Confession: I Hate My Natural Hair
Disclaimer: This is not a feel-good, accept-yourself/love-yourself, "Everyone is beautiful" story. This is a tale of me hating my hair, but then (spoiler alert) being okay with that, accepting myself as a hair-hater, and moving on.
Most people are pretty surprised to learn that my hair isn't naturally straight. (And with good reason - I do everything in my power to keep it straight, with chemicals, heat, an actual clothing iron, you name it.) I can't stand my not-quite-curly, definitely-not-straight locks that I attribute to Jew-fro genes from my dad mixed with Mediterranean genes from my mom. Great potential for a head of sassy, HBIC curls a la Carrie Bradshaw or, at the very least, that one time in 2015 when Ariana Grande went au natural, but for some reason, what I got ended up being flat, frizzy, and stubbornly center-parted all at the same time.
If I really allow myself to dream, I'd have a mane like Shakira or Lion Babe, who as far as I'm concerned is THE ultimate #CurlyHairGoals, but it just hasn't panned out for me.
(Hit play to see Lion Babe's hair in its full glory below.)
My natural hair is more like...how shall I put this...the "before" in an infomercial while a woman huffs and puffs over dead, frizzy hair while a narrator asks viewers if they are "sick and tired of wrestling with dry, unmanageable hair that looks like a witch lost a fight with a broomstick?" (Paraphrasing here.)
I sometimes describe it as Anne Hathaway in Princess Diaries before she gets the royal makeover. It's not a tangible curl, it's an abandoned birds nest in a thicket of thorns, an unironed shirt that was balled up wet in the back of the washer and lost for a month, an abandoned cottage on a mountainside that is engulfed in vines.
I have nothing, for the record, against beautiful, curly hair. It's just that...mine isn't. My mom is always encouraging me to wear it natural, assuming I'll step out of the shower with perfect beachy waves, but it just isn't like that. It's an in-between texture that is best if I just take matters into my own hands.
I've worn it natural before, when I have given in the the urge to go for a swim on vacation and then was stuck with it for the rest of the day, and for an entire semester of college when I just decided to go for it. I never felt comfortable, and I never felt good. It made me feel disheveled and unkempt and, to be quite honest, ugly.
I am seriously pretty torn about the knowledge that I hate my hair. I consider myself pretty body-positive, and, if you ask my boyfriend, confident to a fault about my looks. (Cut to him repeatedly walking in on me twerking at various angles in front of the bedroom mirror, alone.)
I hate the impossible beauty standards that women are held up to pretty much from birth, and I also could do without the hours I spend on at-home keratin treatments, blow-drying my hair straight, flat-ironing it to make sure it stays straight, and sometimes foregoing showering altogether if I know I don't have time to do any combination of the aforementioned life-consuming tasks. Oh, and that whole "giving in to the urge to go for a swim on vacation" thing is pretty rare - I would love nothing more than to freely run into the ocean on a whim, dive to the sea floor to inspect a shell, playfully enter into a splash fight with bae, or spontaneously cannonball into a pool at a Coachella party. (The last one has never actually come up, but...it could.) Doing any of that stuff is always a heavy decision that I have to weigh out carefully and factor in plans for the rest of the day and time until dinner minus an hour or so to shower and re-straighten my hair.
What if, I worry to myself, I am not as resilient to cultural standards as I like to think? What if I, like thousands of other feminists who straighten/dye/cut/grow their hair, from Beyonce to Taylor Swift, am just succumbing to the machinations of pop culture and Hollywood norms?
But then I think about all the things I can do with straight hair - put it up in a pony tail without worrying about tearing half of it out later; run my fingers through it without pulling out pieces of my scalp; flip it without hearing a sound akin to dead leaves blowing across pavement.
I went to the hair salon recently, and the woman washing my hair said "your hair is so healthy" as she admired its sheen and strength, which I can attribute to the Keratin treatment I do at home every couple months, and to not washing it very often because of how long it takes to blow dry straight. (Neither of which I ever would have had to do if my hair was naturally straight, mind you, so maybe my hair is better off for it?)
No one had ever said "Your hair is so healthy" to me when I wore my hair natural or curly-ish.
Here's a "Before and After" pic I posted on Instagram in 2013. Yes, that's forever ago, but it's one of the few times I posted a photo with my hair au natural:
Here's a photo of me on the beach with my hair worn natural. (Please note how not one, but both hands are fussing with it. Clearly not comfortable here.)
I remember vividly the reaction I got from a sales associate at The Body Shop when I was around fifteen years old. I asked her for a recommendation on hair products, and she couldn't mask the hopelessness as she unwillingly touched just the tip of her finger to my hair and announced that this would be tricky, but I could try one of the straightening products.
Getting haircuts in Middle School and High School were some of the rare opportunities to ask for a blowout - this was before blowout bars were on every corner and before I learned to do it myself - so I would always schedule them for right around school dances and big events. I'd walk into school and be met with compliments about how good I looked, how awesome my hair looked straight. It's no wonder I began to feel I only looked pretty with it straight.
Gel never worked. "Scrunching it up" in the palms of my hands never worked. Sleeping in braids, salt-and-oil based "beach" inspired products, diffusers on the end of a hair dryer never worked. And on top of that, I still didn't feel good even when I was getting closer to my natural hair. I felt more high-maintenance and "precious" (or worse, "done-up") than when I hit it with a hair dryer and straightening iron and left it alone for a few days.
At some point, I began to realize that trying to wear my hair "natural" would take more time, effort, and product than straightening it. It takes me a healthy chunk of time to style it straight, but it took even longer when I spent a whole lot of time and money to make my natural hair work.
And so, despite my clear obsession with my hair, I would also like to have a career, relationship and life and not have to spend more time than necessary on styling. In the end, rejecting my natural hair and opting for a straight 'do ends up being the more practical choice, with the added bonus that I felt better, and feel I look better. (I just have to avoid water at all costs.)
Maybe, I can tell myself, it'd be the more feminist choice to realize that I like A over B and do it for myself, Hollywood be damned.
Me feeling myself because my hair is clean and sleek:
What do you think? Do you have something about yourself that you have changed/covered up/etc that you did for you?