My daughter is a beautiful young woman with thick, dark brown hair; wine colored, almond shaped eyes; creamy, full cheeks and hundreds of other attributes, talents and gifts. When the hair on her head is long, thin and shiny she believes me when I tell her she is beautiful. When her hair is her natural length, either natural or relaxed, she does not.
It isn’t that she only feels beautiful when her hair is beautiful; she worries that she is only beautiful when her hair is longer.
I wish I could convince her otherwise.
My words are not those that will convince her, probably because I have and sometimes still do feel the same way about myself. When my hair is braided it frames my face and falls to my shoulders, the faint swish of braids makes me move differently and sometimes even feel differently. Braids, more precisely the hair, makes me feel more beautiful—for awhile.
As a child I had short thick hair. I can remember trudging behind my sister through the streets of Atlantic City as we went to my grandmother’s friend: a hair dresser. Before, when I was more naïve, I used to enjoy the walk. Entering her house was similar to a trip to the museum. Thick plastic covered already hard furniture; multi-colored baubles adorned every surface; what wasn’t slick with plastic was covered in color. Color followed her. Thick lipstick stained the hairdresser’s teeth. She didn’t seem to notice. That was fine, I guess. Something about her wigs should have told my grandmother she didn’t really do hair—my grandmother didn’t seem to notice.
When I was a kid I had an idea of what styles would make me look glamorous. Either the hairdresser didn’t agree, or she couldn’t do them. No matter what my sister and I asked for the results were the same: dreadful.
I learned not to ask. I learned not to think in terms of hair style.
It would be years before I would even realize it was gone—let alone determine to find it again.
My next hair styles were developed by people who had little interest in the end results. Their friendships already tested in other areas, these friends of my grandmother or friends of my mother didn’t feel pressured to perform hair miracles. And so they didn’t. My short hair got even shorter. They weren’t taking care of it. I wasn’t taking care of it.
My last childhood hair memory was at a hair school. The technician assigned to do my hair needed her instructor to show her just how to do my hair. The instructor laughed at the task, or at something she was thinking, or at their adult conversation. It doesn’t, as an adult, matter what they were laughing at. At ten, they were laughing at me.
I never went back.
Over the years I mainly allowed hairstylists to style my hair. I literally put my identity in their hands. Sometimes I was impressed, other times not so much.
Three decades and three children after my first visits to the hair salon, I still don’t have my hair style. Braided, relaxed, weaved, I haven’t given much thought to the style more to the effect.
Sliding in to salon chairs became more of a task.
“What do you want done?” they would ask.
“Something cute,” I replied vaguely.
For five years or so my neighbor did my hair.
“How do you want me to style it?”
“Something that says I’m 35 and sexy.”
A few hours later I would be sexier. Sometimes, a bit too sexy.
Today my hair is braided. It’s time to take them out.
It’s also time to develop a hair style. For the past few weeks I have been considering: a wrap; a bob; something short, healthy, and confident. I am considering styles that frame my face and highlight my cheek bones.
Each day I get closer to picturing hair styles; my styles. No matter which I decide on, my sense of hair style is coming back—one strand at a time.