I sent this picture recently to my friends. The question I posed to them was: Okay, tell me the truth. Is my hair too big to wear out in public?
I’ve been trepidatiously doing this thing lately where I’ve been wearing very minimal hair product, if I bother to wear it at all. It’s really been quite liberating to let my hair to unleash its natural DGAF attitude. It feels like I’ve been this smothering, overbearing mom who wouldn’t let her child be who it was all along. I tried to wrestle, tame, and mold it with hot irons and pounds of gel and enough hairspray to undo all 21st century environmental efforts.
And finally it was like my hair said, “YOU KNOW WHAT, MOM? I’M NOT STRAIGHT, OKAY?! AND I NEVER WILL BE!” And I finally accepted that and let my hair be free. And now we love each other.
It’s taken awhile to get to the point of saying the following words (and actually meaning them): “I love my hair.” It took awhile because my junior high years were filled with hormones, bullies, social media, and celebrity magazines, i.e. the Dark Overlords of Teenagedom. All of these, of course, served to constantly remind me that my curly hair was absolutely not a desirable trait.
“Oh my GAWD, if I had your hair, I’d shave it all off and wear a wig,” *girl on the back of the bus* (oh yes, we had all of two interactions in my entire life, but I definitely remember her name) said to me as I stepped off the bus. “You’re ugly,” said *other boy on the bus* (yup, also remember exactly who he was), whom I often tried to avoid by blasting Blue October’s “Hate Me” (lol) on my iPod, wrapping myself in an invisibility cloak of angst, and pressing myself against the window, praying he wouldn’t see me. He usually did, and I spent most of the 20-minute bus ride both ways in silence while he proceeded to tell me I was ugly and gross, poke me, and/or say the word “penis” over and over again to make me uncomfortable.
“You hair kind of makes you look like the Predator,” the father of my best friend in junior high once told me. Ahh, just what every 13-year-old girl wants to hear from an older man. Another teacher told me I looked like a Pomeranian, which at least was a step up from Predator. This was followed by an attempt to pet me.
Other people/things I’ve been compared to include cocker spaniels, Rosanna Rosanna Danna, and a person who had just stuck her finger in a light socket. Needless to say, having my looks compared to someone being electrocuted did not quite inspire confidence in my young self.
My big hair issues were compounded by another rather large feature that sprang up, to my surprise and chagrin, right around the age of 12 or 13: my ass. Now, let me tell you: The early 2000s were not kind to young white girls with big hair and big asses. I had a boyfriend during the latter years of junior high who was very complimentary of it, but the sheer volume of butt references he made rendered me quite uncomfortable. I just didn’t know what to think – should I be flattered? Insulted? He referred to it simply as “big.” Like…as a noun.
Him: “Big is looking great today in those jeans.”
Me: *Anxious, panicky, emotional internal battle over whether I should be flattered or humiliated – OMG, how big does it look?! Do I look fat? Is that all he can focus on?! He’s probably thinking I look fat. And how big does my hair look? And did I put on enough eyeliner today? (Answer from future self: YOU PUT THE ENTIRE COSMETIC AISLE’S WORTH OF EYELINER ON, PLEASE GO WASH IT OFF AND LISTEN TO SOME MORE UPLIFTING MUSIC)* “Thanks.”
A J.Lo butt, a Beyoncé butt – okay, I’ll admit that hearing this was more of a self-esteem booster than “you look like the Predator,” but the sheer VISIBILITY of my butt, the presence it commandeered, and this weird dichotomy between the sensuality of a large ass and the condemnation of it by mainstream media and the world of The Thin White Girl standard – not to mention the complex dance of innocence and adolescence at the tender age of 13 – made it all immensely overwhelming.
I carried all of this discomfort, this tattered self-esteem, with me too long after those bleak junior high years. There were remnants of it even when my hair and butt lost their volume during the years I tried to starve myself, and then they came back when I finally said, enough is enough with the eating disorder, and put on over 20 pounds between my sophomore and junior year of college. And then I put up with this nagging, niggling little self-hating voice in the back of my head for a little longer after that. Especially after that, because, of course, the butt was back – perhaps with a little less pomp and flair than before, because I’d gotten taller and filled out in other ways that balanced me out a little more – but still, it was back. And the hair was bigger than ever.
And then, responding to the picture I sent to my friends, my L.A. friend told me that big hair is in, which must be true because she lives in L.A. and she said so. Around the same time I sent that photo to them, I also read this “article” (I feel silly using the word “article” as if this was actual news or education) about big butts making a comeback. I told my husband, “Did you know big butts are a thing again?”, to which he replied, “Were they ever not a thing?”
I had this moment where I realized that big hair and big butts are “in” right now, and I had to laugh because it dawned on me that our world is so fickle, misguided, and confused when it comes to a woman’s sense of self and worth. These beauty things go in and out of style, and we obsess, gawk, consume, gossip, and wallow, and then the styles change, and we do it all again. Meanwhile, the world keeps spinning, babies are born, opportunities come and go, laughter echoes, and life gets ever more beautiful by the second while we’re wasting time in front of a mirror.
We could spend a lifetime obsessing and draining all our valuable mental energy, or we could learn to love ourselves. Big hair and big butts (or small hair and small butts) and all.