Acceptance at 23

It took about 23 years for me to accept my curly hair.

As a child, I had the normal, straight, silky Asian girl locks. It was during my earlier years (and far too early for me to fully enjoy it), but plenty of photos testify that I indeed, at some point, looked like a normal Asian girl.

As I grew, my hair became a blistering mess.

I remember a time when I was frustrated that parts of my hair stuck up. With my Type A personality, I decided to chop the pieces that got in my way. I ended up giving myself a minor buzz cut and wore the large ’90s-style headband for weeks.

Then high school came. Still not knowing how to do my ‘do, I went through an extra strong gel phase. Tubs of gel filled my teenage years as I donned the crunchy hair look and begged my mom to splurge to take me to get my hair permanently straightened. My mom, believing in natural beauty and frugal spending, said no each time … sometimes before I’d finished asking the question.

And there were questions asked of me too. People often asked me whether I was full Chinese and Vietnamese because they’ve never seen someone with my locks before.

“Yes,” I’d say. “I am full Chinese and Vietnamese.”

It didn’t help that I’ve always had a curvy body, too—something else that’s “abnormal” for an Asian girl.

“But you have an ass,” a guy once said to me (classy I know).

“I know,” I said. “But no, I’m not mixed. I’m full Chinese and Vietnamese.”

Finally, college came (big, deep breath). Freedom. With a part-time job under my workin’ girl belt, I spent the dinero to get my locks straightened and touched up as often as possible. I went through my phases with this too—from brown to light brown to blonde with highlights and all. I slowly killed my hair as I worked toward completing my higher education.

A few days after graduation, I gave my curls the break they deserved. I realized with a more than full-time job in hand, I could no longer afford to spend the a.m. hours flat-ironing my hair to typical Asian girl perfection. Instead, I spent a couple hours researching products that worked best for my hair and discovered which would keep my curls engaged without the crunchy-hair look.

I was 23, and it was the first time I accepted my hair for what it is—large, bouncy curls—far from “normal” and definitely far from “perfect,” but it was (big, deep breath) finally free.

As I think about this time almost four years ago, I’m dumbfounded by the amount of hours I invested into destroying my hair, and ultimately, my being. I recall the mornings I woke up at 5 a.m. to spend an hour burning my hair and the smell of smoke that came scorching out of the flat iron. Or the late night hair appointments as I sat under the salon hair dryer with foil piled on top of my poor head and charging hundreds on the Amex. I’m amazed at how hard I tried to fit in to this image of the silky-locks Asian woman—how I allowed stereotypes to define beauty.

Moreover, I think about how acceptance is far less time-consuming than denial. I think about the hours I spend investing into noteworthy endeavors like teaching my niece the moonwalk or organizing a Rolling Readers fundraiser.

Now at 26, days away from the Big 2-7, I admit I still relish the time I get my hair did, but I no longer feel pressure from within to fit into this mold. In fact, as I spend no more than 10 minutes on my hair each morning, I know there is no such mold. We’re all different.

The difference in me is just a little more noticeable, and you know, a little more frizzy.

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That dress is for me

That blue lacey dress? Yes, that’s for me.

The short peasant black dress? Yeah, I know it’s short and I got it for me.

And, the white tube top cocktail dress that poofs out a little? It was on clearance, I fell in love with it, I lost some weight for it and I totally got it for me.

Everything in my closet? That’s right; it’s all for me.

Bows, stilettos, cute belts, scarves, pink leather jacket — all for me. Even my Chucks were purchased for me.

I know the general notion is that most women wear certain attire for the attention and that could be true but when it comes to me, it’s all for me.

There are blue-moon-times when it isn’t for me but here’s my point:

I don’t like getting hit on. Well, to be fair, I don’t like the way certain men hit on me. I’ve always felt this way but more so after a man whistled at me when I was leaving the mall. That’s right, he whistled at me as though I was a cute little puppy and he wanted my attention. It made me feel like an object as though I am not a working woman with a heart and mind.

Even when I went to Henry’s the other day, I felt the eyes of four men glare up and down my body as I walked by — one of whom was obviously there with his significant other. I just didn’t feel good.

I just don’t feel good when I’m treated like I’m a piece of meat.

Perhaps it’s a personal thing because I can’t just scream out to the world: “hey mister, don’t check me out!” And, I can’t wear baggy, cover up clothes because I love my wardrobe — the clothes I select make me feel good about my body and myself, and I love my body.

I understand the way human nature works and I’m not bashing men who compliment me by giving me a glance but that’s my point. A glance is natural but when you take it to another level — as in whistling at a woman — it’s offensive.

That is all.

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Moving on to polka dot dresses

After my journalists association hosted a successful and, what I felt, fulfilling fundraiser- I spent the next afternoon with my good friend Sam.

Sam, a wedding coordinator and florist, had a series of wineries and venues to visit. While making a lunch stop at the Welk Resort, I told her about all the backstage details of the event.

I told her about the committee, our goals and the process in which it took to reach them. I also told her about those who let the core group of volunteers down along the way.

“I guess it wouldn’t have bothered me so much if it wasn’t for a charity or if the cause didn’t mean so much to me,” I said. “I’m letting it go but I’m not going to lie…I was pissed and expressed it.”

Sam listened as I attempted to offer an analytical conclusion on the situation. It didn’t work though…as a sense of disappointment was still inside me.

“Maybe,” she said. “Maybe you can consider what happened a good lesson of the type of person you don’t want to be.”

It was perhaps one of Sam’s most brilliant comments to me and she’s right. Perhaps, rather than see another human being as a disappointment—I’d consider it a helpful example of how not to treat others.

And we ended that topic of conversation on that remark and moved on to the next topic…polka dot dresses.

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Abuse isn’t unique to Egypt

As the media coverage of anti-government protests in Egypt intensifies — I can’t help but think about the injustice that millions of people around the world experience that isn’t given the same spotlight.

Injustice happens every day, even within our own country. From the kids in New Orleans who still do not have a school to attend nearly six years after Hurricane Katrina to the to the gay rights activist who was murdered in Uganda to the Polish blogger who was arrested for criticizing an elected official… to the journalists who were blocked from reporting on parts of the oil spill in the gulf coast.

Obviously, each situation is secular and this short post isn’t meant to disparage the efforts of those in Egypt who are confined from sharing their thoughts.

But rather than sympathizing for those who do not experience the same luxuries we do, let’s take the time to lift their voices to a higher level and acknowledge that the abuse in Egypt is not exclusive.

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Therapy from strangers

There’s something therapeutic about spilling your beans to a stranger. If you haven’t done it yet, I’d recommend it.

A couple days ago, I met with an active community member in San Diego for coffee. After talks of budget cuts, illegal drugs and parenting — he asked me where I wanted to be in five years.

Without hesitation, I told him.

Looking back I wonder if my limbo-ness was completely apparent but it happened, and I told him. I told him about my journalistic aspirations and my immediate goals to get to that point. I also told him why I was hesitant about my next move.

Then he, a man who couldn’t be more than 10 years older than me, told me when I look back on my life I won’t think about the compensation I received at the time of my work but the experiences I was fortunate enough to encounter and the challenges I overcame.

“I know,” I said.

He knows. I know. You know. We all know.

And, we ended our conversation on that note.

Though the conversation was days ago and in between the time of our conversation and as I write this blog — I got what I wanted and what I believe I deserve, it’s refreshing to hear what my thoughts deep down were telling me, aloud from a stranger.

And when this inevitable road block appears on my map again, I’ll know my thoughts aren’t secular.

So let’s go out tonight and celebrate…. because I did what I had to to make it.

Thank God I made it.

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