Hair, identity, science, soul

How to Pay Attention

I hate my hair and how it always looks like shit. My team’s project manager is a Jill of All Trades. She is competent and confident. I trust her. She says she wants to cut it for me, so I agree.

It’s a surprise: she works her magic on me in a dark, windowless office. When she is done, she takes me to the bathroom and points me in front of the mirror. I see my hair is shaved, with a puff of blond scrub on the top of my head, pinhead style.

The severity suits my rage, and the carnival freakness of it is a perfect reflection of how I feel inside.


This is a dream. In waking life, my body is like an unruly child: disobedient, willful, purposefully aggravating. It doesn’t want to get in line and yield to who is boss here. An array of symptoms and annoyances sprout and overlap, crowding each other.

Though I have agreed to take it on this journey, my hair is one more needy toddler—the sort that melts down at grocery stores and doesn’t want the offered snack. I want it to SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP! I have given it what it wants: I am no longer flat ironing it and blow drying it. Sometimes I brush it out, trying to make it as puffy and large and ugly as I can. Or, not able to look at it another second, I’d furiously scrub and rewash it late at night, for the umpteenth time, resetting, trying to undo, trying to redo, trying to like what I see.


We are the sort of people who don’t talk about things. It is a kind of politeness not to make trouble. Be quiet until you can’t be anymore, then be loud and unpleasant. Imagine me, tiny. My pet rabbit has just been gutted by another animal. I found him, hollowed out and stiff. Later, we visit relatives. I’m weeping, weeping, weeping. I can’t figure out why no one is reacting. But it turns out my parents have put out advanced word. I want someone to notice.

Mirrors and reflections by other people show you how far out of spec you are—carnival freak? Or just ugly? I google wave/curl categories trying to find someone who looks like me. No one looks like me. No one comments on my hair.

I found all the Youtubers I could. Wavy. Check. Fine. Check. Fine, wavy hair is supposed to be “easy.” It can be beachy! It holds curl! It’s easy to straighten! Mine was none of these things, but OK. I tried not to weigh it down, so I bought detanglers. And because fine hair LOOOOOVES protein, I used a lot. I used it until my hair got straight and floated away from my head like a balloon. Then I used less.

I didn’t actually study the hair of some of these people whose techniques I was turning into my bible. Did it even look good? I just obediently followed. My hair bent and was large, kind of. It dried in a snap! It looked wildly different from day to day. Finally it took on a crunchy, product-y sheen.

I don’t know how I realized something was wrong, but finally I did. What I thought was “normal,” was me punishing my hair. Then punishing it some more for being frustrating. So I stopped.

I’m learning, and it is learning. It has never—not once in the entirety of my life—been able to express its true nature. Listening to it and supporting it is the least I can do.

–Laura