When I'm asked to draw myself, the cartoon-like and utterly unremarkable stick figure produced is recognizable only by my hair. This is because on my actual person it is my most prominent feature. It’s fluffy, blonde, cropped crazily or piled into a knot atop my head. It’s entirely noticeable, the constant victim of my frustration, and the epitome of a love-hate relationship.
Much like in movies, where a character is dressed in dark or light tones to reflect their inner conflict or triumph, my hair has served the same purpose for my own story. The way I styled my hair reflected my transition from child to adult, and the inner conflict that preceded my adulthood. Before I was a blonde, fluffy-haired high school senior, I was once a blonde, curly-headed baby. Screen goes black. Cue cinematic-style flashback.
I am one and my hair resembles a honeypot that spills over my eyes, a pile of tiny ringlets. They resemble childhood, my carefree curls, untouched by self-consciousness and expectation. As I grow, the curls do too--cue the cinematic childhood montage (inspirational music included)--but the curls still display my unaffected youth. I never brush them, never style them, just like I do not distort my pure self. Through elementary school I am unfailingly confident and unconcerned.
I am in middle school now, and puberty mixed with the poison of social expectations turns my hair from wily and natural to frizzy and ugly. It becomes hard to speak out, show my personality. Being myself is too scary, so I start to change. Draw my hair back into a bun and flatiron the tendrils. I’m drawing my hair back in the same way I’m drawing into myself, retaining my true nature for fear of judgement. My hair reflects my inner conflict, so by changing my hair to fit to standards I am changing my personality, trying to be accepted. It’s the same old story of a girl losing her substance to self-awareness, only this story is laced with the scent of burning hair and the sound of snapping elastics.
The flashback ends and I’m in high school. I’m no longer the quirky, confident, honey-pot child, because middle school turned me into a quiet bookworm with a frizzy knot. In high school though, I find a new atmosphere. No one is quite as judgemental, and the hardest part of growing up is over. I start to realize how limiting it is to be so withdrawn that I practically live within my mind. Suddenly, high school becomes the setting of my transition from youth to adult. I decide to set my hair free and become a woman. Finis. Roll credits.
Except it wasn’t that easy. It took a lot longer than the post-climactic arch of a movie to reach a resolution. It was day by day that I became an adult; sharing my ideas in class, especially my favorite class, English; making friends with people who let me be myself and with whom I could be sufficiently nerdy; and purposefully expressing my personality even when it was hard for me to do so. By sophomore year, I started to act more like myself, and my hair was evidence. I tentatively wore it down to school. I taught myself that curly can be beautiful, straight is not the only way, and perfection is only perception.
My sense of self isn’t perfect. My hair will never go back to baby ringlets, and my personality may never reach the same point of unapologetic quirkiness. That’s what happens when you grow up though, you get weathered. And I think there’s something beautiful in the purposeful care of adulthood, separate from idyllic childhood carefreeness. The self I am today is confident but also careful, deliberate if not wild.