This is a story about a religious experience with hair.
I never really thought of myself as attractive growing up. I was fat. Am fat. Whatever. I didn’t feel that my hair was especially anything, except long and thick. My skin was especially average, and I struggle with acne, even as an adult. Northern European descent = body hair, too, and as a woman, I was taught by society that it was gross. I’m simply grateful I never started shaving my forearms, my legs are annoying enough—and yeah yeah, women’s lib, don’t have to shave, yadda yadda, but I do like how it looks and feels. I may bitch about it from time to time, but truth is, I prefer shaving, and it has nothing to do with anyone else’s feelings about it. My husband has never once complained or voiced an opinion one way or another. He’s a good egg.
At any rate, I was a huge advocate from the time I can remember for “inner beauty”—that being smart and kind were far more important than lipstick. I still feel this way. I couldn’t care less how aesthetically pleasing someone is if they’re an asshole. As a prickly teenager I often associated aesthetics with assholery, and I didn’t worry about fashion, skin care/make-up, or hair.
I was dubbed, however, “the girl with the hair.” In truth, my hair has always been pretty magnificent. In high school it was past my waist, luscious, with beautiful natural blonde highlights and a wave to it that gave it volume and body. I didn’t have to do anything with it but brush it out, and it was glorious. Strangers would reach out to touch it. Seriously, my hair has been my one true vanity. I refused to do anything to it, afraid I would damage its natural beauty. I would get it trimmed up, but I went months between trims because I wanted length. I never colored it, aside from a one inch pink spot on the underside I put in during college when I was feeling a little rebellious (gods I’m such a square). My hair has always been natural. Always beautiful. I got lucky—I know a lot of women who spend their energy on hating their hair.
Above: Hair shot from my first degree ceremony. I was 18.
At the end of high school I donated it. Chopped it off to the chin. I was lightheaded for days from the sudden weight loss. Not even exaggerating. It was a huge change for me, but it began a pattern that my husband and I refer to as the “ritualistic shearing of hair.” Every time something major has happened to alter the course of my life, I’ve “shorn” it. Not literally, I’ve not had it shorter than chin-length since I was six years old. But it gets the ol’ heave ho’, a symbol of the change in my life. I did it when I graduated from college, applied to graduate school, got a new job, and so forth. The exception was my wedding day as I wanted it as long as possible for that particular ceremony.
This time was different.
I have known I was starting this new job for a month. But my urge to “do something” with my hair has been kicking around in my brain for, oh, nearly a year. I don’t want to go into any details, but it was a year ago that I came out of orientation for my last job…and, well, I’m changing jobs, so that tells you something about how I felt for the last year. I was diagnosed with severe sleep apnea the prior fall, and when I got treated for it, it was like a veil was lifted off of my eyes. I started making a lot of changes in my life, such as said last job, and I dropped out of graduate school. What I was doing wasn’t living my life, it was fulfilling a set of expectations I thought I wanted. I didn’t.
This past year has been eye opening. It has taught me so much about myself, and it has taught me that I have real health problems. The sleep apnea was no joke, and it was a mistake to take my last job. I rotated day-nights, four weeks of each at a time. When you have a sleep disorder, night shift is not a good idea. It made me unstable. I was so moody my husband almost started smoking—he was using e-cigs. I was a lung transplant nurse—it horrified me that he was turning to nicotine to cope. I couldn’t justify doing that to my husband, to our marriage. I had to make a change.
And that’s not all. I thought I’d be happier as a labor and delivery nurse, and for the most part, I was. It didn’t take the emotional toll on me professionally, the work was hard but not as back breaking. But I was still exhausted—my days off were spent recovering, not living. Furthermore, I could never stay switched onto a night shift schedule. The more I fought it, the worse I was. This translated into several days where I was awake for over 24 hours at a stretch, which takes its toll on the body. Instead of having time and energy to work out, which I didn’t have, my body was now having a constant stress response to cycles of non-sleep—which means greater levels of cortisol and insulin resistance, which leads to fat deposition and fatigue. If I had worked out maybe I wouldn’t have gained 30 lbs in the last year, but I doubt I would’ve lost any weight either, which I need to do to help with, you know, the sleep apnea and insulin resistance I already have.
Above: Me in January, getting ready to meet with a prospective student.
I was so focused on having what I thought was my dream job, I didn’t realize at first that it was destroying me just as surely as what I had been doing. I was prioritizing the fantasy of being an L&D nurse over the reality of my life. Thankfully my husband was supportive and very insightful about what was going on, and he encouraged me to make a change (as did other members of my family).
So what does this have to do with hair?
These realizations about my ill health, physical and mental, have come since I turned 30. I don’t feel strongly one way or another about turning 30—age is just a number, right? But there is a reality that comes to the fact that I AM 30, I am getting older. For the first time in my life, my menstrual cycle is irregular. My skin isn’t as smooth as it used to be (even despite the acne). I don’t have to shave as often, which is actually kind of a blessing. My gallbladder died. My hair has this weird new texture to it—it’s thicker, coarser. I have a few greys, but that, again, never bothered me. The color has lost some of its luster, though, and it looks really…boring…when I put it up.
Today I did something about it. Understand, I’m hair stupid. All I’ve done with it is cut it off or grow it. I’ve had it styled all of three times in my life—not even for my own prom. So I went to a salon where they do free consultations, and I tried to convey to my stylist what it was that I needed. She showed me a few pictures, threw out a few ideas—and got to work.
Four hours and a hundred bucks later, and when I got in the car, I almost broke down in tears. First of all, my stylist did a FABULOUS job. She somehow took my, “I don’t know, I like my color, but it’s…lost something, and I need a shape. I don’t know what kind of shape,” and turned it into something verifiably amazing. The deluge of compliments on Facebook is a testament.
And it wasn’t huge. She threw in some soft color (balayage? I think is the term?), washed it, layered it, and gave me one hell of a blow dry. No base color. She took off a few inches, but she didn’t hack it all off. It’s like a facial with a little lip gloss and eyeliner, but for hair. A haircial?
But it hit me when I sat in the car that by doing this, by breaking down my barriers with my beloved hair and doing something positive for it, I was symbolically encapsulating the pain of the last year and telling it, “No. You can’t have me. I will fight for myself. I will take care of myself. I will right what has gone wrong.” By doing something that made me feel good, that made me feel more confident, that uncovered something I didn’t know about myself, I was taking steps to be ME. A dynamic, changing, kind person, who has the right to choose to feel beautiful not only about what’s inside, but what’s outside as well. One does not have to detract from the other. There has to be balance, but that doesn’t mean that compassion and service unto others means I can’t be compassionate toward myself.
All this from a hair cut.
Below: After getting home from the salon today.