In August of this year, AmericaPreachers.com reported that Pastor A.J. Aamir told his leadership staff not to wear weaves, feeling that weaves are associated with women who have low self-esteem. Pastor Aamir explained:
…I lead a church where our members are struggling financially. I mean really struggling. Yet, a 26 year old mother in my church has a $300 weave on her head. NO. I will not be quiet about this.
The pastor’s comments got a somewhat mixed response online. Several people sided with the Pastor’s message of embracing one’s natural appearance, while most pointed out that it wasn’t his place to dictate how a woman presents herself to the world. I agree with one of Pastor Aamir’s points: beauty shouldn’t be prioritized over one’s financial wellbeing. But the pastor’s comments and the Web’s response to them raised a critical question: Is changing something about your appearance a sign of low self-esteem?
In recent years (and maybe we have the Dove Real Beauty Campaign, Glee, Lady GaGa and the natural hair movement to thank for this), there’s been a push to embrace who you are naturally, no matter what size you are or color or quirky physical features you may have. This push began in a time of size zero models, 40 year old actresses that look 30 and a very narrowly defined European beauty aesthete. Anyone who didn’t fit this hard-to-reach beauty ideal, which meant a lot of women, was technically not beautiful. So naturally, there was a rebellion toward it. Tired of being told they weren’t beautiful enough because they weren’t rail thin with perfect fair skin, women began declaring, I love myself the way I am. This switch in ideals, the message in and of itself, is a beautiful and necessary message in a culture that continues to put pretty on a pedestal. If we don’t embrace what’s unique and wonderful about ourselves and cave in to the dictates of mass media, we’ll end up with a boring homogenous world. We’d also find ourselves in a vicious cycle of chasing a target that can’t ever really be reached. What fashion and movies and advertisements say is beautiful is an image created by teams of people—stylists, makeup artists, lighting specialists, Photoshop ninjas. It’s meant to be aspirational, never attainable; and the minute one ideal becomes too accessible, it changes. How else would they make us long for what they’re selling?
So I get where the pastor is coming from. I get the love-yourself-the-way-you-are message. But I also see the slight hypocrisy in it. Yes, society is saying, be your naturally beautiful you. But it’s also saying, don’t be TOO natural. Take for example, another aspect of hair. Adding hair to one’s appearance comes under so much scrutiny (as illustrated by Pastor Aamir’s declaration and several others who share his stance), but removing hair is another story.
Deborah Arthurs of the Daily Mail reported on Graduate Student Emer O’Toole who went 18 months without shaving her legs and armpits. Arthurs described O’Toole’s hairy state as revolting and appalling. O’Toole also appeared on British morning show This Morning where 80% of viewers participating in a poll voted for not going hair free, while only 20% chose the “care free” option. For women, having hairless armpits, legs and so on is not a natural state of being but it is a social norm that a lot of us conform to. And it’s unlikely that the “love yourself the way you are” movement will have an impact on this aspect of our appearance because it’s so ingrained in us. The fact is human beings living around other human beings are naturally inclined to want to fit in. No one wants to be outcast or ridiculed. So does that make the millions of shaved female armpits across America indicators of low self-esteem? Are weaves, in fact a sign of weakness, an inability to go against the grain and love yourself despite what anyone else says?
To say that women are unconfident because they cave in to superficial pressures is to shorthand the makeup of confidence. Confidence is comprised of so much more than the world’s response to our appearance. We see our reflections when we look in the mirror, but we see who we are every time we wake up in the morning in a home that we like or dislike. We see who we are when we go to the jobs we’ve chosen. We see who we are through the friends we surround ourselves with and the values we carry around with us. The happiness and confidence we find in the way we shape our whole lives far outweighs the confidence derived from hearing someone say you’re beautiful.The happiness we find in shaping our lives far outweighs the confidence derived from hearing someone say you're pretty Click To Tweet
Pastor Aamir may think I have low self-esteem because of my wigs and weaves, but I know that my hair and my appearance alone doesn’t define me. Feeling pretty alone, no matter who’s definition of pretty, does not a self-confident person make. I don’t accept society’s definition of beauty because it is, indeed, too narrow. But I also don’t accept the current definition of self-acceptance because it too is equally narrow. It doesn’t take into account the weight I place on the different aspects of my life. Ultimately, my appearance does not carry a lot of weight in my grand scheme of things. In fact, shaping my life and changing the things I’m not happy with does, whether it be excess hair or a job. Being the architect of my own life experience and identity gives me an extreme amount of self-confidence and satisfaction. The texture or length of my hair is inconsequential. It’s as inconsequential as the nail polish that colors my toes. They’re fuchsia at the moment and that doesn’t mean I think fuchsia is a superior nail color to my natural one; it just means that I like that color right now.