When I was a little girl, I used to stare at myself in the mirror all the time. I loved to watch myself make different faces, and stick out my tongue at my own image. I also grew up with everyone telling me often, “you look just like your dad.” So I used to try and see if that was true. Fast forward to now- most days, I don’t look in the mirror too long before I leave the house. I don’t need extra time to find something wrong with my outfit or my hair, and I’m usually running late anyway. But this morning, when I was giving myself the quick glance before I walked out of my bedroom, I thought about how unhappy I am with my hair. Now before I get to the crux of this, I have to give you a little background, as usual.
My hair has always been really long and thick. I loved it, mostly because it was my mom and not me who had to fix it every day. I hated getting my hair combed, but the tears always dried up when I saw the finished product. Well when I was about six years old, I developed eczema. Eczema is a skin disease that produces dry itchy skin, rashes, peeling and sometimes sores. Anyone with eczema knows how uncomfortable, painful, and embarrassing it can be- especially for children. As soon as I started having the constant dryness and peeling, my mom took me to the doctor, who then referred me to a dermatologist- and then it all started. By “all” I mean the oatmeal baths, the medication, and that Eucerin lotion that was so much thicker and funnier smelling than it is now, lol. It took me so long to rub that stuff in, I hated the medication and I was afraid of the oatmeal floating around in the bathtub with me. It was… hard, for lack of a better word. And just when I didn’t think this skin disease could get any worse, I started getting the rashes in my scalp. This was followed by itching, peeling, and sores- and then my beloved hair started falling out. My mom is so awesome- because I never saw her panic- even though I know she must have been as freaked out as I was. So it was back to the dermatologist- this time, to get a prescription for special shampoo that you had to make sure you rinsed completely or it would turn your hair orange. Talk about pressure! I wore a ponytail for a while to cover the bald spot in the middle of my head- but the sores gave me headaches, which made it hard to concentrate in school. I felt like a freak. Anyway, fast forward a little and the symptoms calmed down. The sores went away, I learned to control the dryness and the itching stopped. But the most important miracle of all- MY HAIR STARTED GROWING BACK!!! I felt like I had reactivated my super powers or something. It was a great feeling. Moving on…
My best friend Eric used to wear locs. They were pretty wonderful too. I connected with them, because I could remember when he was just starting them and would call me to his dorm room to twist his hair for him. But he cut them off some years ago, and when I asked why, he told me it was a starting over. He said he had so much emotion wrapped up in that hair, and cutting it allowed him to release that past, and let that go. My friend Stephanie did something very similar. But I never felt like that. I always saw my hair as something I needed to hold on to. It was a part of my identity. I could never be careless with it, because I knew what it was like to lose it when you didn’t want to. So after the eczema, I never wanted to do anything extreme to my hair- no cutting, no coloring, no experimentation. I didn’t even like to try new hairstyles. I wanted to keep my hair simple, steady, hold on to it. I’d had enough surprises. The most I would ever do is relax it. But a little over a year ago, I stopped doing that too. I’d been getting my usual Dominican style blowout for a couple years, and I made the sudden decision to try and ease out of getting relaxers. Now, I had my hair pretty trained and the Dominicans will straighten you to death, so I’d only been getting one or two relaxers a year anyway. So I decided not to get one. I kept getting my hair roller set and blown out, and things were good. I still felt like myself- still that writer girl with my one superpower- awesome hair. After some months, new growth started showing itself, and my hair got thicker with every wash. Roller sets got more difficult, until eventually, I couldn’t get one. And after that, I abandoned my beloved Dominicans because I knew from frequenting that shop that the girls who needed their hair blow dried completely out ended up waiting twice as long as someone they could just roll up and stick under the dryer for an hour. And I am not about that life. So I hunted for a new stylist and found one, but getting straightened seemed to be a waste of my money because the humidity outside (or any sign of moisture for that matter) was making my hair thick and bushy just days later. So I stopped doing that. Now, I have friends galore who wear their hair natural, so I started wanting to copy all of the cute styles I see on them. But it hasn’t worked as well for me, and I’ve become increasingly dissatisfied with my natural state. I don’t feel like myself. I don’t feel like I have my superpowers. I don’t feel… pretty.
Now, I know all about the issues and ideals of beauty we have wrapped up in our hair. I believe brown women are beautiful, and innovative, and we can wear whatever kind of hair we damn well please- and we’ll still be awesome. I don’t take a position on natural vs. weave vs. relaxed because I think those kinds of things divide us unnecessarily. But I do have a position on what makes me feel good, and wearing my hair naturally hasn’t done it for me yet. Most days I end up feeling like my hair is a big tangled mess. I even thought about buying a straightening comb the other day. I attempt twisting my hair, but it never looks like my good friend Terron who posts selfies of her awesome twist-outs all the time. Or my friend Andrea, whose hair seems to twist and curl perfectly. I try twisting, and I never get the desired effect. I’ve never purchased this many hair products in my life. And still… I shy away from the mirror- because my hair just depresses me. I get compliments and I don’t believe them. I’m afraid people are just trying to be nice. I feel like I can’t see myself when I look in the mirror sometimes. Who is that girl? And it becomes something awful and debilitating, because having my hair tied up in my feelings of attractiveness about myself just means that when I’m unhappy with my hair, I don’t feel attractive, I don’t feel confident, I don’t project positively. Maybe this is why I’m having so much trouble dating. And then there’s also the simple fact that my natural hair is a lot more work- work I haven’t done in years, and I’m out of practice. I’m frustrated with YouTube videos that try to convince you the styles are simple- when they’re not. Not to mention that I can’t just comb my hair down and leave the house and the style is done. You have to be a lot more creative when you have natural hair- and I’m not. Well I’m creative, but not in that way. I could find a stylist- but that money has to come from somewhere, and it’s not there right now. So here I am. I am sick and damned tired of wetting my hair every morning, and slapping gunk in it, and waiting for it to dry. But I don’t think I want my hair relaxed either. This is a conundrum. I had a guy tell me he wanted to meet up, and I invented an excuse because I looked in the mirror, and the first thing I saw was my hair- and I hated it. I hate not feeling pretty. And having it be because of this, just makes me feel weak. I mean, I’m more than my hair- right? Of course I am. But it’s tied to me so tight… I’m afraid I can’t relax. I’m afraid I don’t know how to let go.
Either way, I don’t have a solution yet. I guess I just wanted to vent this. If you have a kid with eczema, hug them real tight for me. Tell them how awesome they are.
6 thoughts on “I Am Not My Hair… Or Am I?”
Have you thought about taking a hair vacation with a wig for a while? Just to try something new, different and cute while you take some time to figure out what you’d like to do? Hair is becoming the new divider for us women of color; it’s sad. I wear my hair natural, but it’s not that serious. I get shade because I don’t color (I’m too lazy for touch ups) and because I use Blue Magic grease, apparently naturalista heresy. Do whatever makes you feel good and who knows maybe a wig or some braids or a big chop or a flat iron diy job might do the trick. Do you girl, do you!
I will say that took me at least a year to ‘reset’ my concept of a good hair day after I went natural. I didn’t hate my hair, but I didn’t really love it either. It took me a long time to embrace a different kind of pretty. Frankly some days I still struggle with it.
I think the vacation might be an idea worth looking into because I’m getting kind of discouraged about it. My cousins are always giving me advice about cutting, coloring and weave and I’ve been afraid to try anything. A wig might be a good idea to let me see what my hair COULD be.
I don’t knock what anyone does with their hair. I just think there are so many bigger battles we could be fighting.
But you’re absolutely on point about redefining your ideas of attractiveness. I feel the same way. I don’t hate my hair- but I don’t love it anymore either. Thanks so much for reading, and for your input.
I love this article. I started my transition in 2009. Just like you, I only was relaxing two or three times a year. Going natural wasn’t planned. It just sort of happened after missing one relaxer and being mesmerized by a wave pattern. After about a year, I decided to cut off my relaxed ends, just out of frustration of dealing with two textures. Since then, I’ve yet to find that ‘go-to’ style for me. I watch numerous Youtube videos, try these styles, and mind you they look so awesome before I do whatever final step it entails. After that it’s a disaster. So, my constant ‘style’ is a bun. And when I have to get fancy, I do a high bun. Did you hear the crowd roaring?
Anyway, I said all that to come to this simple point – you’re not alone. I was raised believing that my hair is my crowning glory, and I still hold fast to this belief. I couldn’t part with it. When it’s not done, I feel most un-glamorous, but the same goes if I happen to bust the tips of my heels, break a zipper, or walk out of the house only to find that my dog has been chewing on my belt. So am I my hair? Sure! It grows out of my scalp, no? But I’ve learned not to let it define me.
Thanks so much for reading!!! It means a lot to me. But yeah, I’ve been struggling. I haven’t given up though. So we’ll see.
I agree with T Alexandra. That was one of the reasons why I cut my hair and went natural the first time. I was so surprised at all of the “But you were so pretty with long hair. Why would you want to chop it all off?” comments, as if I wouldn’t be attractive anymore with short hair, or that I cared at all who thought I was or wasn’t attractive in the first place. I relationship with my hair was more about how I felt about myself, not what it looked like to other people. If there’s one thing I know about you, it is that you have a BIG heart, a great smile and an awesome personality. So when you’re alright with YOU, the world’s alright with you, too! Your confidence transcends through cyberspace, mama! I applaud you for sharing a bit of yourself with the world. As you continue to discover what makes you feel good, that bubbling personality of your will carry over to the rest of us. Glad to be along for your ride.
…And in other news, I feel you on that Eczema! Please help me tell my husband that I’m not scratching my skin off moments after applying lotion (or going to to bed looking like a greaseball) simply because that what I like to do at night. LOL. He doesn’t seem to believe me.
Esh! Thanks so much for reading! And for the great things you said. I know you’re right. I have to feel good about myself- and my hair- no matter what I end up doing to it. Or I’ll never feel confident when I leave the house, no matter what. I’m learning… 🙂
Tell Alex to cut you some slack! That eczema struggle is SOO real! Lol.