It’s only been six years since I stopped wearing the hijab aka dejabbed, which is an odd thing for me to think about. Styling my hair feels very natural now, like I’ve been doing it forever. I know how long to blow dry it, what products work best. Yet there are times when I slip a scarf around my neck (often the same scarves I used to wear on my head) that that old feeling comes back to me — I still know where I would put the pins, how to adjust my hair to stay comfortably hidden.
As a Muslim woman, I’ve lived my life knowing hair is innately political. The hijab, for me, meant expressing a very specific identity. Purposefully wearing your identity gives you a community, gives you a role. You perform a fuck you to Islamophobes just in your everyday presence. It allows for a knowingness when you pass another hijabi on the sidewalk, a community in half-hearted smiles and salams. Wearing the hijab made an identity palpable to me tangible to everyone else.
I don’t wear the hijab anymore, but my desire to perform a Muslim identity hasn’t gone away, although it has necessarily shifted. Performing a Muslim identity is ultimately about performing difference, about performing race and religion. This happens all the time just through my name (“Wait, how do you pronounce it?”). But oddly, and ironically, it also happens through my hair, which is often called out in typically Orientalist fashions — it’s different, exotic, beautiful (“It’s so big!” “I love your curls, are they natural?!” “What do you use to get that volume?”).
My hair being a big curly mess is part of what marks me as “different.” I’m not sure why that is … white girls have curly hair too! Maybe there’s something about huge, brown, curly hair on a multiracial-vaguely-brown-what-is-she-really-though girl that assists in marking me as different to the public eye. Maybe it’s in addition to my name. Maybe it’s in addition to my research on Muslims. Maybe it’s in addition to my politics. Or maybe it’s all in my head.
I’ve basically been obsessed with doing my hair “right” (no frizz!!) since day one of no-hijab. I’ve used Suave mousse and been a crunchy curly girl. I’ve used cheap Garnier curl cream. I’ve tried just wearing my hair up. I’ve gone through phases where I wore a headband everyday. I’ve worked at a hair salon and done my hair with helpful supervision of stylist friends and fancy products (thank you, Deva Curl).
But ultimately with hair like this there is no right. And there’s no wrong. Embracing my big hair — including all of the frizz, Orientalist comments, nice comments, and annoying need to wet it down daily — has been, in some weird way, also about embracing new ways of comprehending and performing my own identity.