Dr Strangelove: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Hair
(This post is part of a series chronicling my Women on the Verge journey. Read all updates in the series.)
The Women on the Verge experience is intense to say the least. I’m challenged more profoundly than I’ve ever been to question and step out of my comfort zones (which have a nasty habit of holding me back). At the same time, I’m learning to live with what is, discover and embrace my true self for its purity and beauty. And that brings me to the topic at hand… my hair.
Heady stuff, you say (and I applaud you for your pun, intended or otherwise…). Way to go deep, Gina, writing about something as mundane and superficial as your hair. Fair thoughts, yet I hope you’ll indulge me because I think I’ve happened on an insightful analogy that may resonate with you too.
My hair has always been an… issue. I have fine hair strands, but there’s a lot of it. In its natural state, it’s wavy and has a wild mind of its own. This was unacceptable to my mom and older sisters, who thought I should sport a tidier hairstyle. As a result, as a young child I was shorn in a bowl cut by my dad’s best friend, Jonesy, who’d been a barber in the Army. Between Jonesy sessions, Mom took the scissors to my bangs and, well, try as she might, never got them straight, and always cut them too short. My hair would be set in rollers which resulted in a massive amount of curl deemed acceptably polished for church, holidays and school picture day. But it was the late 60s and the “pretty girls” all had long, flowing locks – usually straight – and of course I wanted to be considered pretty too. One look in the mirror, though, and I could see that my short-cropped wavy hair definitely did not fit the times. This was one of the first times I remember feeling unattractive because I looked different than what society was telling me was desirable.
As I got a little older, I somehow convinced the powers that were in my family to allow me to grow my hair a bit longer. Stern warnings followed about the importance of keeping it “under control.” I was to learn how to manage it myself and make sure that at no time did it appear “witchy” – in other words, unkempt or messy, lest it be cut short again against my will.
Needless to say, I made it a point to learn how to make neat pigtails and braids and to set it in rollers myself. Although it was a little longer by this time it still would be considered short hair – especially by the standards of the day. Growing it beyond a certain point presented issues for my elders who were firmly convinced that the attributes of my fine hair made it the “wrong” kind of hair to grow to any greater length.
To appease my begging for permission to have longer hair, my mom would give me permanents to create the body she felt it lacked. EEK! Instant frizz. It seemed there was no solution to my hair woes: It was always a bone of contention – with my elders or me. My hair was a curse upon my head; I became convinced that I was doomed to be out of style and unattractive for all eternity.
At the age of 13, mom convinced me to have a professional haircut – a shag, a la Carol Brady of The Brady Bunch. Never mind she was a grown woman well into her 30s – mom thought the look would suit me and so it was done. Hmmm… Awkward photos bear out the fact that I could not carry this look off AT ALL. At least the experience resulted in me acquiring some experience with a blowdryer and eventually a curling iron. The next few years included feathered bangs and wings as that damned shag grew out. I even remember a failed attempt at a “Dorothy Hamill” style. Nope. (And of course it didn’t work – my hair isn’t straight!)
The last years of my teens, I employed the tools of the trade as best I could trying to add a little current style to my “doomed to be awful no matter what” tresses. Then I met a boy who had a lot of opinions about my hair – and my entire look – for that matter. My first boyfriend (who became my first husband) decided that my undistinguished hair needed to be “defined” with full-on curly perms. And so for the next decade, my curls were artificial, but definitely present.
Eventually, the marriage dissolved – and so did my propensity to perm. I cut it really short again, tried three or four different colors, then grew it a bit, still the Holy Grail of hair satisfaction eluded me. I longed to feel that the hair on my head belonged there – and to love it. Other women seemed to have this; why not me?
Years later, serendipity struck. I developed a relationship with a REAL stylist. Not one in a chain in a strip mall but a talented, highly educated professional with her own studio. She had a way of making me feel beautiful every time I sat in her enchanted chair. What magic did she wield that no one before her had? The answer: She treated my hair like it was already beautiful. She didn’t refer to it as unruly, problematic or lacking in any way. She just trimmed it every five weeks and styled it. That’s all it took to make me feel okay about my hair – having it be regarded not as an abomination, but as okay.
I felt so okay, in fact, that about four years ago, we decided to try growing my hair – just to see what it would be like with some length to it. And you know what? As it grew, its natural curl came out – yes, curl. Turns out, that when my waves are properly cut and supported with the appropriate products, they manifest into glorious curls. Rather than taming, or fighting my hair’s natural proclivities, we embraced them. For the first time ever, I realized there was nothing inherently wrong with my hair. And I’ve never been happier with it. It’s as if we’ve finally met one another in our natural, unafraid, unthreatened, fullest selves.
The saga of discovering that my hair is lovable reminds me of the transformation my psyche is going through as I immerse myself in the healing seas of Women on the Verge. I now see that I’ve been wasting energy trying to be someone I’m not. After decades of disliking and disapproving of myself and being disillusioned with my life, I’m learning to assess the roots of those feelings. After countless changes of “style” and different approaches to my life, I finally realize that I was fine all along – it was only my perspective that was flawed. It’s been an opportunity for me to sit in that magical chair and experience feeling beautiful on the inside. I can now look in the mirror and love, rather than loathe, the real, authentic me. Why? Because I’ve stopped trying to be something I’m not; stopped trying to jam my round peg into that square hole. I am perfectly okay the way I naturally am.
And when I finally could see that – things got SO FUCKING MUCH EASIER! I don’t have to feel bad about who I am. There’s no reason to be ashamed to be myself. As with my hair, it has taken a good portion of my life to come to this conclusion. Hell, everyone who mattered to me had an opinion about the way things should be – it’s no wonder I incorporated their thinking into my own. I wanted approval and to be admired, like anyone else. In the end, it was recognizing their viewpoint as theirs and not necessarily mine that has set me free to love what is authentically me.
What it took to bring out the best in my hair – and in me – ultimately, was the courage to weather some “awkward stages.” Armed with knowledge and support, there’s no way we’re not going to reach great heights – or lengths – to keep with the whole hair analogy! So I believe I’ll keep on growing!