SO I’M SHALLOW. I should be writing some deep essay about love, life, depression, or death, and instead I choose to tell you about my hair. You see, here’s the deal: it used to be curly. Not a little curly, but crazy-gorgeous, wavy-brunette-curls curly. It was strangers-stop-me-on-the-street-to-ask-about-it curly. I admit that for a few teenage years, my hair bordered on “bushy,” but that was in the 1980s, and bushy hair was the new black. A handful of hair gel, a blast of hot air through my diffuser, a squirt or two of Pumping Curls, and I was ready to sashay down the Cody High School hallway with curls broader than my shoulders cascading halfway down my back. My years at Brigham Young University did little to tame my rowdy locks, though I did resort to clips, combs, and barrettes so I could study without ringlets dangling in my eyes.
The ironic truth is that the whole time I was desperately jealous of my younger sister’s thick, straight, ashy-blonde mane. Granted, her bangs fanned high to heaven (remember— the 1980s), but guys died for her and that blue-eyed blonde, tanned-and-tall, all-American girl look. I had curl but no allure. Since the guys in high school didn’t know how awesome my hair was, neither did I. In fact, I hated it. I spent more than one morning in a cramped kneel beside the ironing board, jamming my head against the cotton-covered metal so my sister could iron my hair straight.
Did I mention I was jealous? True story: I took my wedding pictures to my grandparents. My grandpa thumbed through the stack of photos, a few with my new husband and me posing in the middle of family, but most of just me and my beloved. As he got to the last picture, Grandpa straightened the pile on a magazine, then handed it back to me, commenting, “Your sister sure is beautiful, isn’t she?” I knew exactly which sister he was speaking about.
So I never realized how much I loved my curls and the attention I received from them. I am not kidding about attention, by the way. At least once a week, I’d be stopped by a female stranger and asked where I got my perms done. When I said it was natural, I’d hear her breath catch in an audible “ahhh” and see a grimace wrinkling the corners of her eyes. It would have been too cruel to explain that while she and other women spent hours in rollers or hundreds of dollars on perms trying to look like me, I spritzed on a bit of water, scrunched the curls and ran out the door. Yep, way too cruel to explain it, especially since I spent my extra non-hair-fixing moments feeling worried because I didn’t look like someone else.
Then it all changed. I got married and got pregnant, and my gorgeous ringlets started drooping. By baby number two, my hair was essentially straight, except for those freaky “wings” right by my temples—disgusting little wisps that twisted up and out at odd angles no matter how straight everything else was.
“Just come in,” my stylist reassured. “We’ll perm the h$!* out of it.”
And while I loved him for swearing about hair in Provo, Utah, I just could not do it. All those years of waving a casual hand and pronouncing with self-satisfied disregard, “Oh, it’s just natural” had worn off on me. I had not seen it happening, but suddenly it was there: my identity was being “natural.” I believed in cutting, it is true, but that did not constitute “unnatural.” What could I do? I whacked it off so short they had to shave my neck like a boy. Then I grew it out. Then I cut it again—all in a vain search for an identity as strong as natural curls. There was nothing. Nothing was as charismatic as curly.
But I kept my faith in “natural,” refusing perms, coloring or highlights. I have become a natural-hair Nazi. I take perverse pleasure when hair stylists inevitably cry out, “Your hair is so healthy! We should perm it! Do you want some highlights?”
I gloat to myself, “And the reason why it is so healthy is because I do not do any of those things,” but this unfortunately means that I look hopelessly more dated by the day. I sprouted a cache of silvery gray hair a couple of years ago in honor of my fifth baby being born, and I now understand how the wiry hair cliché got started. For heaven’s sakes, I think I could wind those gray hairs around a pencil, and they would hold the spiral. Which is not altogether a problem, since my hair has started to go curly again.
Mind you, I use the word “started” for good reason. The brown mess is by no means curly; it is more, uh, lumpy, and has very limited styling options. I can put on globs of hair gel and scrunch it for that crispy, tangled, didn’t brush-my-hair look (no strangers stopping for curls lately). Or I can put on globs of hair gel and blow-dry it straight for that puffy, frizzed, half-curled-under and half-flipped-up look. Or I can leave it absolutely alone for the everly unacceptable static-ized bush-head look. My last option is “straight-ease” for a slicked-back ballerina ponytail—with my inevitable forehead “wings” tweaking out as soon as they dry. Absolutely bizarre no matter what I do.
What I am trying to say is that I now feel appropriately jealous of both straight and curly, since my mundane brown hair (with gray highlights) is a lukewarm mix of both. But my mid-thirties self maturely recognizes that I must learn from my past and embrace what I have rather than envy others. I mean, even I realize this isn’t high school anymore. What good were all those curls when I spent my time breaking my kneecaps by the ironing board? Maybe the curl would have allured if I’d been happy with myself. Grow up, I say to myself.
And thus, to this point I have refused to bow to the pressure of fixing my appearance, despite my clear obsession with the matter. I have now decided to take a stand against age-ism. I am getting older by the day, and I will look my age regardless of how attractive, fit, and chic everyone else is around me. Gray hair? Bring it on! I will stand strong on hair coloring and falsifying my appearance. What is wrong with being old and wise? When did our culture become so obsessed with looks? Why can’t maturing adults be respected because they are wrinkled? I want to be natural and show the world what a real thirty-six-year-old looks like. I want to show that my body has birthed and nursed five children, with the sags and pooches to prove it. I want to look my age. Hair coloring is for sissies and is one step down the slippery slope toward full-blown cosmetic surgery. I refuse. (Except for my LASIK surgery, which I love. Really, though, don’t you think LASIK counts as medical?)
But did I mention that I am jealous? Not of my sister. (I’m so over that high school moment; she’s one of my most favorite people in the world.) Not of guys’ attentions. (I’m married, and he adores me. One loving husband is enough for me.) I guess that leaves me being jealous of you gorgeous ladies that I see at the grocery store, in carpool line, and at the park. Me and the other “natural” moms move around town with our lumpy brown mops of hair, birthed-five-children bodies, and four-year-old jeans, while some of you look like models for hair dye, abs of steel workouts, cosmetic surgery and Botox. With my LASIK eyes, I see you all too clearly, and I’m rather envious of what I see. You are probably nice and not nearly as judgmental as me, but I really think everything would be more fun if you didn’t look so hot. We could all get old together. What do you say? I promise to keep working on my shallow attitude, and maybe we could even compromise about hair dye.