I have struggled with my hair for as long as I can remember.
When I was very young, I had long, straight hair and bangs. My mom would curl it into ringlets and it was adorable, if I do say so myself. At some point I’m sure she got tired of dealing with it and she (we?) decided to get the typical ‘70s haircut that now haunts class pictures of those from that era: The Dorothy Hamill.
This bubble-shaped precursor to the bob was fairly low maintenance (I do remember feeling dizzy trying to hold still for trimming of my bangs) and since I wasn’t a particularly fussy little girl, it suited my personality. Then one day in a grocery store when I was about 8, a woman patted my head and declared that I was “Such a nice little boy!”
So I vowed not to cut my hair ever, ever again.
I grew it out to my waist, determined not to be confused with a boy (the horror!).
When I was 10, we moved to Florida. Almost instantly the humidity turned my hair into a swirling, tangled mess of frizz.
My mom and I talked it over, and decided to chop it off: pixie-cut short. I was still the New Kid and so this change was a little bit of a shock to my classmates, although I vividly remember that fellow fourth-grader James Caldwell showed up the same day with a totally shaved head, an event that eclipsed even my dramatic new look.
I kept my hair that short for a while and then the series of unfortunate events known as puberty crept in and my hair turned curly and coarser seemingly overnight. What was previously a short, feathered ‘do was now basically a brunette afro.
Growing it out didn’t seem to help, and my middle-school photos are a range of mullet-esque “styles” in varying shades of Sun-In orangey-brown. My yearbook headshots show me surrounded by a sea of feathered, sprayed, blondes straight out of 90210. I look more like a member of the T-birds from Grease.
No matter, my poofy hair was what I had to deal with and although my brother tortured me by calling me Hair Bear for years, I managed to get through that time with as much awkward grace as I could. And a whole lot of mousse.
Luckily, the ‘90s were a better era for curly-haired people, and by the time I went to college, spiral perms were all the rage and I had one provided by Mother Nature herself. I grew my hair long again, enlisted the help of this new stuff called ‘gel’ and my hair looked… vaguely OK.
Eventually I grew more adept at styling, or perhaps I just worried less about my hair as my life became more interesting. I met my husband, and our first pictures together show a couple glowing with the early stages of love.
And my hair looks terrific.
Just when I thought I had it conquered, my hair changed once again. While I was pregnant my hair was lustrous and full, thanks to good habits and those mega pre-natal vitamins. But after I had my first son, my hair fell out in clumps. It receded around my hairline and was frizzy and dull.
It’s a blessing to new moms that we are so tired for the first year(s) that our hair (or in my case, lack of hair) seems like a trivial thing. But when I had an opportunity to go out with adults for the first time and I showered, put on non-yoga pants and applied makeup, I noticed my hair was totally different.
But so was I. Now a wife, a mother, and a 40-year-old with life experience enough to know that nothing is forever, even a bad hair day. Or week. Or year. Eventually it grew back, less curly, less thick, darker brown than before. But at least it grew back.
Currently my hair is short, which feels just right for spring, just right for who I am now: A writer, an entrepreneur, a play-date organizer. I can make it work straight or curly, depending on what role I’m playing that day. On days that we (my hair and I, that is) disagree on our intentions, it is no longer traumatizing. If it is, I put on a hat or headband, and go on as planned.
Nothing can stop the Hair Bear, not even a bad hair day.
This essay originally appeared in the April issue of Fete Lifestyle Magazine.