Daring to be desired

In Call Me By Your Name, a film directed by Luca Guadagnino, there’s scene in which two of the main characters—Elio’s father, Professor Perlman, a historian and Oliver, an American working with Professor Perlman for his thesis—look through pictures sent to them of ancient Romanesque statues. The statues are mainly of men, each hold a certain ambiguous curvature to them, inspiring Professor Perlman to comment that it’s “as if they’re daring you to desire them.”

I’m enamored with that phrase: daring to be desired. It speaks of an unspoken beauty, one built on alluring instead of catering, an inarguable elegance to the whole affair. Confusing but understood. The only thing I’ve thought to myself since is how wonderful it would be to be so captivating.

I consider myself beautiful. I try not to argue with the fact too much, since there are plenty of other things for me to gripe about. I especially like to think of my hair as my best feature, because my hair is truly the only medium I can truly become whatever I decide I want to be at that moment.

I’ve never been at odds with the coils on my head. Being black and female, there’s a history that comes with my hair, especially since it’s natural and I find that the history makes my hair seem more beautiful than it objectively is. Older black women adore it, for it makes them warm inside to know that little black girls like me don’t face as much scrutiny for the curls atop our heads as they may have when they were younger. White people find my hair to be this amazing attraction, a shapeshifting essence just full of small surprises.

I don’t mind at all. I’ve always enjoyed the reactions, the compliments, the curiosities. My hair allows me to be a bit more interesting than I am on the surface level, as if it’s the opening to the tunnel of all my tiniest idiosyncrasies. But at a certain point during the first semester of my junior year, I simply stopped—no braiding, no styling, nothing. I had gotten my afro cut the semester prior, so my hair was too short to do much with until it grew out a little more. By the time it did grow out and I started to get creative with scarfs and hair care tricks, it didn’t matter anymore. I found a sense of center, of ease, and it was blissful.

Over winter break I decided I needed to change once again, and everything shifted out of place. The hair wasn’t the problem: sleek black box braids never hurt anybody. It was me. I lost all of my cool, my calm, my sanity at a certain points. I fell into a bit of an identity crisis for a while, because every time I looked in the mirror, I saw the thirteen year old version of myself, a version of myself I could only describe as a self-devouring monster.

I had always been in control of my hair. I could color it as much as I wanted without consequence. It could be short. Long. Wavy. Curly. But the power of one minor slip has the potential to unravel everything. However, box braids are meant to left alone for at least a month, so I found other ways of shuffling myself back together. I meditated for a while, talked to people who mattered, cut out people who didn’t. I followed routine with my hair, and every now and again do something different. Soon I came to like the long extensions on my head and the way little kids giggled whenever they saw a bunch of tiny braids cascaded across my shoulders.

And I cut them today.  And soon they will disappear.

And sitting on the floor typing away, the roots of my curls, pushing back against the bunches of intertwined strands, I feel desirable, although quite far from myself.

Last Thursday as my mother drove me home from school, a rarity now that I can do it myself, I told her about an article I read about free locs. I reminded her about my 5-year hair plan I made in the eighth grade, around the first time I braided my hair pink, recalling how I had wanted to cut my afro short freshman year of high school, and then twist the strands into locs my freshman year of college.

She turned to me, smiled and told me, “That would be cute.” I felt excitement bubble in my chest at the thought of free locs on my head because free locs weren’t meant for beauty but convenience. Yet they had always allured me with the expression of life and living they seemed to stand for. I’d only imagine the scrunched up look on my father’s face if I came home with them, but I didn’t mind it at all. All I could think about was how desirable I’d look with as much life on my head as there would be in my eyes.