Hair Style?

Every time I go to the hair salon, I have the same conversation with my stylist. She sits me down in her chair and, while looking at my reflection in the eye, asks me what I’d like to do with my hair. I hesitate, and settle on telling her I’d like a trim. “I’m a runner, so I want to be able to pull my hair back into a ponytail,” I tell her. She nods, as she runs her hands through my brown locks, still damp from the shower I took several hours earlier. She hands me the ponytail holders she’s extracted from my hair, and compliments me on how thick it is, how lovely the color is, how healthy it feels. Sometimes other stylists in the salon will join in.  It’s a surreal experience in spite of the fact that it happens every single time I get my hair cut, no matter where I end up going. Indeed, maybe that’s exactly why it’s so surreal.

Brown-haired woman unhappy with her haircut.It’s also embarrassing.

It’s not because of how shy I am, or how modest I feel; I’ve been getting compliments on my hair for as long as I can remember. It’s got a rich color, it’s incredibly thick, and it’s got a loose wave that I can either make curlier or straighten a bit if I want to spend time styling it. Everyone seems to love it, some people even admit to envying it.

I hate it.

To me, my hair is a constant reminder of the fact that for the past eighteen or so years (give or take a few), I’ve struggled to find a way to deal with it. I’ve tried cutting it short, wearing it long, pulling it back, letting it down, curling it, blow-drying it, letting it dry naturally, and just about everything else I could possibly think of. I’ve bought bottle after bottle of hair product, and spent a fair amount of money on styling tools that I use once and abandon. I’ve asked for recommendations from friends, examined on-line tutorials on different styles and hairdos, and spent time in front of the mirror trying something– anything!– to deal with what I consider to be a symbol of my complete failure to adapt to my own body and femininity.

To be clear, I don’t feel like my incompetence with regard to my hair is a manifestation of my failure to adhere to some unrealistic beauty standard established by our society’s crazy demands when it comes to female ideals. If that were the case, I’d be relieved, since it would mean that I’d at least be able to experience a bit of feminist pride in bucking the system, if only in some small way. No, my feelings of failure are reflective of far more personal standards that are based in my own desires to feel sufficiently familiar and comfortable with the various parts of my body that I can proudly take ownership of them. Having grown up with terrible body image issues, and having only recently begun the life-long process of recovering from an eating disorder, I can say without exaggeration that I’ve struggled long and hard with the concept of accepting and even loving my body as it is. For whatever reason, though, my hair–possibly the body part over which I have the most control– still stands as an untameable entity, toward which, for all I know, I will always have deeply-rooted feelings of animosity. And knowing that it’s the sort of hair most people think belongs in a Pantene commercial does very little to help. At the end of the day, when I pull it out of the looped ponytail/bun that it’s been in since that morning, all I can think of is the missed opportunities, and lament the fact that I don’t know how to make it look nice, which in turn makes me feel like I don’t know how to make myself look nice.

It seems odd that something as simple and straightforward as hair could have such a profound effect on the way we view ourselves. My inability to establish any kind of sense of hairstyle for myself (other than the same bun I’ve worn since sixth grade) makes me feel like no matter what I do, my overall since of style will always be handicapped in some way by my follicular shortcomings. As I near the age of thirty, I wonder about the degree to which the fact that I wear my hair today in the exact same way I did when I was a pre-teen may be hindering my progress into adulthood– and if it is, is it too late to undo the damage? Maybe it’s time to reconsider my hair hatred, dust off the blow dryer and round brush, and confront my hairstyling fears head-on.

I’m curious, readers, about your relationship with your hair: have your hairstyling experiences (successes or failures) been as existentially charged as mine? Do you approach the hair salon with trepidation or excitement? Are there other elements of your personal style that you feel are holding you back? Reassure me! I can’t be the only one out there whose hair is a source of anxiety… right?

By Emilie

Runner, yogini, knitter, Manhattanite in spite of myself. Also blogging at

25 replies on “Hair Style?”

Well I got the curly, thick, almost-black, fast-growing hair, and my sister got the straight, thin, mousy, slow-growing stuff. Unpredictable genetics of mixed race families for the win!

Which means, of course, that she has zero issues with body hair (whereas I have plenty) and I have zero issues with head-hair (whereas she used to cry when we went to the hairdresser’s). I’m illustrating this just to make the point that whatever you’ve got, someone wants it. You’ve probably got super-awesome hair, just haven’t found it out yet…

And so, to make the best of it, just follow the advice of the commenters below: find a great hairdresser! I used to be way too attached to my home-town hairdresser, until I got a cheap men’s cut from a barbershop*, and since then I have always gone back to those guys, ’cause they cut clean and sharp and exactly what I want, for a reasonable price (even now that my hair is ear-lobe length). The primary function of my hair today is utility – I can’t wait until it grows long enough to put into a proper ponytail, but I also keep the bottom half of the back of my head shaved because I don’t like my neck being hot and sweaty.

* This was after I shaved all my hair off for charity. Because I knew it would grow back fast, I could not give two shits about it. Also it was great fun shocking the whole world because OMG – Person With Breasts AND A Buzz Cut!!

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