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Clothes, Race & Identity

Sunflowers

Sunflowers are the last of the “summer flowers” to bloom; late September to October. Summer flowers; the brightly coloured blooms that really span half the year, far longer than a season. The hanami in March; forests of bluebells in April; flowing fields of daisies in May. Lavender and tulips peak in early August, and the roses are at the end of the month. The last and most precious of the summer. Except for the sunflowers.

The sunflowers are not flustered by the blooms of April and May. By the roses, so beautiful and yet so thorny, so hard to cultivate, so cruel. Roses jest and tease, luring you in and ensnaring you. One swarm of aphids and they’re gone. Sunflowers are not like the blossoms of fruit trees, so eager to fall; not like the dahlias and peonies; not like the pretty, frilly flowers whose petals line the pavement. So keen to show themselves, bursting forward in the early months, only to be destroyed by a sharp gust of wind or one decent downpour of rain. No, sunflowers are not like that at all. The wind blows through them and they merely sway.

Like the sunflowers, I bloom late. I was 11 when the bullying began; I was so intrinsically ugly that boys and girls alike could not bear to view me without nasty comment of some kind. It was overnight. During primary school, the way I looked was an unwanted source of attention but for the opposite reason; I was “gorgeous”. Just a couple years later I was ugly. It didn’t bother me; I’ve always liked the way I look. Besides, from my infant experiences, I had learned how fleeting and frivolous that kind of admiration was. Rarely if ever did I look in the mirror, and when I did, I just grinned back at myself. I still do that now. People tell me to smile all the time, and I do; only, at myself.

Young me knew they’d think I was attractive again eventually. I was right; all things live in cycles, after al. Six years later, a boy in my year declared me physically “fanciable”. Aged 17, I remember I got ready with my friends for a party; “Oh my God, Laila, you look really fit! You’ve finally bloomed!” one girl exclaimed. It seemed weird to use botanical terminology to acknowledge something I had been aware of for years, but hey, you take what you get, right? You take what you get. The sunflowers do not doubt they will bloom. They just wait until October and do what they always do.

Sunflowers grow in almost every continent; certainly the four I lay claim to, and always the same time of year. October is truly sunflower season. October; month of leaves; month of my mother; month of my love, autumnal prince that he is: all orange and red, like the trees against the sky. In the corn maze and the apple groves we walk together; but amongst the sunflowers, I am alone. October is the month of death, the month that closed in on Pete. The month where lost souls and freaks the world over rejoice in their outsider status, waiting for the night of the no longer living to fall. Hallowe’en: Octobers crowning achievement. And October is the month the sunflowers bloom.

Sunflowers are a rich yellow, the colour for girls like me with hair like night. We both know this. Yellow and white is lovely, but we pair yellow with the softest and darkest of browns; brown like sunsets, soil, murky sea waters. Like my hair. The Autumn sunflowers tower over the midsummer daisies; singularly useful, with their huge magnificent heads laid out in strict mathmetical order. Sunflower florets follow the Fibonacci sequence. People confuse sunflowers the time, assume they face the sun. There’s a word for that: heliotropic. For Helios; the sun. Sunflowers are only heliotropic when they’re young; once they reach a certain age they face the same direction resolutely. Forwards.

Bloggers the sphere over have posed alongside sunflowers, but it is I who stand with them. I do what I always do; research until I can understand and form a link. The sunflowers represent more: MEAN more to me. You may wonder why I concern myself with what a field of sunflowers represents. Why can’t it just be a pretty backdrop and leave it at that? Why does everything need to represent something? I will tell you. Because when you are not represented, you mine everything for a glimpse of yourself. White people are represented a thousand times over already; in media, in society, in each other’s blogs. They are every petal on every flower. I see myself never, so I seek representation from any source: even from a field of flowers. From myself, looking in the mirror and grinning back. You take what you get.

Sunflowers bloom last, but longest; months pass and we face resiliently forwards; our goal singular, our tenure strong. We are wholly unconcerned with the business of others: with the petals on the pavement, so quick to fade. Our only distractions are the dying trees. We bloom in fields of ourselves, and in our own time, unaware of our singular greatness. Waiting whilst everything else blooms and dies. My time is after. When everything else is over; when the fields seem finally finished; when the trees themselves are aching and casting off their leaves. That is when I open my eyes and bloom.

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12 Comments

  • Reply Soph

    Absolutely beautifully written

    October 15, 2017 at 10:57 am
  • Reply frandrews

    Beautiful words and photos. A joy to read.

    Francesca Andrews

    October 15, 2017 at 2:09 pm
  • Reply Lima

    This is written like poetry Laila, I love this post. Unless you’ve lived the life of being underrepresented, you can’t understand, in this age of the fast food generation, why anyone would put so much effort in to the writing of a post, and instead end up commenting some inane drivel like “nice pics” or “so pretty where was this taken?”

    Also, I can ‘relate’, though I despise that as a concept, as I too was a late bloomer, and now I think next time I see a sunflower I’ll look at it with a newfound sense of respect. Maybe one day, Caucasians will do the same for us?

    October 15, 2017 at 5:17 pm
  • Reply Faith

    I love the way you write. This glimpse into your experience is so necessary.

    October 15, 2017 at 8:05 pm
  • Reply Oisin

    poetic, melodic, powerful and affirming. A deep emotional journey in such a tiny blog post.

    October 15, 2017 at 11:08 pm
  • Reply cateinthekitchen

    Dude. This is amazing.

    October 16, 2017 at 4:55 am
  • Reply Emma Copland

    This is SUCH a beautiful post an absolute joy to read

    October 16, 2017 at 9:10 am
  • Reply Chelsea

    Loved this! Something with meaning.A joy to read.

    October 16, 2017 at 11:57 am
  • Reply Ghouly Miss Holly (@gollymissholly_)

    Such a beautifully written post, accompanied by stunning photography of a wonderful woman. Absolutely nailed this post xxx

    October 16, 2017 at 3:02 pm
  • Reply Tienne

    “Sunflowers bloom last, but longest;” Ugh, my heart <3 They're definitely my favorite too! And you look so bold in yellow! Love love

    October 17, 2017 at 6:10 am
  • Reply Giulia

    Wow. This post is beautiful. I love the parallel, the photographs and the writing. All incredibly beautiful. x

    October 27, 2017 at 5:52 am
  • Reply whitedaisiesbluejeans

    Absolutely blown away by your words. This is so beautifully written and I am so honoured to know you.

    October 29, 2017 at 9:06 pm
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