My Hair and I: A Truce Is Called

by Marcia Reich of The Women’s Coaching Center

Paper Woman

My hair is on my “bucket list” of things to deal with before I, um, get too old to care, or too arthritic to hold a professional strength blow dryer in my hand.

Through the years I have gone to battle with my hair, subjected it and myself to a myriad of treatments that have included ironing (with a real iron), sleeping with a single Maxwell House coffee can on my head and when that was unavailable exchanging the one large can for two Campbell soup cans. I have spent hundreds of dollars on the new Brazilian hair treatment systems that promised flatter, smoother hair in half the time. For me that still meant forty-five minutes. I can’t even begin to calculate how many hours of my time all this has taken.

For all of us with long hair, Cher was our hair icon. I can’t remember a time when my friends and I didn’t part our hair down the middle and make admirable attempts at her smooth locks. But I had long, wavy hair that needed a fair amount of torturing to get it straight and in the summer, my efforts were completely futile. Any hint of humidity and those straight locks turned corkscrew curly. I wore a lot of headbands in August.

As a teen, it is hard to be different. Having the right jeans, shade of nail polish, boots, bag, etc. is vital. I often felt different than my peers. On the inside I was very intense and serious. I wrote poetry and music. I took pleasure in solitude but boy/girl parties? Not so much. I intuitively knew that looking the same when you feel different makes being different easier. I am sure this is part of the frustration I felt at having non-compliant hair. I was way more visible with my long, dark, wavy hair, and  my hair and I could never seem to make or find peace.

Then two years ago I discovered a picture taken of me at sixteen, my hair long, free and wavy. I was running and my hair was flying. There was so much of it that my face was barely visible. It took my breath away. My hair was lovely.

Not long after finding the picture, I traveled overseas. Heavy rain did not let up for the better part of the week and the hotel blow dryer trickled out hot air like a leaky faucet— enough to frustrate me but not enough to do anything significant with my thick wavy hair. Never one to give up easily, I used that darn thing for three days until I recognized the absurdity in my efforts.

Far from home, it was easier to relinquish to my hair’s unruly abandon. I didn’t know anyone who would know that my hair could be anything other than it was—or would care. There was no one to offer an opinion or weigh in on whether they liked it or not (my husband loves it wavy, my mother, pin straight). My hair and I were finally alone.

I discovered I like this “new” hair. For the first time in a long time, I find myself studying pictures of myself with new interest and less criticism. The wavy hair makes my face look softer and gentler which resonates more closely with the person I am. My hair’s unwillingness to commit to a certain style is much like the way I approach a new canvas and begin a new painting: I let the brush carry me and embrace whatever arrives on the canvas. Ironically, I always paint women with wild, colorful hair.

I think my paintings have been trying to tell me something about myself that I wasn’t ready to hear: that these women are reflective of who I am, what I feel and what I want to be. Free just to be me, whoever she is, wherever she goes and regardless of what anyone else thinks or likes. No, I am not my hair–not entirely, but I sense that all that wave is helping to move me a little bit closer to my true self.

Illustration by Marcia Reich, created on an iPad

  • southmainmuse

    I too remember staring in the mirror wanting Marcia Brady hair. My natural wave and the Florida humidity would never allow for straight locks. Like you, I’ve come to embrace my wave. I often just comb it through once out of the shower and enjoy letting it curl naturally. Now if I just felt as comfortable with the gray.

  • Emmy

    Your accompanying drawing has a beautiful watercolor affect. I see that you created it on your iPad. Would you please share the application that you used?

  • rose

    I’ve got long curly hair too – smooth and sophisticated is about 30 seconds of my life after leaving the hairdresser, the rest – a happy mess!

  • Stephanie_The_Recipe_Renovator

    I finally gave in to my new curls and have it cut to bring them out… and I love my hair. I totally related to this, but in terms of wanting to be tan instead of “white meat chicken” as I was called all through my youth.

  • Lois Alter Mark

    Such a great post and one I think most women can relate to. I don’t know why we feel so defined by our hair but, at this point in my life, I’m happy to stick it in a ponytail and forget about it.

  • Mindy Mitchell

    As a woman with naturally unruly hair I have long struggled to be one of the chic, sleek-haired beauties you see in magazines and on screen. The 1960’s were especially trying. For years I have been hearing, “One of these days you will appreciate what a gift naturally curly hair is!” This said mostly by my mother, of course. Now at 61 I am mostly at peace with my locks. Summers in the East are the only problematic time of year…when steamy, sultry weather kicks up the curls and frizz to a level of unmanageabilty that has led me to, finally, give up and go with it. It has taken me many years to realize that life is just too darn short to be spent lamenting my hair’s natural tendencies. I have other, more important things to focus on these days.

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