? A little chapped but surely she’s working towards getting buttery smooth lips like in those ads. (I bought $30 lip cream that a YouTuber recommended but I constantly forget to put on.)  I like to think I don’t care if I’m pretty or ugly; I just want to know which one to get it all over with.

One of the things you have to be mindful of with dyed hair is that the dye will wash out. It will truly pour out of your head and you’ll panic because what if there isn’t any color left? If you aren’t careful, there will be blue all over your curtain, stringy red ghosts of loose hair on the walls, and purple round stains from hair ties. Your nails become discolored but that’s the cost for delayed adolescent rebellion. To alleviate the aftermath, even though my deposit for this apartment has long been spent, I’ve started taking my showers in a new way.

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I first turn on the water and let it run. It tumbles out of the faucet. My cat pounces into the bathtub, slipping, and sticks his ears underneath the waterfall and then scampers off in fear, like it’s the first time he’s gotten wet.  When the water is warm, I undress, get on my hands and knees on the chipping porcelain, and stick my head under that water. It’s painful, I’m straining my neck and often need to rest, or come up for air.

Then back into child’s pose, into my bowing position. It feels like I’m praying towards Mecca, or washing the feet of Jesus, only it’s my own hair, I’m washing myself. My eyes burn with a stray splash of shampoo, but then relief comes when I can put conditioner on. Because then I can sit and let it soak in. I close my eyes tightly, and brace myself to turn on the showerhead.

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There is a split second when it’s all silent. The waterfall is gone and a drip quietly slides down into the pipe. I tense. And then sitting there in the dim light, it starts to rain. It’s shockingly cold when it first hits my back, but I always try to smile.

I used to do this as a child, and would sit in the shower for hours, closing my eyes, feeling the warm rain. And now I do it again, in child’s pose, asking my body for forgiveness for all these years of feeling shameful for it, for not taking care of it, for feeling uncomfortable with it surrounding me. 

I think about people’s bodies a lot, and how we are all standing inside them. I think about baby trees growing inside of larger trees and how one day my skin will look like their skin. I can track my time on this earth through the skin on my body—this gray hair came after I graduated college, I got this tattoo after my professor died, this scar came from my adventurous months in the kitchen and maybe I should get back into that. I used to be scared of death, terrified of growing old. But I’m trying not to be, because I’m starting to understand what a blessing it is to be adorned by time.

To collect time throughout your whole life and be able to show its collection on your body—like so much dew on the grass in morning. I want to be cleansed by time. 

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These photographs were made last year. I really felt some need to document my hair washing. I loved them, I wanted to share them because I was proud of them, I’m the most proud of these pieces out of any recently, and yet there’s that hesitation because it shows my body. Why am I ashamed? What’s to hide? My body is going to return to the earth one day and then only the trees will care about it then (as if trees caring about your body is a bad thing, but you know what I mean). I came out of the womb like this. I grew on the earth in this body. I love this body because it lets me walk and explore. I trust this body and God who gives it breath. Every breath is an act of trust in my body, and in myself, and my rituals try to remind me of that. So I’m sharing this finally. 

And so I still dye my hair, and decorate myself, and wear clothes that make me feel proud of the person I am inside this space. I try notice my body now, and see all the things I can do with it. I can write and read and breathe and jump around when I’m excited, and curl back into the fetal position when I’m hopeless. There are still some things I want to do in my life. Dying my hair is one of them. And bowing down is another. 

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