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?