My hair and I have never really been friends. Ok, I’ll admit: I’ve always hated my hair. It’s unruly, unmanageable, and often looks like a bird’s nest. On very humid days I have bouncy ringlets, but on most other days my hair looks like a tornado ran through it.
For the first 15 years of my life, I had no idea how to take care of my hair. The best I could do was put it up in a ponytail or use a super-strength hairband to keep it out of my face. Nobody else in my family has hair like mine. I remember being so jealous of my mother’s straight hair; she didn’t have to deal with a mess of curls every morning like I did. And because of that, my mom didn’t really know how to take care of my hair either — so I did what I could, on my own. I tried every mouse, gel, and curling cream under the sun, but they were no match for my wild frizz; my hair looked good for about a total of five minutes after I styled it, and then it just did its own thing. It was infuriating.
Until I discovered the hair straightener — and it changed my life. Finally, I could run my fingers through my hair without it getting tangled! My hair would magically become smooth and shiny, I no longer had to style it every day, and I could literally just get up and brush my hair and head out the door — something I could never have done when it was curly. Straight hair was so much more convenient than my natural curls that I stopped wearing my hair curly, ever. Period. The only time my curly hair would make an appearance was if it was going to rain. Other than that, I would straighten my hair right after I showered — so often that some of my friends didn’t even know I had curly hair.
I decided the hair straightener and I would have a lifelong happy relationship. Until one day, when my four-year-old daughter saw me straightening my hair.
“What are you doing?” she asked innocently. I explained that I liked to use the straightener to smooth out my hair because I wanted it to be straight.
“So you don’t like my curly hair either?” That stopped in me in my tracks.
My daughter and I share many physical traits, one of them being our notoriously wild hair. On her, to me, it looks effortlessly adorable. Her curls bounce around while she runs in the park with her friends. Her hair is springy and fun; it matches her personality perfectly. I have loved it — and everything else about her — since the day she was born. So why couldn’t I love that part of myself, too?
I didn’t realize that watching me straighten my hair would ever cause my daughter to think I hated hers, too. But of course that was what happened — and I should have expected it. I had to do something about it immediately.
I told my daughter I loved her hair exactly as it was. I told her curly hair is so special, and that we should both be proud of it. And I told her that from then on, I would wear — and be proud of — my natural curly hair, too.
“So we can be twins!” she added excitedly.
So now, instead of hiding behind the hair straightener as I have for the past decades, I’m making a conscious effort to embrace what I’ve been given. I don’t want the heart-breaking knowledge that something I did ever made my daughter feel I disliked a part of her.
I sometimes forget that my daughter is as detailed-oriented and inquisitive as she is. She notices everything about me and points it out. Whether I’m wearing a new bra or I’ve cut my nails, she identifies the change and likes to talk about it to understand why I did what I did. I have had countless conversations about why I’m wearing a certain shirt or why I took off my earrings. I should have known she would be carefully watching each of my actions — including what I did with my hair. I should have known she would notice, wonder, and question.
I won’t ever put my daughter in a situation where she feels the need to ask if I like something about her again. She will know — always — that her mother thinks every part of her is perfect. I’m learning how to manage my hair better so I can teach my daughter how to style hers when she gets older. And I’m working, slowly but surely, on liking the way it looks on me, too.
Plus, four-year-olds can be very insightful. Whenever someone compliments my daughter’s curls, she gives the perfect response: “It just grows that way.”
I should have realized that a long time ago. Instead of trying to change something that doesn’t want to be changed, I should embrace what I have and learn to take care of it. Now, after so many years of worshipping my straightening iron, I’m working to reduce the damage I’ve done — physically and mentally — so that my daughter and I can both “be twins” and be proud of ourselves just as we are.