The Enigma of Hair

For nearly 15 years, I hated my hair.

I know what you’re thinking–it’s a long time to be in conflict over something about which one can do little. A few years back, I reached a sort of truce with my hair and began to accept it for what it was. But it is an uneasy truce, one that threatens to erupt into conflict again at any moment.

So you can imagine my surprise when a woman I’d never met before stopped me recently to tell me I have “gorgeous hair.” I was flattered. Furthermore, it made me reassess my feelings about my hair.

Me at 4 years old.

Me at 4 years old.

When I was born, I had straight, blond hair. Somewhere around 8 or 9 years old, however, it began to darken and curl. Having lived with one kind of hair up to that point, I was unprepared for this change.

Curly hair does not run in my family. Both of my parents have essentially straight hair. Of my two sisters, one had straight-as-straight-can-be hair, and the other has what I would call wavy hair. My younger brother has wavy hair too. Mine is undeniably curly.

My mother tried to blame the change on me, that I was not taking care of my hair properly and so causing it to curl. In hindsight, I see how ridiculous this is, but at the time, I listened to my mother. So I washed it excessively, combed it excessively, and tried different hair cuts, all in an attempt to bring back the flaxen hair I had. It was no use.

Me at 11 years old (with orthodontics).

Me at 11 years old (with orthodontics).

I was at a loss for how to care for my new hair, and in fact was doing more damage than if I’d just accepted it and let it be. This being the late 70’s, what I wanted was hair like David Cassidy–long, rich, flowing hair. I tried to grow mine longer, but it went cockeyed, poofed, and frizzed. I looked more like Gabe Kaplan, and I wasn’t amused.

Hair is a strange thing, if you think about it. Every other mammal on the planet is either completely covered in hair or is completely naked. People, on the other hand, have this strange patch on the tops of our heads. It doesn’t seem to serve any functional purpose, so we create meaning for it. Native American men grow their hair long as a symbol of their strength and cultural identity. Sikh men grow long hair as a symbol of piety. Buddhist monks shave theirs off, also to show piety.

Me at 15 years old, with frizz in full swing.

Me at 15 years old, with frizz in full swing.

It’s hard for an individual to be accepting of what one’s been given when culturally we don’t seem to know what to do with our hair.

To this day, I normally don’t think of my hair as an asset.  So to have a complete stranger tell me my hair is gorgeous came as a bit of a shock.

“Really?” I said.

“It’s like Richard Gere hair,” she said, smiling.

Wow. Who knew?

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2 thoughts on “The Enigma of Hair

  1. Update: In the last three months I’ve had two more women compliment my hair. All three–the one in this post and the two recent ones–have been around my age or older. Men and younger women never mention it. What’s this all about?

  2. Update 2: Recently, I was at my son’s orthodontist waiting for him to be finished with his checkup. While I sat there, one of the office staff–a woman about my age–told me “You have perfect hair. Somebody’s got to tell you.”
    Again, completely unexpected.

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