Everyone has that part of them that they feel could be improved, that they work on and are proud of. Some do countless crunches and exercises to keep their core tight. Others wake up and meticulously groom and draw their eyebrows. For many years, all I could think about was my hair.
For the first seven years of my life, my hair was pretty standard Asian hair: straight and black and formed into the obligatory bowl cut. It was so straight it had trouble holding any sort of curl. To be ready for flower girl duties at aunts’ and godmothers’ weddings, it would have to be put in pin curls the night before and shellacked with hairspray. It also meant that I never had to worry about it—it would stay pin-straight and flat without any work.
Then, for reasons still unknown, my hair began to fall out. Not just the slow shedding we all experience, but dropping out en masse. My mom was so freaked out that she took me to the doctor, who prescribed Vitamin K pills (which tasted horrendous) and washing my hair with non-soap soap. My hair continued to thin, and my mom would pray over my head each night asking God to keep all my locks from falling out completely. And, let me tell you, her prayers were more than effective. My hair stopped falling and began growing back. This hair was thicker, had more volume, and was not straight. It was almost like a wild thing—not straight, not wavy, and not quite curly either. Instead, it was fairly straight on top but kinky in patches on the bottom. It became so unruly that I gave up on combing or brushing it when it was dry. It was a tangled mess. Not a day went by that I didn’t get into arguments about trying to tame it. My fifth grade class photo was memorable because while everyone else had a blue background, mine was all black thanks to the nimbus that was my disobedient hair.
When I turned thirteen, my mom went with me to get my hair straightened for the first time. The strong chemicals made my eyes water and, I think, burned my scalp in places. The process was so bad for your hair that you could only do it every six months. It wasn’t until I was about fifteen or sixteen that gentler processes, brought from Europe, were available. Despite these treatments, my hair never felt sleek and completely straight. Instead, it was almost like a flattened curl, refusing to conform. So, I kept my hair short and above my chin to minimize the damaged surface. Stylists didn’t know what to do with it, so my hair always ended up looking like a triangle. I would look longingly at all those Pantene ads and feel resigned to having my hair chemically altered twice a year all the while feeling that it only got me halfway to where I wanted my hair to be. Cool haircuts, like The (oh-so-popular) Rachel, was woefully out of reach.
Just as inexplicably, my hair changed again my sophomore year of high school. It started growing out straight again. Soon, I stopped going to get it straightened altogether. This was a relief, because when I went to college, getting my hair done was the last thing on my mind. I even got a page boy cut for my semester abroad just to make it a non-issue. It was then that I learned the power of hair. With my short hairdo, I was seemingly less attractive to the opposite sex. When I pulled the longer sides back to make it look as if I had put my hair up, I got more male attention. All my girlfriends loved my bold cut—the boys, not so much.
After college, I moved to New York City, and I wanted my hair to project an older, more mature me. I tried dyeing it myself to a lighter brown to give it dimension. Alas, my hair turned orange-y instead. So I saved up to go to a real hairstylist who understood my strangely textured hair and worked with it to give me the hair I wanted. I could show him photos of any celebrity and he’d somehow work with my hair to a close approximation. With this new confidence, I ventured into the world of highlights. I started playing with length again, even cutting it very short before I moved to California. I attempted ombre which, in a miscommunication with a stylist, ended up being bleached hair underneath with layers cut into the top to show it off.
It wasn’t until I found out I was pregnant the first time that I stopped to appreciate my natural hair. I suppose I had gone so many years either trying to ignore it or fighting against it that I couldn’t see what I actually had. Once the faux-ombre had finally been grown out and cut off, my new stylist commented on how much she loved my hair. The patches of coarser, slightly wavy hair underneath (which used to be the kinky parts), actually gave it volume. One of her other clients actually asked what hair color or colors she used on my hair, to which she replied that it was my natural color. I’ve gotten many compliments on my hair color since then, which I still find surprising.
Now, I let my hair grow long and prefer to let it air dry. Instead of drastic cuts or color, I go with shapes and layers that are current but easy to grow out. It’s not to say that some days I don’t consider getting babylights or “lived-in color”, or a digital perm to make my hair look like I’ve put a little more effort into it. I still love getting new hair products and tools and trying them out for special occasions. But, most of the time, I love knowing that I can let my hair just be.