a/n: this post is a little outdated – my hair is currently a faded blue.
I recently got my hair re-dyed. My mother usually insists that I get my haircut at an actual salon, since she thinks that if I bleach and dye my own hair I’ll ruin it (which, mind you, I have never done, despite having bleached it myself repeatedly!). I forgot to bring my book along with me to the drying apparatus, so while my hair was gently warmed, I inspected the snips of mint green hair that had settled on my black apron and ruminated. Hair salons in particular are very good for this type of calm consideration. They have a really lovely ambiance, with hairdressers happily babbling about mundane (but riveting) gossip and some 2000’s track playing quietly in the background, periodically interrupted by the dull roar of a hair dryer.
I walked into the store with overgrown, faded, green hair that was in dire need of a trim. My stylist asked me how long I had been dying my hair, and I faltered for a moment, realizing that my knee-jerk answer – a couple of years – wasn’t true any more. She looked at me slightly expectantly, and I finally answered – “Six years… since I was a freshman in high school.” I’m a classic case of falling down the slippery slope. I started with dark brown highlights, and the next thing I knew, half of my shirts had blue stains on the collar. I’m actually a little reckless with my hair, all things considered. It’s been bleached three times, I let Athena hack off some curtain bangs during my freshman IAP, and I’m bad at remembering to condition it. After I left home I started letting it air dry (my mother was no longer around to nag me about catching a cold), and it’s usually in a state of disarray, since I often can’t be bothered to brush it. As I fingered the juncture between the cool metal and black leather of my salon chair, it occurred to me that my lack of care for my hair was pretty ironic, since my hair is incredibly precious to me.
To be honest, my hair has always been a source of pride. Or at least, comfort. I would never have described myself as pretty in middle or high school, but my hair was always thick, pin-straight, and enviably shiny. It was one of the few ways in which I felt like I was able to fulfill the beauty standards of my Arkansan childhood. For the first 14 years of my life, I simply refused to ever wear it up, because I felt like putting it up got rid of the only thing that made me bearable to look at. That sounds a bit melodramatic, but it used to feel true. I actually still have a lot of trouble with this. Every few weeks, I force myself to put it in a ponytail. I’ll stare in the mirror for a moment, realize how dissatisfied I am with my appearance, let out a sigh of disgust, and pull the tie out of my hair. I’m sometimes a minute or two late to class because of these mini-crises. I’m not nearly as self conscious as I used to be – I actually consider myself reasonably conventionally attractive, now – but I just can’t seem to get over the thing with my hair.
My nervous reflex involves running my hand through my hair, a-la a teenage fuck boy. I’ve repeatedly debated cutting all of my hair off, if only because I know I depend on it too much as an emotional crutch. Whenever I bring up the idea to friends there’s always the same sentiment – you have such nice hair, though, Shorna. It’s an incredibly sweet compliment, but I’m not sure I like needing my hair as much as I do, because I’m deeply aware of how much power my hair has over me.
When I was a junior in high school, I was a bit high strung. That’s… an understatement. I was always very close to crying (although I would’ve rather died than do it in front of someone else) and I had almost no emotional outlet for my ever-growing anxiety about college applications. I was terrified of squandering my potential, burning out too early, being unable to make good on all of the dreams I had chosen for myself. I was so incredibly stressed, all of the time. Halfway through the fall of my junior year, I was sitting at the dining table, reading Campbell’s Biology, when I mindlessly ran my hand through my hair and my fingers ran over a smooth circle of skin on the left side of my head. With a jolt, I realized a quarter-sized patch of hair on my head had just… disappeared.
I was overwhelmed by nausea and rising disbelief. I hadn’t recognized how much my hair mattered to me until it fell out. I felt so exposed, as if I had, in one fell swoop, been robbed of everything that made me effeminate and desirable. My hair was the only pretty thing about me – I couldn’t even depend on that.
It was an awful feeling, but I got over it. I recognized the fact that my hair falling out was my body aching for reprieve from the immense mental pressure I was placing on myself. I tried hard to calm down, if only because I really didn’t want more of it to fall out. It worked, at least a little bit. As my hair slowly grew back, I struggled to divorce my conception of my own beauty from my hair, while simultaneously trying to separate my academic success from my sense of self-worth. I was somewhat successful, but losing my hair was a huge sore spot for more than a year. When I went for my next biannual haircut, the stylist grasped the patch of shorter-than-normal hair and raised an eyebrow, smiling at me. “It fell out. Stress, I guess.” I grimaced, slightly sheepish. Her smile faltered a little. She let out an “ah” and shuffled it back into the rest of my hair.
My hair has been red, pink, purple, blue, various shades of brown and blonde, and (most recently) green. I kept doing the things I had always done once it fully grew back, cutting and coloring with abandon. Despite the complicated nature of my relationship with it, my hair is important to me, so I think it ought to reflect who I am. It does feel right to look in the mirror to find my hair the color of paint fresh from the tube. I asked my stylist last Saturday to turn the ends a silvery-blue, but she cautioned me – “You have such nice hair, I don’t want to damage it. Let’s do something darker.” I smiled and accepted her proposal of a dark bluish-purple instead. As she wrapped up, running a dollop of gel through my bangs and unbuttoning the cape from my neck, I couldn’t help flushing giddily as her coworker let out an appreciative ‘ooh’ and told me I had ‘model hair’. She was probably exaggerating, but my hair is pretty, and very purple, and probably a lot more important to me than it should be. I don’t have a clean moral. It’s hard to care so much about something that feels both blatantly frivolous and deeply fundamental to your identity. My fingernails will be stained indigo for the next few weeks, so, after every shower, while I attempt to scrub them back to the correct color, I’ll try to remember that I can care about my hair without it affecting my self-worth. We’ll see how that goes.