“I’M SORRY MY HAIR ISN’T CURLY ENOUGH FOR YOUR STANDARDS!”
It’s something I want to scream nearly every time I go to dinner with my boyfriend’s family. These events are often…I’d say about once a week. His little sister Danielle, 15 years old, wants to straighten her hair. This is an argument I’ve seen unfold since my first visit with his parents a little over a year ago. His mom cringed whenever his sister mentioned it. Tension immediately rose at the table whenever it happened.
I was at lunch with a fellow student. We were getting paid to give tours of the housing (dorms) at UCLA to newly admitted students and their families.. We were learning about each other to fill time before the job got started. I was telling her I was going to be teaching in Tanzania that summer, my boyfriend is Isreali.
She commented, “Wow, you’re already doing Global Studies!” Global Studies was my major.
That made me sort of uncomfortable…I’m not studying my own life, I’m doing what I’m interested in. I didn’t date the boy I dated because he’s foreign. I didn’t travel because I wanted to observe the people like some sick tourist. I wanted to know what it was like for a non-profit to work abroad…and I sure learned a lot of lessons.
But is that what I look like? Some privileged white girl touring any exotic thing she can get her hands on? Is that what I am? No, it’s not…but I wonder if that’s how I seem. I’ve thought the same thing about military men who’ve married women from abroad, why should I be judged any differently?
Meanwhile, back at the ranch.
Just kidding, they would never be able to handle eating at a ranch.
Meanwhile, back at the trendy urban eating environment.
I was walking on eggshells talking to Danielle at the table. For context, this girl has seen me sit in a movie theater down 2/3 of a mimosa in a workout water bottle, and giggle my ass off to some action movie. As I explain that I can straighten my own hair in 20 minutes for quick wavy hair, and 40 for perfectly straight hair. Danielle loves it every time I say that straightening isn’t that big of a deal, especially with good product and a ceramic straightener. Every time I approve something, Danielle looks at her mom like, “See, it’s not that bad!”
However, whenever I mention something like this, a specific gaze begin to lather me with judgment. Come on Mandy, have you looked in a mirror? Her curls are WAY curlier than yours are. It would take so much longer for her to straighten her hair.
It’s his mom’s way of commenting on my foreignness. Since I’m at their table, it’s an Israeli table. Even though only one of their 5 children was born there, his parents were born there. They return annually. So if I’m sitting with them, they’ll try to not speak Hebrew out of American politeness, but I’ve been around long enough that they forget I don’t speak it.
And it’s okay that I’m foreign. It’s refreshing. It’s like when I was traveling and didn’t speak a word of the country I was in. It’s a very unique way to be surrounded, and yet alone. It’s introspective and defining.
However, his parents think we’re “moving too fast.” At this point in their lives, they had met each other, and would soon travel together to the US. I imagine all they had was each other at school. This bond is probably what led to their marriage. His mom always freaks out when his sisters say they don’t want to marry an Israeli man. I’m sure it’s the other way around with me, and my hair isn’t curly enough.
I’m not Israeli. My hair isn’t naturally thick and dark. I have a weird mix of English, Scottish, and Cherokee. My other languages are odd and not very developed. I’m artistic, not scientific, like his family values. They accept me, but they don’t want me to get anywhere close to a ring on my finger.
What they don’t understand is that I’m just as scared of that as they are.
There’s a somewhat happy ending to this story. Danielle recently attended a formal, for which her mother took her to a Beverly Hills Salon to get her hair professionally straightened. The formal was 2 months ago, and now she gets her hair straightened weekly, because “it would take too long and she would mess it up,” according to her mom and sister. This girl used to live with her hair in a bun or a ponytail 24/7. Be it going to a party, a holiday, a hang out, her hair was up. I found out she was called a “poodle” at school from her curls. Now her hair is always down, and it’s beautiful and long. She flips it constantly, radiating confidence through her teenage smirks. She smiles occasionally, too.