A few Fridays ago, three other Lovely Leaders and myself loaded a school bus with 17 girl scouts from the ever friendly Girl Scout Troop that I volunteer with. Let me break that down for you: that’s seven Darling Daisies, four Beautiful Brownies, four Jazzy Juniors, and two Crazy Cadets. Daisies are in grades K-1 to give all of you unfamiliar with girl scouts an idea from where the ages sprouted up for each distinction.
Now, let me continue to give you some more courtesy context. Because our troop is significantly African American, it was proposed to me by my wise Troop Leader that “maybe, wouldn’t it be fun to get Rachel’s long hair braided for the occasion since so many of the girls will also be getting their hair braided specifically for camp!” at first I really enjoyed the idea, mostly because I love getting my hair done, but I was a little cautious about the cultural implications… In the US, white people have their hair braided because they recently returned from a trip to Jamaica. I had my hair braided once when I was an exchange student in Uganda. It took a day and a half and cost a decent amount of scalp pain. I returned to Cedar Rapids for the summer to work at the local subway in the mall food court, and decided to ditch my plaited look for something that looked a little less touristy, and maybe a little more Iowan. (HA!)
But after discussing the option with my Troop Leader, I came to really appreciate the motivation behind such a gesture. I am a firm believer that beauty takes many definitions. One definition does not contradict the other. If I could share my braiding experience with the girls in my troop, and if they can see that beauty doesn’t have to be limited to particular styles belonging only to your culture or ethnicity, then it’s all worth it, right?
So I went braided.
I enjoyed the conversations that it started and the thoughts that it prompted. Many of the Caucasian moms who came to camp with other troops complemented my look, however I wondered if they had complemented any of my girls’ braids. When something is “normal” attention doesn’t need to be drawn perhaps. Interesting.
I was exceptionally encouraged on the way home. Three girls were fighting over who could braid my hair… the obvious response is to split my head three-ways and let them share. However I soon had to give one of my braiders up when one of our few Caucasian girls asked to have one of them braid her hair! It reminded me of what it was like to be in third grade: if someone would have offered to braid my hair in a million tiny beautiful braids like the Cosby girls sometimes had, I would have made them my new best friend (forever). This interaction might not have happened on the bus between the two girls had I not braided my hair.
Sometimes it seems as though, in everyone’s individual pursuit of beauty (however they define it) we chase after what we don’t (and in some cases never will) have. When I was four, one of my best friends was a Korean girl named Yuri. Infact, there were quite a few Korean families living in the apartment complex that I called home. I thought the Korean girls were so beautiful! Their eyes, their skin color against their jet black hair, their intricate outfits that they wore for traditional weddings, even their language was such a lovely mystery for me… I wanted to be Korean, which was a goal that could never be completely attained! Was that happening in my girl scout troop? Were the African American girls ever wishing they looked white? Were the Caucasian girls ever wishing they could look black?
How often do we cast aside and neglect the real beauty that God has given us, all to our own, because it’s not good enough for us in our own eyes when compared to someone else’s? Or, how often do we neglect the God given beauty in others because it is a style to which we are unaccustomed?