“You look like you just stuck a fork in an outlet.”
For those of you who haven’t known me since middle school (or haven’t seen me get my hair wet at a pool party), you wouldn’t know that I have naturally curly hair. I’m talking curly hair. I got it from my mama who also has the same naturally curly hair. When I was little it was flowy and wavy and beautiful. The older I got, the more the curls tightened and shrank. And the more volume I got.
Also the older I got, the more trendy it became to not have curly hair. So I did what every other girl in my grade did and begged my mother for a straightener. She said no so I just spent hours in the bathroom with a blow dryer, frying my hair and making it extremely poofy – but albeit, straight. I typically just wore my hair in a pony tail a lot because usually my make-shift blowout lasted all of ten minutes. And when I did wear it curly, it had a lot of volume. So up in a bun or ponytail it went for pretty much all of middle school and early high school.
One particular Sunday morning I was getting ready for church and I didn’t have time to spend blow drying my hair. So I threw in some product to hold my curls in place and let it air dry on the drive to church. My hair is a lot like dough, the longer you let it sit the more it will rise. So by the time I got to church, my hair had expanded like the Grinch’s heart at the end of the film – about three sizes. I walked into Sunday School and the first comment to come out of a classmate’s mouth – someone who wasn’t used to seeing my with curly hair – was, “You look like you just stuck a fork in an outlet.”
The whole room laughed and I joined them. That was something I learned to do early on – if you’re a part of the joke it doesn’t hurt as bad. (It does however fester and come up years later in therapy.) I quickly reached for the hair tie that I typically always kept on my wrist so that I could put my hair up in a ponytail and be over this joke – but I didn’t have one. In my rush out the door, I had forgotten to grab a hair tie. Suddenly I became very aware of my hair. And to this day, you will not find me leaving the house without multiple hair ties on my wrist. (Pretty sure my wedding coordinator had to stop me moments from walking down the aisle to take them off of my wrist.)
Since that day I’ve been just as insecure about my hair as I was my body. My anxiety has always been rooted around pleasing other people and needing to feel in control. In that moment – knowing that other people didn’t like my hair and knowing that I didn’t have the control to put my hair back in a ponytail – I was losing both of those battles. But my hair has become a bigger battle over the years and I’ve realized – just recently – that I’ve expressed my grief and anxiety through changes with my hair.
If you look back at the times that I’ve done any major changes to my hair, you can also point out a significant life event happening in my life a few months prior to that hair transformation. For example:
Sophomore year of high school, my best friend was hit by a car and killed. A few months after that I cut six inches off my hair and dyed it red. I couldn’t control the events that were happening around me, so I took action against something I could control.
Freshman year of college, the guy I was dating at the time decided to join the military and left for basic training. Also he was verbally abusive and continued to suggest that I be a specific size when he returned home. I’ve talked about this before, briefly, but this was the first time I began to purge to lose weight. I knew I had to be a certain size when I saw him and I wasn’t, and I didn’t feel in control. So I did something I could control. I decided to cut three inches off my hair – again. (I also wore this really dumb and really fake piece of purple clip-in hair all the time. lol)
Junior year of college, I decided to break up with that guy. But unfortunately my entire group of friends was also his entire group of friends. Sure, I lost a boyfriend but what hurt me more what losing an entire group of friends in a time when I needed them most. And honestly, I had enough insight to see that coming which is why I stayed in that abusive relationship for as long as I did. I didn’t really care about losing the guy, I cared about losing my friends. I started purging again and decided to dye my hair dark – like really dark – and got extensions. I needed to feel in control.
Two years ago, when I lost my job at Yik Yak I felt completely out of control again for the first time in a long time. I thought I had gotten it all together but clearly I had not. It didn’t take me long to find another job but it did take me a long time to realize that it wasn’t my fault that I lost my job. I internalized that “loss” for a long time. I told myself I shouldn’t have put our family at risk by working for a startup, that I should’ve seen the signs coming, that I didn’t deserve to work someone that I enjoyed so much (nobody LOVES their job!), that I was being dramatic, etc. I didn’t understand that I was experiencing grief. This was a loss to me. This job meant something to me and I was allowed to grieve it. At the time, I just interpreted it as feeling out of control. I needed to take control of the situation so I started purging again and decided to go blonde.
This fall, we lost my husband’s grandfather and my maternal grandmother within two months of each other. I’m happy to say I didn’t feel the urge to purge again – thanks to a good support system and lots of therapy. Even with all of that support, I still can’t say I totally handled the grief well. When my grandmother passed – I had been at her house all day. Everyone thought she would make it into the morning, so I left around dinner time. Then around 11pm that evening, she went to be with the Lord. When my mom gave me the news, I found out I was the only family member who wasn’t there. I had gone home. I still haven’t really been able to forgive myself for not being there. I’ve had this overwhelming feeling of guilt ever since that I can’t control. And since I can’t control it, I had to do something that I could control. So I went to my hair dresser and said, “Make my hair brown again.”
In all of these moments, I never would’ve been able to identify that I was making these drastic hair changes due to anxiety or stress or a response to stifled grief. And I don’t regret any of these changes (except maybe that first time I went red) because they’ve all been a part of who I was at the time. I’ve never felt the urge to go full on 2007 Britney or anything (I think the clip-in purple strand was as close as I’ll get) but thanks to therapy, a lot of self reflection, and a hairdresser I trust with my life, I’m able to recognize when I start to use changes to my hair as a means to feel in control over my anxiety.
Hear me out: there’s nothing wrong with changing up your hairstyle. I’ve dyed my hair plenty of times that weren’t related to my anxiety. This was just me identifying and calling out my own bad habits so that I’m able to recognize them later. And so YOU can recognize them later in me and call me out. So if I ever ask you, “You think I could pull off the posh spice bob?” or “Do you think I should get bangs?” idk maybe check up on me.