It was one of my mom's magazines, one that gives you tips on how to clean your house faster, recipes for easy meals, and tips on how to do your makeup. I think I was around eleven years old when I found the article on how to do your hair. The model's hair was long, silky and straight, with side-swept bangs and not a sign of frizz. I frantically read to find out how I could achieve the same look, hoping that there might be some way I could tame my frizzy mop head, and I was delighted to discover I only needed to buy a few products.
I had recently had a birthday, so I went to my dad and asked him to drive me to the store so I could buy some straightening serum, a round brush, and a special conditioning cream with my birthday money. He hesitated, making sure I really wanted to spend that money on hair products. But I was convinced that was what I needed. I'm sure my ten year-old mind was an advertiser's dream in that I truly believed every claim made, and that if the bottle said it would make my hair straight, then it would indeed make my hair straight. I was so sure that if I just used these products and followed the directions on how to properly blow dry my hair, I would look exactly like the model in the picture. I'd have straight hair.
You know how we all have those little things we believe will be the answer to all our problems? "If I had this job," "If my salary was this much," "If I wore a size 2," etc. Well, my fix-all "if" was "If I had straight hair." If I had straight hair, I'd probably get straight As, have lots of friends, get the lead in the school play, and generally my life would be perfect. All my problems were probably the result of my oddly wavy, sometimes curly, and always frizzy hair.
I probably don't have to tell you how it turned out, but I will. I painstakingly blew that hair dry (in July in Porterville, in 100+ degree weather) and I watched tearfully as my hair expanded, not in length but in width. I looked nothing like the model. This was before the days of straighteners, so I was relying solely on that blow dryer and a big-barrel curling iron to do the trick. It looked like I had a giant cotton ball on my head, and it was not pretty.
I'm thankful I have a patient dad who sometimes allowed his stubborn daughter to learn for herself. As I cried over the fact that my hair wasn't straight and that I'd spent all my birthday money on hair products that did not do what they promised, he gently reminded me that my hair was different, and that thanks to him and my mom (who both have curly hair), it would be much more difficult to get the look I desired. I believed him, but still thought there must be some way I could have straight hair. And thus began my fifteen-year obsession with straightening my hair.
This isn't a story about how vain I was when I was a child, and how I let my silly hair ruin many of my days. It's a story of finally coming to peace with my hair, and being able to appreciate it. It has been a long time coming, but I can finally officially say I am thankful for my hair. We've become friends, and it has forgiven me for all the chemicals, straightening irons, and blow drying I used to destroy it back when I tried to make it something it was not. Much of this new found affection is due to a lovely book I was introduced to - Curly girl: The Handbook. It's essential for all who have curly hair because it instructs you on how to actually style your hair and take care of it - it's so different from the way one would care for straight hair. I've made a vow that I will never subject my curls to the damaging methods of straightening ever again, and that I will be grateful for every frizzy kink I find. I have finally fully accepted and embraced my curls.
But it's more than that. I don't know if it's the out-of-state move or turning twenty-six or what, but lately I've been thinking a lot about figuring out how to be really comfortable with who I am, and this curly hair thing is just a more tangible expression of it. I am tired of playing the game of being whoever people expect me to be, or the version of myself I think people will like best. I have no desire to pretend to be something I'm not. I'm interested in figuring out my gifts and my own special talents and who I am really meant to be. And part of that means I want to change things - my stubbornness, my tendency to procrastinate, giving in to fear. But I also want to accept things and to be unafraid to express my true self. That means sometimes my hair will look wild and unruly and I won't look chic and sophisticated. That's fine. It's a lot easier and it sounds more fun to me than pretending and spending hours drying and straighenting.
And seriously, if you have curly hair, buy that book. :)