Content warning: abuse.
One week ago, I cut my hair for the first time in two and a half years. I also dyed it jet black.
For my friends and family, the shoulder-length chop and color change may seem like a massive departure from my signature waist-length dark brown hair. But for me, my new hair feels like coming home.
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If you follow me on Twitter or read my blog regularly, you’ve undoubtedly seen me talk about #SpookyFemme. I created #SpookyFemme to describe my aesthetic: all black clothing; deep red lipstick, and dark hair. My friend Kate calls this look “severe”, which I really love.
Being seen as severe, spooky, dark, and even unapproachable makes me feel good and powerful. Spooky femme is so much more than what you visually see from the outside: my femme identity comes from an internal power that is inherently tied to my queerness.
I love my spooky femme look, but I had a nagging feeling that it was incomplete. I wear all black every day. My nails are long and painted black with a matte overcoat. My dark lipstick is my trademark. So what was missing?
I had been considering a big hair chop for a while. On a whim, I thought “what if I also dyed it black?” Immediately, an image of me wearing all black with dark lipstick and black hair popped into my mind, and it clicked: spooky femme means so much to me and makes me feel so powerful because it’s a reclamation of my younger self, the self that I halted for almost ten years because my abuser forced me to.
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When I was thirteen, I dyed my hair black and I adored it. I was your typical young goth teenager – I loved wearing all black, and Tripp pants and heavy metal band tees peppered my closet – but the very beginnings of my budding spooky femmeness went deeper than that, as they continue to do now. What everyone assumed was just a phase wasn’t a phase for me. Somewhere inside of me, a small voice said “this is right”.
Until it wasn’t.
I also started dating my abuser when I was thirteen. A couple of months into our relationship, he started telling me what I was and was not allowed to wear (which later evolved into what I was and was not allowed to eat, and who I was and was not allowed to spend my time with… the list goes on). He demanded that I stop wearing the clothes I loved to wear, and promised he would never talk to me or even acknowledge my presence at school if I didn’t change my look.
I was crushed and confused. I loved my goth aesthetic, but I was just emerging out of years of being bullied horribly, and I knew what was going to happen at school if my abuser and his friends ever saw me wearing my beloved dark clothes again. I was already in the throes of an abusive relationship, and I had no idea.
I traded my Tripp pants for floral sundresses, let my band tees collect dust in the back of my closet, put light brown highlights in my hair, and packed my goth dreams away with a bruised heart.
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Last fall, five years after my relationship with my abuser ended, #SpookyFemme was born. In an off-hand comment, I used the term to describe my look in the first picture in the collage above.
After a few years of bouncing between style phases, I had begun to wear a lot of black again. I knew “goth” didn’t feel like a perfect fit anymore, but “spooky” did – it combines severe glamour with my unyielding take-no-shit attitude. The small voice inside of me that said “this is right” when I was thirteen came roaring back.
• • •
One week ago, I looked in the mirror and felt more powerful than I have in ten years. My clothes are mine. My body is mine. My hair is mine.
My life is mine, and I will continue to reclaim it.
If you are a survivor, you are not alone. Please know that you are loved and supported. You matter because you are here in this world, and you matter to me.