I guess this post has been a long time coming. It’s something I get asked about frequently and while I’ve explained bits and pieces here and there, I don’t think I’ve ever actually sat down and compiled the whole list of reasons.
The first thing you should understand about wrapping is that it’s a journey. Everyone has a simple reason for starting. For about half of the women I know, it’s a religious thing. Maybe a quarter are Jewish, the rest are a mixture of Muslim and various Christian denominations. Another quarter do it for health reasons (and in that number I include those whose hair grew back and they carried right on because they enjoy it). The final quarter are like me – those who do it for reasons that don’t fit neatly into a box. Whatever the reason for starting, it soon turns into something that touches many aspects of your life. The reasons I had 18 months ago aren’t the same reasons I have now and probably won’t come close to encompassing the reasons I’ll have 18 months from now.
When I started it was because I missed my long hair. I’d had it all cut off and donated it to charity and while I like my short hair and think it looks good, I missed the creative outlet of being able to do fun stuff. I tried different things, like synthetic dreadlocks because they were fun and colourful, but I kept coming back to wrapping. I like the aesthetic of it and I see it as an art form. It takes an eye for colour, pattern and design. There’s a skill to it, a learning of layering and knots. It’s a creative outlet that I enjoy because I think it speaks to who I am inside – full of wild colour and fun. I like the challenge and the fabrics and all the fun stuff that goes with it.
For me, it very quickly became as much about the community as it was about the creativity. The wrapping community I’m in is amazing. My main active group is a spin-off from the company Wrapunzel who supply scarves and accessories. It was a whole new experience for me – I’d never seen that many women in one place just radiating so much positivity and kindness and warmth. It became a big part of my day to go through all the pictures of daily wraps along with snippets of the stories that go with them and tell these women how beautiful and strong and amazing they are. The thing with the wrapping community is that what you put into it comes back to you a hundred-fold. Very quickly, pictures I was posting were garnering 100+ likes with dozens of comments, telling me the same thing as I was telling others. You’re beautiful. You’re strong. You’re so inspiring. You’re valued.
When somebody tells you that enough times, you start to believe it. For the first time in my entire life, I feel beautiful. And strong. And inspiring. And valued. For someone that has struggled for so long with self-esteem issues and body image and self-destructive negativity, it’s a turnaround that’s almost miraculous. I am confident now. I’m learning to love myself. I’m learning to be authentic and true to myself without worrying all the time about how other people are judging me. I wear the clothes I want to wear because I want to wear them. I’m also learning to lead by example. Be kind to others – a few sweet words here and there cost nothing and the cumulative effect of them is staggering. Be bold with your scarves – try fun and new things and maybe inspire someone else to do the same.
The positive reinforcement I receive from within the community has given me a balance I’ve never had before. They’re good people. There are so many of them who work in service to others, who feed and shelter the homeless, who give to charity, and who are literally, every day, being the change they want to see in the world. I don’t talk much about my job but I work in the criminal justice system and sometimes it’s harrowing. I spend all day dealing with darkness and death and the lowest of human nature. It’s easy to believe that everyone is like that, especially when the news is just one long slide into apocalyptic misery these days. Whenever I start to feel like I’m slipping into that negative spiral, I can touch my wrap and think of my wrap sisters and it reminds me that there are so many good people out there. It brings me right back up and the giving of uplifting words is almost as powerful as the receiving of them. There are few things that make me feel as good as making other people feel loved and special and all it takes is a quick comment here and there. I can log in and within a few moments I’m smiling at something or other.
They’ve also been a support system to me. Recently I underwent a couple of minor procedures and then ended up in hospital for a few days. I live a long way away from my family and I was alone and scared and hurting and my wrap sisters did not fail me. Messages poured in as word spread, keeping my spirits up and encouraging me when it seemed like I wanted to die. Even women I didn’t know that well were checking in, telling me they were thinking of me, praying for me, wearing a wrap inspired by me in my honour…you name it, they were there with love and support and it filled my heart to bursting.
Aside from the community, wrapping has had a profound effect on other areas of my life. For one thing, it helps deal with my anxiety. The last few years have been horrendous for me, both in terms of ill health and financial devastation. Thanks to a house that wouldn’t sell and drained every reserve that I had, I was at rock bottom in monetary terms. There were months I couldn’t afford to pay my rent and only skipped through on the kindness of others. In January I was so sick I was actually feeling suicidal. I was done with hurting all the time. The thought of a future of always feeling like that without any cure or diagnosis was just too horrific to contemplate. I couldn’t face it. I’d decided that if I was still sick in a year I was going to end it. I wasn’t sleeping at night and I was constantly on edge with shredded nerves because even though the house was finally gone, I was still in debt, albeit manageable. I had panic attacks at 3 and 4 in the morning because my brain wouldn’t shut up.
It was around that time that I began wrapping full time in my free time because the sensation of it is both comforting and calming. There’s a massive body of evidence to suggest that it’s great for people who suffer from anxiety. I don’t know the science of it, although I have read articles about how it works on pressure points in the same way that doctors will prescribe heavy blankets for children suffering from anxiety attacks. I’ve also read that it reduces external electromagnetic interference on the brain. If you believe in such things as empathic energy, I have heard it said that it also blocks that. Whatever the reason, I can attest that it works. When I wrap I am calmer, less quick to panic and less easy to anger. Eventually the anxiety faded. I started to sleep properly again. I haven’t had a panic attack for months.
The more you hang around in the community, the more you learn about why people choose to wrap. For about 1/2 to 3/4 of the community, it’s to do with a concept of modesty. This appeals to me on so many levels. Hair is a powerful symbol in the universal subconscious. We associate long hair with youth and unmarried women. We associate messy hair as a sign of a terrible day. Women are constantly flipping their hair as a sign of attraction and availability in movies and TV shows and adverts. We play with our hair when we’re trying to appear shy and flirtatious. It’s the first thing people notice about me and it’s the first complaint I hear from people who don’t understand why I wrap – “You have such beautiful hair that it’s a shame to cover it”. Shame is an interesting word.
My choice to wrap is a powerful statement about my bodily autonomy. It’s a feminist statement. It’s a big “screw you” to the patriarchy.
We live in a society where men think it’s okay to dictate to women that they can’t cover on beaches, where page 3 glamour models are the norm, where kids are watching porn online as young as 9 years old, all of which is skewed towards the denigration of women. There’s this crazy perception that women who choose to wrap for religious reasons are oppressed somehow, like the covering of their hair reduces their power as a human being. It’s the other way around. We live in a society where we must appear available and beautiful and polished at all times, because the magazines say so, because the news says so, because the films say so, because the television says so.
I say stuff that. I’m never going to be a size 6 with luminous skin and I don’t see why I should follow any societally normative standards of beauty made up by some editor in New York who wouldn’t know me from Eve, because I am more than a pretty hairstyle and a yearning to ‘fit in’. I am a brain and a heart and an explosion of colour and crazy and fun.
You might think that I’m just one of those bra-burning feminist fanatics that spouts these things from a place of idealist fervour but for me it’s a much deeper and more powerful thing. You see, I’m a survivor of domestic abuse. I’m not ashamed of it and I’ve talked openly about it, although more about my recovery than the details of what happened.
I know how it feels to be isolated from my family and friends. I know how it feels to be driven into the ground financially to subsidise a controlling partner’s lifestyle, which he enjoyed without me. I know how it feels to be held down by the throat and violated again and again. I know how it feels to have my own body turned against me and I know how it feels to be broken.
I’ve come a long way since then and I’m one of the success stories. I’m strong and kind and loving and happy and I won’t shy away from saying that I’m a better person for having been through it. I am. That said, there are some scars that can’t be healed by extensive counselling and 700 miles of distance and 6 years of learning to love again.
To me, my wraps are a symbol of my healing, of my bodily autonomy, of my right to decide who has access to my body, even if it’s only visually. It’s part of the process of reclamation that most survivors go through. We take our bodies, these vessels of so much pain, and we try to teach them how to be vessels of pleasure instead because it’s the only way we can be whole again. In the same way that each part of my body has been reclaimed through loving acts, so too will I reclaim my image by crowning it with something beautiful that’s wholly mine. I will take this head that made me think I was worthless and forced me into denial and made excuses for things that were inexcusable and make it a thing of striking beauty, because that is who I am now.
Now that there’s a man in my life again, choosing to unwrap around him is a powerful thing. It’s a statement of trust, something that’s both intimate and fun. We’ve made a game of it – I come up with something fiendishly clever and he tries to figure out how to undo it. He gets tangled up and we laugh about it. There’s really something to be said for keeping something aside just for the person you care about. It becomes a special thing between you. Because he is the only one that I voluntarily let stroke my hair, it can at times feel like an intimate gesture akin to a kiss or similar. I’m lucky in that he loves my wraps and thinks I’m as beautiful in them as I am without, but I feel in many ways that his is really the only opinion I should care about because outside of my family and closest friends he’s the only one that sees my vulnerabilities and cares about me anyway.
Finally, I adore the classic and retro aspect of it. There’s a common misconception that only religious women from the far or middle east wrap and I don’t really understand it. Head and hair wrapping is universal to every culture worldwide at some point in history, including western culture. Between the 20s and 60s, the turban was the ultimate in Hollywood glamour. There are amazing photos of film stars from the silver screen swanning around looking gorgeous in their sleek headcoverings, all jazzed up to the nines with accessories and pins. Probably the most universally recognised “wrapper” is Rosie the Riveter with her red and white turban. British women have been wrapping since the dawn of our civilisation, from simple cloth bonnets to the elaborate wimples and structural coverings of the Tudor era, through the hats and into the wraps of the 20th century. American women have been on the same journey. Right up until the 1950s, “proper” women still covered their hair when they went out. In choosing to cover my hair, I’m not doing anything groundbreaking or new. There’s no cultural appropriation here. In my favoured turban style, I’m just making a small nod to all the millions of women that have gone before me.
I think it’s easy to be scared in this world. I think it’s easy to shy away from the choices that we make about our appearance for the sake of avoiding confrontation and going with the flow. It’s easy to let everything and everyone instil a fear of persecution out of misunderstanding and misguided hate. But we can’t let a world of hate dictate to us who we should be. We can’t make our choices to compensate for the ignorance of others. What kind of message is that to send to our daughters and nieces and granddaughters and friends? You will never be an individual because you should try and fit in, just in case someone takes issue with what is unusual about you? No. Being authentic isn’t an easy choice. Letting your outsides match your insides isn’t an easy choice. Being different isn’t an easy choice, but it’s how we’re made – all of us. Different. I have never been a “normal” girl. It may have been quiet and unseen, but I have always danced to my own beat.
When I look in the mirror, I see radiance. I see positivity. I see a sisterhood of good and kind women. I see a powerful statement about my healing and recovery. I see my ancestors. I see the best of my creative flair and style.
I see me.