I am trying to be more involved in the blog writing although Peter’s writing is much better, and more entertaining, than mine – he is a writer after all.
And so it goes… I enjoy the things that most western women enjoy – I love to shop, I enjoy getting my hair done, and I want to be pretty, clean and stylish. Many of you have observed that I like things a little out of the ordinary – my hair has been many different colors ranging from red to platinum to pink and purple, etc. My fashion sense is my own. I love these things – they are my creative outlet.
In preparing for Indonesia, I spent time trying to figure out how I could maintain my hair color in an unknown situation – battle plans were drawn up between my hair person, Lauren, and myself as to whether or not Peter could bleach my hair if she vowed to provide toner. Could I take the bleach and do it myself? Certainly someone in Indonesia could do the bleaching and I could tone it to platinum with Peter’s help. All of these ideas were considered. In the end, I figured it was better not to have color than to end up with strange roots in an unknown country…
I spent the first few months trying to figure out where exactly to get my hair cut. I spent even more time trying to figure out if there was anywhere that I could go shopping. As I stopped and looked around me, I realized that the only women shopping were Indonesians with distinctly different body types and style preferences. In general, their hips are small and their shoulders a bit broad. The clothes are designed to make their hips appear wider and their shoulders more narrow. Now, this does not work very well for me. My hips don’t need any help looking curvy and my shoulders are narrow unto themselves. Strange shorts that look like bloomers are all the rage. Peter and I both think they are hideous. To add to the style difficulty is the fact that none of the clothes are large enough for me. I used to think I was small, but here I am a giant. I went to buy some workout clothes and they offered me the extra large. It didn’t fit.
So, my ego takes a bit of a hit. In fact, on Friday the manager of the fitness center asked me why I had gained weight in this country – did I eat too much? Since I work out every morning, she suggested I should start eating less and then maybe I would look better. I wasn’t sure if I should burst into tears on the stairmaster or wait until I got home. I weighed myself as I was leaving and found that I had indeed gained two pounds since my arrival. Great, I’m on the slippery slope… Bear in mind that this woman really wasn't trying to be mean. Indonesian women see nothing mean or unsupportive in pointing out appearance issues with blatant honesty.
I have not given up my pursuit of pretty things. In Bali, I found some delightful designers and purchased a few new and beautiful items. In December, I found someone who could bleach my hair. (This was a bit of a disaster, but it was a necessary trial into the world of Indonesian hair color.) Last weekend, I turned to the color red and found that red is definitely something Indonesians can do. I have some relatively different pinkish-red locks and I love them. Peter likes them too. However, I do get even more strange looks. (I will note that my aerobics instructors really like the new hair color – exclaiming with great delight that it is “bagus” – Indonesian for good.)
These beauty struggles have not been helped by the female expat community. In part because there are really only about 5 bule (western/white) women in Makassar, but in part because they enjoy not having anything to do with being feminine or pretty. This morning, I ran into a woman who teaches English to a local hospital staff. Her hair is graying and she has at one time attempted to color it strawberry blonde – there are about 2 inches of gray roots showing around her crown. She appears to not be worried about this. While we were in Bali, I found some interesting, boxy shirts that had a small gecko embroidered on them. I wondered aloud that the gecko was cute, but who would buy such a shirt and actually wear it – upon returning to work, the other female teacher was sporting the very same shirt. Other women have given up on any sort of fashion or beauty pursuit and let their hair go – preferring a ponytail to ventures into the salon.
For my part, I must continue try and find pretty things. In the end, it is part of my path to relationships with the Indonesian women around me. The female expat community may not desire beauty, but the Indonesians do – in this, I can continue to try and find our commonalities rather than be struck by all our differences.