Monday, January 11, 2010

Hair and the End of the World


In approximately the second grade, my hair exploded. I'm using "exploded" here because it is the only appropriate word for the sudden, rapid expansion of my hair from perfectly straight to a frizzy, curly, tangled creature atop my head.

I couldn't brush my hair myself when I was younger due to the super-human strength it took to comb it just enough to leave me mat-free... or almost. I had quite a few nasty rat's nests in my day that required tearful trips to the hairdresser, after which I refused speak to anyone for long periods of time. Mornings on my way to school were especially horrendous. I howled in pain as my mother muscled through knots until her anxiety would kick in and the whole situation would go to hell. Yelling, screaming, brushes thrown across the room. It was all very dramatic.

It took a surprisingly long time before my mother got completely fed up with the whole ordeal and decided it was time to take me to an inner city hair salon, our last bastion of hope. The town we lived in at the time had an area that was inhabited almost solely by Black and Hispanic people, and was thus chock-full of hair salons prepared to deal with my thick, curly, "unruly" (I hated when my mother referred to it that way) hair.

That trip was the first time I really felt like my hair was properly appreciated. The girls at the salon were actually pretty enamored with my locks, and showed us a slew of products for "woman of color" that they swore would work-- and they did. Peace slowly settled in on our household and today I can consider myself somewhat of an expert on calming frizz and styling corkscrew curls.

My hair? "Ethnic hair," they called it. And I've been thinking of it that way ever since.

Lately, I feel like my hair has been changing. The top has been getting increasingly straight, but it wasn't until several people pointed it out that I began to worry. My curls have always been there for me. Having so-called ethnic hair is a point of pride, something I can count on to be beautiful, impressive even when my body image is low and my weight high. I can always count on it to be the one thing I can reliably see and the mirror and have no qualms about. In my awkward middle and high school days, I felt more confident around others because I knew that despite my acne, my weight, my big nose, my shortness, my hair would more likely than not get me a compliment or two. I've always loved hearing straight-haired girls tell me how much they wished they had hair like mine. I love when people ask if they can touch it, pull the strands down and watch them bounce back into shape. I love when other people with curly hair question my sanity for keeping it curly.

My hair is one of the things I love and appreciate the very most about my appearance.

When I think about the possibility of my hair changing, I feel a little sick. Okay, a lot sick. As soon as I stopped denying that something was different, I spent hours upon hours researching on the internet: what causes hair to change, how to make straight hair curly, how to make curly hair curlier. There are hardly any answers which are not "use curlers! Get a perm!" or "I love that my hair is getting more manageable!"

I don't want manageable. I have grown to like unruly.

The past few days have been full of desperation. I feel as if my hair is a best friend dying of a rare disease and I am frantically searching for the cure that's not there, gathering clues as fast as I can to halt the inevitable. Perhaps my hair is not doomed. Perhaps it's a phase, hormones, what have you. But it feels like doom.

See, I can't just sit by and let this happen. My hair has been there for me, always. How could I let it down at a time like this?

Which begs the question: what if I do?

I think many of us like to believe that our appearance is not a function of who we are on the inside. It's true, after all. However, when things start changing, some natural instinct to reassess kicks in. Am I the same person if I don't appear to be? How hard would it be to adjust to not seeing myself in the mirror? Would my boyfriend find me less attractive? Would I receive fewer smiles, compliments?

The other day, I went to the dentist. When the hygienist saw me she immediately blurted out "you have the most beautiful hair! God bless you!"

My hair is a self-esteem security blanket, and I'm not sure what I'd do, who I'd be, how I'd feel without it.

How attached are you to your hair?


Anonymous said...

My hair was straight until 8th grade. When I got it cut short for graduation, it was suddenly a mass of curlsplosion writhing atop my head like medusa's snakes.

It still has a mind of its own, but if I let it do what it wants, it lets me go about my day looking relatively normal.

Kelly said...

Awww I'm sorry to hear you're going through that. I don't really have anything useful to say - my hair *really* changed a few years ago. It used to be stick-straight and now it's wavy and often frizzy. But I'm 99% sure that my hair change is a product of some medication I'm on that "fixes" my wonky hormones.

Have you started birth control pills or any other medications lately? Maybe that has something to do with it?

kathryn-louisa said...

My hair ranges from slightly wavy to almost curly depending on the products used on that particular day. It is, however, incredibly think - something to do with Italian heritage and good luck I think! There was a time when I thought it was falling out and I would spend hours in front of the mirror trying to work out if it looked any different but I think I was just being paranoid. I sympathise entirely with using your hair as a compliment safety blanket, I do that too!


selinaoolala said...

what a great post! lovely to read, and lovely to hear about someone who sounds like they care about their hair as much as i do haha! what is it about hair that's so likeable? maybe because there isn't a stereotypical perfection- any and every hair type and colour can be beautiful! i spent my teens trying ten thousand different hairstyles on myself to tame my frizz, and still change every few months. but i know what you mean, my hair type changes too! but i put that down to different places i live as the water always does different things to my hair and especially skin! when i went to sweden i had such bad skin to start with, i'm scared it will go back to that! also if i'm eating differently my hair changes, and different shampoos totally make a difference! maybe analyse your life- has anything changed? and if so there's always always always things you can do to love your hair just the way it is! keep us posted!

Nahl said...

I'm so jealous!
Uptil 17 years of age I had beautiful hair. Everyone loved it- it was stick straight, soft and shiny. Now though, it's just average. I don't know what happened. I use to LOVE my hair before.

amanda said...

Honey, I have the same sense of attachment to my curls as you do. Once upon a time, I thought about getting my hair Japanese-straightened; I've since come to my senses.

There's something about curly hair ... it's like the tendrils weave their way into our identity. It's such a huge part of who I am. Learning to deal with my curly hair was a hero's journey -- I've come out stronger now that I can tame the wild frizz. It sounds super-hokey and exaggerated, but like you, I wouldn't recognize myself without my ringlets.

A few words of minor comfort, however: the same thing happened with my aunt. She had curly hair as a child, which straightened out as she hit adolescence. Her curls did return -- but not until she was middle-aged. So it might be a hormonal thing? I don't know, but remember you are beautiful with curly hair; you are beautiful with straight hair. Dealing with the possible (!) loss is another hero's journey.

Laells said...

Haha I did the same thing too. I have a mixture of really wavy/curly hair and I finally gave up on the straightening every day. I wear it curly a lot more. It's much healthier looking now that I don't blowdry it every day.

But yeah. I'm that vain too. You're not the only one. I hope your curls don't go away though especially after all this time of loving them. ♥

Vanessa said...

Okay, every single one of you? I love you all. You'll never even know how much.

Nicole said...

My hair "turned" when I was nine years old. It became a knotty unruly hot mess. I'd cry when my mother combed it. It was slow torture. Now that I'm older, I cherish my naturally curly locks. I still wear it straight sometimes but I'm generally happy with the hair my mixed-couple parents bestowed upon me.

sartoriography said...

I've had a similar problem, but in this case it's about my skin. For my entire life people have raved about the beauty of my skin- its clarity, its healthiness, its glow. As a teenager I had fewer zits than I did fingers on one had.

That was all true until...grad school! I turned 26, started grad school, and suddenly became Ick Face Girl...or at least I felt like it. My once-perfect skin suddently became dry, lackluster and, more than once, zitty. I didn't know what to do!

Although things have calmed down a bit now and I understand that most of the problem was due to intense stress and a change in climate, I still feel a bit like a key part of my physical identity has changed. I totally feel you on the sense of panic that the most reliable and beloved part of you might no longer be so reliable or beloved.

Great post and, I'll just say it- great hair! :)


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