# of pages written: 4½
# of days left to write 1st draft: 105
Let’s talk for a moment about my hair. It’s a beautiful, shiny dark brown, but everything else about it is bad. It’s super fine – greasy in the summer and fly-away in the winter – and so thin that I’ve considered everything from extensions to a permanent wig to Rogaine for Women. In fact, I had a student once ask me if I had a bald spot, and then said, “aw, never mind, I guess your hair’s just thin.” (This was the same student, by the way, who liked to point out when I had pimples and once recommended that I go on the show “What Not to Wear.” Being a teacher can be great for the self-esteem.)
Anyway, my hair is bad. I have a cowlick, weird kinks and waves, and basically my hair never does what it’s supposed to do. I’ve learned that the best way to deal with it is up-dos, punishing my hair for its insubordination with the bindings of elastic bands and clips and barrettes of all kinds.
The problem is that salon workers do not understand this method.
“You’re hair is baby fine,” they tell me. “You need to cut it short to give it some body.”
I have fallen into this trap many a time. Short means fancy styling products and getting my hair cut constantly, which I can’t afford. Short means an uncomfortably sweaty neck at the gym because I can’t put my hair in a ponytail. Short means there’s nothing I can do about a bad hair day except wear a hat, which explains my entire Senior year of college. I won’t even mention that most guys proclaim to not like short hair. And, heaven forbid I ever try to grow it out. Then I’m in for years of misery, which explains all the hats I wore in 2005 – 2008.
I am perfectly aware that my hair looks bad long. But most of the time it looks bad short, too. So I might as well have it long because then, at least, I can put it in a side bun and have it look halfway decent.
But, sometimes, I grow bored with the side bun. Which is why, last Christmas when I was at my mom’s house in Richmond, Virginia, I made my brother dye a chunk of my hair hot pink. I thought it would look cool – just a little streak of pink in my side bun – and I could easily tuck it underneath some other hair for parent-teacher conferences.
It was actually pretty great. Not because it looked especially good but because of how much it perplexed my students. “Ms. Langston, did you dye your hair?” they asked me when we were back from winter break.
“What are you talking about?” I wasn’t actually sure if I was allowed to dye my hair non-natural colors, so I wanted to keep this on the D.L. I was banking on the fact that one of my bosses was super busy and the other was unobservant.
“Your hair,” my Geometry class said. “It’s pink!”
“No it’s not,” I told them. “It’s brown. You guys are crazy.”
“No! Part of it is pink,” they insisted.
“Why would my hair be pink?”
“Did you dye it?”
“Of course not. Don’t be ridiculous.” Finally I told them that maybe, instead of going gray, I was going pink. They got really frustrated with me because I wouldn’t tell them the truth. Sometimes, like when you’re annoying teenagers by acting insane, being a teacher can be fun.
But let’s back up to Christmas. At Christmas my mom said, “Eva, you need a hair cut. Your hair doesn’t look good long.”
“I know.” I then explained my whole theory of long being the lesser of two evils. “I know what will happen. They’ll cut it short and tell me that I have to use a blow dryer with a round brush,” I said. “I’d rather just let it air dry and put it up in a bun.”
“Patricia has been raving about this girl she goes to in Oregon Hill,” my mom said. “She’s supposed to be really good. She’s hip. She’ll do something really cool with your hair.”
So I let my mom talk me into taking the bus back down to Richmond a few weeks later. She wanted so desperately for me to get a haircut, she was willing to pay for it.
And then I started letting myself get excited about this hip stylist girl in Oregon Hill. Maybe, for the first time, someone would know how to deal with my hair. And, because this girl was hip she wouldn’t tell me I needed to use a round brush – she would cut my hair is some fantastically cool wash-and-go style. I would be able to wear my hair down and have it look cute and hip with little effort! This could change my entire life. I’d have more confidence. More time. I’d probably get a boyfriend. I’d probably use the time I normally spent creating elaborate up-dos to write a best-selling novel!
But that is not what happened.
The stylist was a perfectly nice girl. But she had long, thick hair that looked perfect just flowing down her back, so how could I have thought that she actually understood my hair. She did not understand it at all.
Of course, part of the problem might have been that, when she asked me what I wanted, I said, “I don’t know. I just want it to look cute with little effort. Do whatever you think is best.”
What she apparently thought best was a mullet. It was honestly horrifying. I kept watching in the mirror as she cut, waiting for things to get better and was shocked when she said she was done.
“What do you think?” she asked, handing me a small mirror and turning me in my chair to see the back.
“Umm. I’m not sure.” I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t want to offend her. She was wielding scissors. “I’m not sure it’s me.”
“OK.” She sounded slightly offended. “What can we do to make it better?”
“I’m not really sure.” Would anything make this better?
She started cutting more, and things got worse. Finally I just lied to her and said I liked it and walked out of the salon trying not to cry.
Then I got really bitchy at my mother for forcing me to get my haircut by a girl who, as it turned out, had given me the worst hair cut of my life. (P.S. To Mom: I’m still sorry about how bitchy I was.)
“I just let my hopes get too high,” I said in the car. “I thought she really would be able to give me this amazing haircut that would change everything I thought I knew about my hair, but I should have known that I was hoping for too much.”
“You are being very dramatic, Eva,” my mother said.
She didn’t even know just how dramatic I could be. I recalled returning from a haircut once a few years earlier and literally collapsing on the floor in tears.
This haircut by the hipster girl, though, really was the worst haircut of my life, and I’m not being dramatic. I’m being truthful. Some of my less-socially-aware students told me my hair looked weird, and several girls said sadly, “oh, Ms. Langston, why’d you cut your hair?” I wondered the same thing.
I let it grow out for awhile, then, in February, I got another haircut to try to repair some of the mullet-y damage. After that, I decided to never get another haircut again. They were just too hard on my emotions.
For a long time I avoided the salon. When my bangs needed a trim, I hacked at them with a pair of scissors. When I noticed my hair getting especially scraggly, I invented more exciting up-dos. But yesterday, seven months since my last cut, I realized things were looking really bad. So bad that even the side bun wasn’t working its normal magic. It was time for a hair cut.
Nikki recommended a particular girl at a place in Dennis. “She’s awesome,” Nikki said. “She does the best job.”
You’d think I’d learn by now, but no. I never learn. I got excited.
Maybe this time, I thought, this girl would know how to cut my hair and make it look good. She would have the secret. She would give me the haircut of my dreams, and my life would forever be changed for the better.
But that is not what happened.
Today I sat down in the black swivel chair, bursting with excitement laced with dread. First the girl chastised me for waiting so long. “You really need a haircut, girlie,” she said, raking through my limp hair with her fingers.
She spotted the old lock of pink hair. Of course, it’s now faded to an orangery-blond and starts halfway down my head. “It looks like you had some…” she struggled to think of what she should call it. Highlights was certainly not the correct term.
“Oh, that’s just something that happened,” I said, waving my hand.
She plucked at my bangs. “Oh my,” she said. “You’ve been cutting these yourself?”
“Yes. They’re a little insane right now.”
Then she asked the question. What did I want.
And I made the same mistake as always. “Do whatever you think will look best. I just want it to look cute.”
“OK,” she said.
“Do you have a brilliant idea?”
I wasn’t so sure that she did.
Again, she was a very nice girl. But when she was done, I was less than thrilled.
“What do you think?”
“Um… Is this the style?” I asked. “Or is there something else I need to do to it?”
“No, this is it,” she said.
“Do I need to put a product in it?” I asked hopefully. “Use a blow dryer and round brush?” Surely something would make it look better than it did at the moment.
“Nope,” she said. “This is it.”
I walked out disappointed. My hair doesn’t look very cute, and it’s too short for a side bun.
* * *
I really need to get over this idea that there’s some perfect haircut out there that’s going to change my life forever. There’s not. I need to stop pinning all of my hopes and impossible dreams onto these poor, twenty-something-year-old hair stylists who don’t realize how much emotional baggage I carry in my hair. I need to accept my hair as it is and learn to make the best of it.
I think we are all sometimes guilty of thinking that there’s some perfect thing out there – a perfect haircut or job or man or place to live, and that when we find this thing everything will change for the better and we will finally be content with ourselves.
Nothing is perfect. And, let’s be honest, even when the haircut looks awesome at the salon, you know you’re never going to be able to recreate it at home. Even that perfect job or man or place to live is going to have flaws.
Today Nikki and I were talking about self-improvement. There’s two main reasons, we decided, why people want to improve themselves. Either they don’t like themselves and that’s why they want to change, or they like themselves, and because of that, they want to do good things for themselves.
I’ve been trying to improve my hair because I don’t like it. What I need to do is embrace my hair, with all it’s flaws, and then get it cut regularly because I want to do good things for it. I need to give it the love it deserves.
I should be doing this will all parts of myself. Improving not because I think I’m bad, but because I think I’m great and can only keep getting better.
Instead of telling people, “do what you think is best,” I need to figure out for myself what’s best. And I need to be happy with myself, even as I grow.