Hair, identity, science, soul

The In-between

Please identify and sort yourself. Climb into the appropriate box. If you feel things are a bit off in one box, and you think you might try the other—don’t! Stay where you are. It’s easier for everyone else.

What I’m comfortable with: books, ideas, pretty things that exist in the world separate from me. What I’m not comfortable with: anything to do with my body.

Bodies are awkward, they exist where other people can see and form opinions. And they change suddenly. Puberty, for example. Embrace it, and you are a giant slut. Do you know how your breasts look in that sweater??! Hide. And get reminders that you are visible: grabbing hands, snapping bra straps.

Disguise and blend. Be special, be just like everyone else.

I move to California and suddenly my hair is doing things beyond its usual poof at the bottom and vague frizz. Shapes in the back, curl at the bottom. Usually my hair is shorter to deal with the poof, but I am jobless and saving money. I wear a lot of half ponytails and scrunch scrunch scrunch. I twist the front, and it flops like a dense, dead fish.

I research and land on the Curly Girl Method. My hair looks really dumb when I start, dented and frizzy, with some twists. I’m applying products with the fury and skill of a toddler finger painting. My stylist and I develop a wary relationship, with competing expertise and a hint of defensiveness.

“Seventy percent of people have wavy or curly hair.” Whatever muse I am following, most people just straighten and get on with life. Or they straighten, then curl for smooth symmetry. Waves are cool, if they are in fashion, and only a certain way. Only those poor souls who have no choice wear their hair “natural.”

Years of treating my hair like it was straight, ironing it until it sizzled. Because and until it didn’t want to curl, and it didn’t want to straighten. I can see why my stylist is defensive, as my roots sprout curl in my straight sections.

My new salon I have chosen because they emphasize individuality. My stylist puts charts in front of me and asks me to put myself in a category. I point and can tell by her expression I’ve chosen wrong. We are talking about what we have in front of us, not what I think my hair is trying to express, not what I’ve noticed as the evolution of strands over time. It’s only recently that my hair has a persistent pattern when wet.

She has the kind of hair that doesn’t allow the luxury of a straighten. She is the one who gives me the 70% figure. I understand what she must be thinking. She has this burden and gift, and here I am pretending I am like her. She gamely sculpts my hair into their signature “beachy waves” look that I wash as soon as I get home.

Every day, I conjure, and things look just a little bit different but not quite what they might be.

Even still, I feel defensive and want to justify. List my pain points, cite my reasons, as though I need an iron-clad case and appropriate texture baseline. Like everyone else, I want a way to live with what I have.