Coconut Oil and the Contradictions of Time

by TK Matunda

 

Ever since I was a little girl, I would daydream about my future self—the woman I was going to become.

I imagine a version of myself who is strong, with an endless supply of confidence and self-assuredness. Her boldness is boundless, reaching into all spaces. She is good to her friends and family. She can handle criticism without getting emotional and is free from the trappings of self-doubt and imposter syndrome. She is full of experience and wise beyond her years.

Yet from the outside she looks just as young, if not more youthful than my present self. Skin aglow, bright and sunny as if she has never been exposed to the heartbreaks and disappointments that etch their story across her body, slowly penetrating the lungs and skin like a pollutant or a ray of ultraviolet light.

She possesses the power that comes with being young and experienced—an anomaly living at the clouded intersection where youth meets wisdom. Where physical vitality and strength meet mental vitality and strength. Where she is acknowledged, respected, and visible within society, despite her youth.

I’ll admit this is a ludicrous notion, an idea planted by the society’s treatment of women of a certain age.

Women have always been rewarded for remaining youthful. Being ageless is regarded as as much of an accomplishment as being successful or happy. And although aging is a perfectly natural part of being human, wrinkled skin, thinning hair, and other signs of time are still seen as terrible afflictions—curses that take the body hostage.

There is a reverence reserved for people who live a full life without physically showing any evidence of that life. A fresh face with an old soul—looking twenty-five but having the unwavering confidence that only comes with time, like Clair Huxtable or Angela Bassett . Yet as absurd and heartbreaking as this dichotomy is, I still catch myself playing to into it.

In my vision of the future, having smooth, buttery skin, big healthy hair, and a youthful glow are just as important as getting my dream job, traveling the world, and falling in love. So every night—without fail—I moisturize, in hopes of freezing the clock.

I use coconut oil on my body—something I learned from my mother, who learned from her mother. It is a natural elixir that feeds and protects my skin. Jars of the oil can be found in almost every room in my house—the kitchen, the bathroom, even in the living room, for hair braiding sessions.

With coconut oil at the ready, I start at my feet and work my way up by body—warming up the oil in my palms before rubbing it into my skin. As I cover myself in oil, I take stock of the day—what I did, what I didn’t do and what I need to do. Funnily enough, while working to care for my outer self, I inadvertently began repairing my inner self.

Although my nightly routine sprung out of a need for physical preservation—I really love my skin and I want to keep it as healthy as possible—it has transformed into something integral to my mental health.

At first it was about being smooth and soft—a way to achieve an even hue of brown. But now, it is a moment of reflection and grounding to make sure I am secure in my present space as much as it is about preserving my skin for the future.

Over the years tending to my skin has become ritual. It was my self-care before I knew what self-care was. Twenty minutes of just focusing on my skin was a way to escape from feelings of sadness that would spring out of wells of unknown origin.

Before I knew about the daily battles women face, before I understood that being visible was a political act, and before I knew about the emotional toll of being othered, I had my coconut oil and my twenty minutes.

This precious time became where I matured. Where I mourned the realities of being a black woman, where I reconciled with the uncertainty of the future, and where I learned to look within for strength. These minutes are more than just sixty second increments, they are rebirth and revolution.

When I started this regime, I thought I was just protecting my corporeal form from the ravages of time and the external world, but now I know I am nurturing what lies beneath and arming myself for the challenges that lay ahead.

Aging is inevitable. I know I will never be able to stop the hands of time, just as I know I will never be able to erase the destruction of living in a world that was not made for me. But I arm myself in a thin layer of love, empathy, and care. I know how to make myself physically and emotionally stronger and I am ready for what the future holds.

I still daydream about my future self, and she is still stronger and more confident than me today. But I know with every layer of coconut oil, I am getting closer. Closer to the self-assuredness and the boldness, closer to the agency I have spent my life dreaming of. And although I may never have the buttery skin and the big hair, and whatever glow I have now will fade with time, I will always have a growing strength and love for myself—something that only gets better with age.

ABOUT

TK Matunda is a journalist, writer, and artist. She explores the intersection of race, gender,
immigration, and class through data-driven and personal narratives. She has been a contributor at CBC, rabble.ca, XO Jane, and Bitch Media. TK is also co-founder of the data-driven social justice blog Intersectional Analyst (www.intersectionalanalyst.com). Twitter: @TKMatunda / Instagram: tk_matunda

Cascade, 2012
Collage, and ink on paper
8.5 x 11.25 in (21.59 x 28.575 cm)
Edition unique
Courtesy of Lorna Simpson and Salon 94, New York

“Coconut and the Contradictions of Time” is from our FUTURES issue (spring 2016)

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