A Mile in Their Hair

I had a conversation recently about the widespread frustration regarding the closure of the hair salons due to the pandemic.  I carelessly rattled on about finding it amusing how desperate people were to get that luxury back.

“I’ve been cutting my own hair since high school,” I bragged.  “So it never occurred to me that people would prioritize salons and barber shops amidst a global health crisis.  There are so many recent YouTube videos of people cutting and dyeing their hair at home for the first time.  It’s kind of comical really.”

Still chuckling I glimpsed an expression out of the corner of my eye and could tell immediately that I had said something insensitive.  “Oh shit, she misses the salons and she gets her hair cut and colored.  Way to stick your foot in your mouth again, moron,” I thought, mentally chiding myself. After backtracking, trying to recover from my blunder with mildly self-deprecating mentions of my own lack of self-care and the past mistakes I have made in home haircuts, we let the topic drop.  However, it has continued to linger in my mind since then.

Gray hair.  Assuming I live long enough, I will eventually get gray hair.

And that will probably start happening way sooner than I realize.  But isn’t gray hair for old people!  60 and 70’s, right?

But the more I have thought about it, the more I have realized, no, probably long before then.  (An article I just read said that on average women begin to notice gray hair at age 35.  THIRTY-FIVE?!) Older women all around me probably dye their hair now and I have no idea.  Am I that naïve?  Have I been fooled by the media, the beauty industry?  Like hairless armpits and bikini lines, chiseled abs and toned thighs. Like blemish-free skin and unnaturally long eyelashes.  There have been so many times when I have wondered why I can’t look like my friends/colleagues/peers on social media?  Usually I write it off as a good angle, a well-designed filter or photoshop.  But that all goes out the window when they also look flawless in person!

I have only just recently started to wonder if it is less that I can’t look like them, but more that I don’t.  I choose not to.  I generally haven’t prioritized going to the gym or buying makeup products.

I recently (pre-pandemic) bought my first make-up brushes and palettes since the hand-me-down ones my mom gave me to putz around with in middle school.  And to be honest, I feel really good about it.

I thought it would make me feel vain to care about my appearance, to spend money on something I have deemed frivolous for so long. I thought it would feel like I was giving up this crucial part of who I am, like I was succumbing to some sort of peer pressure, complying with the unreasonable societal standards of beauty, selling a part of my soul.

And maybe some ways that is what’s going on.  But let’s face it, the fact that I struggle to feel attractive when I’ve put on a few pounds or haven’t concealed the circles under my eyes… Isn’t that proof that I am a already a product of this image-obsessed society?  Just as much as the women dying their hair?  The women wanting to erase their wrinkles? The women comparing themselves to their friends and coming up short?  I make the same comparisons, I feel the same inadequacies.  I just don’t do anything to change it!

I thought it made me stronger, better, to resist the beauty industry.  But all it has really done has brought about a sense self-righteousness and put another barrier between me and my fellow women.  It has made me judgmental in a subconscious effort to ignore my jealousy and insecurity.

Not feeling like I’m good enough has caused me to push away more people than I can count.  To put up an innumerable number of barriers.  To close myself off without realizing what was happening.

How do I stop that?

How do I stop judging the people around me? How do I stop judging myself?

How can I cultivate a deep and unrelenting sense of empathy and understanding?  And will that stop me from making dumb comments in conversation?  Or will I just need to have more grace for myself, because that’s always going to be something I do?

How do I love myself?  And will that help me to better love others?

 . . .

It is interesting how each stage of life seems to have its own defining factors, its own standards for comparison.  Gray hair just isn’t something I think about or pay attention to yet.  My peers are all having babies and buying home or else they’re advancing in their careers and doing CrossFit.

But eventually my hair will go gray and I will need glasses and technology will feel overwhelming and I will start to forget things. And then I will think back on 26-year-old me and realize that I have never been as immune to the naivete—or the illusions of invincibility brought about by youth—as I imagined myself to be.

And maybe by then I will stop comparing, stop judging, stop with the constant insecurity.

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A Mile in Their Hair

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