It’s as simple and complicated as this: my hair changed my life.
I’ve applied chemicals to my hair since I was 12; to make my locks either straight or curly. Neither process never really worked with my thick hair. What was supposed to become a once every 6 to 8-week process then became a once every 3.5-week process. My super curly hair is thick and grows quickly. I felt as if I was always playing catch up for perfect tresses. I’d get my hair done on a Wednesday, and by the following Tuesday, I could feel a tangle of new growth.
Then, something happened which stopped me in my tracks.
I had an allergic reaction to hair dye. It was frightening. I developed painful, angry blisters over my scalp and neck. I went to the doctor and got a prescription for antihistamines. Which, I very quickly discovered, I was allergic to those as well. The welts and blisters spread to my hands, my arms and my legs. It was a humiliating agony. That it happened during the summertime was worse….other women were wearing dresses and shorts, and I was a gross, hive-ridden mess.
I concentrated on getting better, but it took about 6 weeks for everything to die down.
Then, I started noticing the straightening solutions weren’t really straightening my hair anymore. I’d have the process done, and within 3 days, it would wash right out of my hair (along with the safer but more temporary hair color).
Soon, I was faced with a choice: color or straighten my hair. I couldn’t do both. After thinking about for weeks, I decided to let both go at the same time.
I was scared to death. I had no idea what my hair would look like.
So, I did what any self-respecting 21st-century woman would do: I looked it up on the internet.
Within a few clicks, I had all the answers to every possible question I could ever have...and was immediately overwhelmed. The popular hairstyles were BEAUTIFUL, but time consuming.
I’m a laid back lady: I want to spend, maybe 10 minutes on my hair. Actually, that’s a lie. I don’t even know why I just lied to you...I want to spend no more than 5 minutes on my hair. And that includes the time I’m looking for my hair care products. I’m not even low-maintenance: I’m no maintenance.
The lovely women I saw, those beautiful, perfectly coiffed women, clearly spent more time on their hair. And it showed, they had strikingly gorgeous tresses. But I’m a no-routine girl, and there was no way I was going to do even half of the things on their lists.
But I still, I tried. I convinced myself I could become The Girl Who Spent a Lot of Time on Hair Care. So I did spend the time, but no matter what I did, my hair was not going to look like theirs. Remember how I told you my hair is thick and grows fast? Well, it does. My hair takes forever to get wet...oh, and it shrinks as it dries. But, most of the tutorials, guides and advice were for people who had a different head of hair than I did. Hair with gentle curls, instead of my zig-zags. Hair which smoothed down when you ran your hands over it, instead of out. I could try to make my hair look like theirs, and my hair might even stay that way for 5 minutes. But add one drop of rain or the tiniest bit of humidity, and would it be all over.
There were times I spent 20 minutes on my hair (an eternity for me), only to go outside, and have it poof out to a nondescript tangle. Or, when I went to the beach and felt as my carefully placed and pinned hair, crept up up up until it was a plump halo of curls.
It became a futile exercise.
So I had another choice: love the hair on my head, or change the hair on my head.
I decided to love my hair.
I took the time to get to know every part of the hair on my head. My bangs don’t really like to curl, but the sides and back LOVE curling up. My hair loves a black tea rinse every now and again. I have a crazy cowlick that will never lie down. I’ve named her Sheila, and she does her own thing. I’ve found a brand of color-depositing conditioner, and use it without any issues.
I now love every curl, every bounce, every shrink-back...everything. My hairstyle doesn’t look like anyone else’s hair, and I don’t want to change it. It’s perfect just the way it is. I don't chase the latest fashion. My daily hair maintenance is now just under 5 minutes, and I fear no rain nor sleet nor random act of humidity.
I took that same introspection I gleaned from hair care and started to apply it to other areas of my life: who am I, really, aside from everyone else’s expectations? How do I actually live my life, as opposed to how I think I live my life? I’ve learned to trust my instincts and understand my skepticism. I’ve learned that my attitude about my hair was my attitude about myself in the world: it needed to be changed in order to be accepted. I’ve turned my back on that way of thinking.
I’ve found the benefits of going your own way, in your own time, and for your own reasons are immeasurable, yet somehow tangible. You don’t have to touch the sun to feel the warmth of its glow. I’ve started to trust myself more, believe in myself more.
To be more me, more often.
The second I realized I was not like everybody else was frightening. The second after that was liberating. And the second after that was pure joy.
illustration: Coily and Cute
This post is part of a Blogging A To Z series where I write a new, personal story almost every day (except Sundays). The theme is the hidden messages: the language of flowers. It's also a revised and updated version of an old post.