Why is it that women are forever coloring their hair -- curling, ironing, extending, feathering, crimping, pulling, twisting and bending it? I have a dear friend who, for the 26 years I've known her, has been trying to undo the curls she naturally has, while I have always coveted her spectacular head of curls! For years, when she'd fall in the pool and come out horrified that her hair was rapidly winding up into tight coils, I wished it were mine. Now that she can have it chemically straightened, she swims without fear and we laugh about this old drama. I love her straight hair, because ultimately I love her. Still, it always struck me that she and I could see her hair so differently, when we agree on so many other things.
I have only colored my hair once. I had fine strawberry-blonde highlights put on the tips of my hair, to finally see what it was like to be in the "tribe." I always saw coloring your hair as a right of passage for women, and just once I wanted to share the ritual. That was 10 years ago; I was 42. At this stage, I'm pretty sure that most of the women I know color their hair -- to cover the gray, to try on new looks, to maintain an image they've always had, but for years and years, I always assumed that the hair color I saw was the color that naturally grew there. Well into my 40s, I naively believed this, and friends would laugh at me when I would finally notice "roots" or figure out that their blonde was not nature-made. Now, I assume all hair is altered, unless the evidence stating otherwise is clear.
I grew up with bright red hair -- both a blessing and a curse in my youth. My gym teacher called me "Carrot top," while others often called me "Red"; I hated both. I wanted to have blonde hair like all the "popular girls," or wonderful brown curls, like my best friend -- anything but my own carrot top. All through college, when it was long and I suppose more striking, total strangers would come up and touch my hair. It drove my husband nuts when we were dating; though I had come to think that touching people's hair was normal -- similar to how strangers think they can touch a pregnant woman's stomach. When I went on The Phil Donahue Show in my late twenties, the show aired with Phil, with his striking white mop of hair, stroking my red hair as I asked a question. Friends teased me for years about it, though Mr. Donahue's response didn't strike me as strange at the time.
I'm in my 50's now, I made peace with my hair a long time ago. I'm happy to be a redhead -- even as it fades to a darker auburn, with increasingly visible white and silver stragglers. For now, I'll go on record and say I do not plan to ever color it again.
I haven't owned a comb or brush for 18 years; I use my fingers and spritz it with water when it needs fixing. I only get my hair cut into styles that require sleep, washing and little else. I admit that I'm lazy. For the most part, I've let go of that one vanity. For that, I feel very fortunate and grateful; I know that a lot of women invest loads more effort. My good friend C, who used to cut it for me, has told me over and over: "Yes, you could have that style, if you're willing to spend a few minutes with a flat iron, or if you're willing to use some more product, or blow it out..." However, knowing me well, she too surrendered, and I went with small variations on the same, short cut for years. Admittedly, as it's grown out, I've railed against it a bit more. With more hair to wrangle, it's not as easy to just let it go. Some days I still wish it was curlier, longer, thicker... like that woman's or that one, or the one over there, but for the most part, I've surrendered this single battle.
When I told my daughter what I was writing, she shared that she once wore a hijab for several days in support of Muslim friends at college. She said she found it very eye-opening, though her professors gave her odd looks. Wearing the hijab, she realized just how much energy, physically and spiritually, she puts in to her hair each day. "The focus," she said, "was suddenly only on my personality -- just me -- not as much on my looks. It was so freeing!" I understand her point, as that's how I feel with my low-maintenance hairstyle.
My daughter has gorgeous wavy hair, which has been changing from the blonde of her childhood to the darker color it will probably be as an adult. She asks me: "Mom, is my hair getting darker?" with a worried expression. "Yes; it's gorgeous," I respond. I look at her through a mother's eyes, but I understand that she is wondering if her hair might not be nicer wavier, or straighter, thicker or blonder again. As her mother, I wince, knowing that she is struggling with the same issues of self-esteem that so many women face. While each of us admires someone else's locks, we can't accept that someone is likely wishing for yours, or yours... or mine. It's not acceptable to say I wish I had your husband, your house, your career, your life... but so many women say: "I would kill for your hair."
In fact, it's truly rare to hear a woman say I love my hair. Instead, women spend billions each year to alter the hair they have; we work tirelessly to tame our tresses and attain a certain look. Black women do it; white women do it. Asian women do it; Latina women do it; Orthodox women do it and secular women do it. Women with money do it, women who don't have money do it. Regardless of our race, culture, religion and often socioeconomics, most of us seem to be chasing the grass on someone else's head.
For now, I still covet my neighbor's stuff: I'd love her figure and her wardrobe; hell, her husband is pretty cute. However, when it comes to my hair, I think I'll go out on a limb here: I'm happy with my hair. On "bad hair days" I may occasionally dream of longer, curlier, other hair, but for the foreseeable future, I'm sticking with the grass that grows on my own head.
What say you? Are you happy with what you have, or are you forever seeking to change what grows on top?
This story was originally posted on Dawn Quyle Landau's bog, Tales From the Motherland. Check it out, to read more of my work. Follow me on Facebook and Twitter. You can also hit the thumbs up icon at the top and to the right of post, to instantly receive future posts.