I’ve never known how to live up to my maternal line, though I’ve burned up a lot of energy trying. Womanhood to me is the feeling of always striving. Striving even when there is no endpoint. I learned early on that to be a good woman—a strong woman—means scheduling, doing, achieving. You execute this series flawlessly and without any complaints. You survive in this world by showing up, pretty and prepared and perfect, hopefully more articulate than anyone else in the room—and always with done hair.
Wonderful essay by Rachel Wilkinson about one of the dilemmas of being a woman, the tension between feminism and beauty.
I believe I had a feminist childhood. I had the kind of upbringing where my mother gave me, at age nine, a book of 100 women who changed the world, and sent me to a middle school where we discussed the misogyny of The Little Mermaid. In my mother’s eyes, these were important lessons for me. Intelligence was the thing that would allow everything in my life to fall into place. She’d cultivated me to be the perfect millennial daughter: existing in a meritocratic world where looks didn’t matter so much because I could be anything I wanted if I were just smart enough. Like all parents, she contains contradictions.
Part of me loves her for telling such an exquisite lie. Not even a lie so much, but what she’d truly hoped would be true for me—a parental lie. I think about how much I’ve tried to let this shield me, to let it protect me from uncomfortable feelings. But with my 45-minute hair routine, I’ve only embraced her perfectionism—and her same contradictions. I wish her lie were true: that appearance didn’t matter, a nuisance held up against smarts. Or I wish I could care less about it—that I could hold to feminist principles, smash my blow dryer and somehow transcend the whole gendered mess. But even then, it wouldn’t be enough.
My head of hair is a perpetually living and dying thing: inconstant, uncontrollable, inescapably corporeal. It’s a promise that I am always a body—despite how hard I might wish to be just a mind.