We were halfway through our week of revival services, and a family that we didn’t get to see that often was there. I adored the two little boys who I’d had the opportunity to babysit, and I’d gotten especially close with Micah*. Both boys, like their mother, had wispy, baby-soft brown hair, straight and shiny, a sharp contrast with mine that was coarse, thick, and somewhere between wavy and curly but that mostly looked like a frizzy bush. I’d noticed that Micah had a fascination for my hair, so that night when he asked if he could touch it, I said yes.
As he stroked it, his face lit up with wonder. “Your hair …” he sighed, “it feels like a horse’s mane!”
I stared at him—it was obvious he intended that to be the highest praise, but all I could think was thanks, kid. Thanks a bunch.
I’ve gone back on forth on whether or not I wanted to write this post at all, uncertain that it would be applicable or even relatable. But, I figured, we all have those things about ourselves that we are insecure about, that we don’t like—mine just happens to be my hair. All of it, not just the stuff on my scalp.
When I was in kindergarten, our cat ate the hair off the back of my neck while I was sleeping. When my mom discovered it, she had my hair cut into something that, to me, resembled a mushroom. The next day I was at school confirmed my suspicion—I definitely looked like a mushroom, thanks to the class’ almost instantaneous decision to replace “Sam” with “Shroom.”
The nickname didn’t last long—thank God—but it was enough.
When I was seven, my mom trimmed my bangs, but she didn’t anticipate how thick, coarse, and frizzy my hair was becoming. She trimmed too much, and they exploded into what I thought of as “the Barbie swirl”—and I hated it.
When I hit junior high and high school, someone gave me the American Girl Hair: Styling Tips and Tricks for Girls, and I mourned that it would be impossible for my hair to ever come anywhere close to the sleek, non-frizzy, shiny, smooth, straight hair of those girls—and my hair also didn’t come anywhere close to what the book thought “curly” hair looked like.
In high school, I got desperate. I chemically straightened my hair, but when that did absolutely nothing, I permed it; while that made my hair slightly less frizzy, it only lasted a few weeks. Before straightening irons were a thing, I saw an episode of the Brady Bunch when Marcia irons her hair on an ironing board, and my mother was horrified when she caught me almost scorching my hair off.
Puberty hit at 14, and when body hair started showing up, I freaked out big time. A mole on my shin sprouted three black hairs that were capable of inducing nightmares. Not only did I develop a unibrow, my eyebrows went nuts. They turned dark and curly, sticking every which direction and no amount of “eyebrow gel” could get them to stay in place. There’s this weird hair that grows an inch below my belly button that is black and grows to over an inch long—and don’t even get me started on my pubic hair, which I was absolutely positive would cause me to die of humiliation. The fact that my skin is so sensitive that I can rarely ever shave my armpits because I always get a razor burn that lasts for weeks? Yup. That was actually humiliating, because everyone in my life commented on it and refused to believe me when I said it was painful to shave. At one point I tried shaving off my pubic hair—wow was that a mistake I regretted for two itchy, painful months.
So I gave up. I stopped trying to do anything, and stopped trying to care about it. I wore my hair in a ponytail constantly until I discovered the sock bun in college, which my mother not-so-affectionately referred to as “the Wad.”
I got a Chi straightening iron for Christmas my sophomore year—the only brand at the time that would get hot enough to actually straighten my hair—and it was like a miracle sent from heaven. I compensated with the rest of it by never, ever wearing sleeveless or cap sleeve and wearing shorts to the beach. I hated raising my hand in class, paranoid that no matter how long my sleeves were someone would notice that my pits weren’t hairless.
One day, I met Handsome, and I could not get over how much he loved it. He took my hair out of its clip one day—I discovered the Octopus Clip in grad school—and it stopped him dead in his tracks. He couldn’t resist burying his hands in it, and I laughed when he described it as “robust.” He regularly compliments me on my hair, and it’s finally gotten to the point where I feel comfortable leaving it down around him, which he adores.
If I’m leaving the house and I haven’t straightened it—into the clip it goes, contained and hidden. A few months ago, I was out in DC with Handsome and a friend, and I complained about a headache I was developing because I’d had to put my hair into the clip wet. Handsome suggested that I take it down—problem solved, after all—and I ended up in tears trying to explain to him why I couldn’t.
It’s getting better. There have been a few moments when I’ve looked at my natural hair and thought it was pretty—five, to be exact. I’ve even worn in it in its natural state out in public once, as part of a costume. I went to the pool last week and wasn’t obsessed over my armpit and pubic hair every single second. Slowly, I’m genuinely learning to not care about this.
But it’s hard. Beauty standards are a hard thing to get away from, and every time I wear a sleeveless shirt in public I have to shrug off the voices in my head asking me how I can stomach going out in public without shaving my pits.
I’m learning, slowly, to love my body exactly the way it is. I’m not sure why it’s so much harder to love my natural hair than it’s been for me to love my stomach pooch and jiggling thighs, but it is.
So, that’s me. What about all of you? What causes the most insecurity? Let’s talk about why we’re insecure about these things and encourage each other.