Hair style is the final tip-off whether or not a woman really knows herself.I think I need a haircut.
- Hubert de Givenchy, Vogue, July 1985
My hair is getting really long and I’m tending again toward my cop-out hairdo of pulling my wet hair into a simple ponytail and letting it air dry on my way to work (which it doesn’t, because I have really thick hair). As Viva says, “That is not a hairstyle, Mom.”
What a journey my hair has been over the years. I know that many women agonize over their hair, but the journey seems particularly fraught for those of us with super-hyper curly hair—and those of us whose ancestry has at least some passing acquaintance with Africa get the double whammy of having hair that is simply not a part of the mainstream standard of beauty.
My guilty pleasure (well, one of them) is watching What Not to Wear. But after watching it for a while (and honestly I watch it much less than I used to—I watched it every morning when I was on medical leave a couple of years ago), the segment where they would do the hair makeover started to bug me, because invariably whenever they came across someone with curly or even wavy hair, they would blow it straight. “Sleek and sophisticated,” they would gush.
I call bullshit on that. You mean you are going to teach someone how to completely change their wardrobe to look better and feel better about themselves, but you are going to tell them that the way their hair looks growing naturally out of their heads is not okay? It’s perplexing, because so often hosts Stacy and Clinton preach the message of fit: know your body, accept the shape you have, and dress to compliment your unique shape. They never say you have to lose 50 pounds, or your legs are too short, or your shoulders are too broad. They’re all about working with what you have. And then the hair stylist comes in and gives the woman straight hair. I say: teach them how to style their curls! Teach them to love their hair as it is!
I digress, but only because it is related to my personal hair mantra, which is: It’s all about self-acceptance. And again, working with what you have. When I was a kid, my mom got so frustrated with trying to braid my hair that when I was about 9, she finally just cut it all off—without even asking me first. I then got mistaken for a boy all the time for a couple of years there, because she kept cutting it. This actually was fine with me most of the time because I was a total tomboy, climbing trees and playing Six Million Dollar Man, and I wouldn’t wear a dress if you paid me.
When I hit middle school, my hair had grown out enough that I went back to having a wet set (ecch, can you imagine) every Sunday. By high school, curling irons were it. My hair might not be straight, but at least it was in smooth, big curls. Near the tail end of high school, I cut it all off very short and wore my hair natural in a light brown/dark blonde afro and since it was the 80s, with very thick blue eyeliner. Oh, my.
By the time I hit college, I’d discovered relaxers. No one in my family ever used them, so I had no personal experience with them. I never thought they would work on my hair, but at some point a friend suggested I use one to texturize my hair, so it would still be curly, but grow down, not out. I used them with some success throughout my 20s. During this time, people would tell me how gorgeous my hair was. Are you kidding? Never in my life had I ever thought my hair was pretty. And here I was, with this giant curly head of hair, learning how to use leave-in conditioners and actually enjoying how my hair looked, floating halfway down my back.
By the time I hit 30, I was very happy with my hair and stopped relaxing it. I also became something of a hair product junkie and began falling in love with sites like nappturality and naturallycurly.com. One day, I was walking down Robertson Blvd. in Beverly Hills and a man in a convertible flagged me down. He complimented me on my hair and in the same breath said he was looking for models to be on a show about a Japanese hair straightening system. Would I be interested?
“How long does it last?” I asked.
“About six months,” he said.
“Even when you wet it?” I said.
“Yeah, you won’t believe it,” he enthused.
“No thanks,” I said. “I’m all about the self-acceptance.” And I kept walking.
All about the self-acceptance…except, it seems now, when it comes to white hair.* Get me to a colorist, stat!
Apparently I’ve still got some work to do.
* I’m not going gray, I’m going white. I think it’ll look cool when I’m 50, but I’m not there yet.