Lately I’ve been thinking about the worst haircut of my life.
For those of you who don’t know me, I have curly hair. And for those of you who don’t have curly hair, I’m going to let you in on a little secret: getting curly hair cut is a whole thing. There are entire philosophies, hair care schools, and certifications around cutting curly hair. There’s the Deva Curl method which dictates cutting hair dry so you can really see how it will fall. Then there’s the Ouidad method which dictates cutting it wet and doing this kind of sliding thing with the scissor so the curl is cut on an angle.
For the record, I’ve gotten both and have opinions, but that’s not what this is about.
The point is, getting curly hair cut is a thing. A few years ago, I went to see a friend who’d gotten the Deva Cut training and felt confident cutting curly hair. The haircut started off fine: she asked me what I wanted, started cutting it dry and shaping it, la la la. All good things happening. Then she shampooed me and brought me back over to the chair. Then she started cutting my hair again.
This is where I started to panic. Straight-haired folx, here’s the thing: when curly hair is wet, it’s waaayyy longer than when it’s dry. The water weighs down the curls, stretching them out. (This is why the Deva Curl method cuts hair when it’s dry.) When it dries, it springs back up, becoming far shorter than it was a few minutes ago.
So here I am, sitting in the chair, watching her cut my entire head of hair a second time. It was looking really short, and I knew it was going to look even shorter when it dried. I was freaking out. I had a pit in my stomach, barely able to answer her questions as she made conversation.
I just sat there, silently wishing she'd put the scissors down, but I didn't say a damn thing. By the end of the visit, I had a horrible Grandma-style curly-haired baby fro.
When she was done, I thanked her, paid her, tipped her. I drove home feeling sick to my stomach, wondering just how bad the damage was. Wondering exactly how many months this would take to grow out.
Before you call me vain and say “It’s just hair,” let’s all back up and be real for a second. For women, hair is a huge part of our identity and self-confidence. Our culture (aka men) expects women to look beautiful all the time, so I get pretty frustrated when people (aka men) make light of all the work, time, and money it takes to keep up physical appearances.
Men, if you want the women around you to continue looking fly as hell all the time, don’t you dare make fun of them getting their eyebrows waxed or taking an hour to get ready for a date or going shopping. We get paid less on the dollar and we make this shit a priority. You’re welcome.
So anyway, the damage was done, and it was bad. Like I said, I had a Grandma-style haircut, minus the silver sheen. For weeks, I was embarrassed to even take my dog on walks around the neighborhood for fear I’d see people I knew. There was literally nothing I could do about it except pray for it to grow faster and wear a headband and big earrings to distract from the length. I felt ugly, masculine, self-conscious. It bore into my confidence. After an adolescence not knowing how to take care of my hair, I’d spent years honing my techniques. Now, no matter what I did, I felt hideous. It sucked.
It wasn’t until recently—just this week—that I realized the real reason I didn’t just say “Hey, could you not cut any more length off?”
As I was sitting there in the salon chair, I was thinking to myself, “She’s the expert, she knows what she’s doing. I don’t need to be in control.”
Except...the evidence to the contrary was right in front of me in the salon mirror. She didn’t know what she was doing. She was cutting my entire head of hair a second time. She wasn’t following the training she’d gotten; she was defaulting back to how you cut straight hair.
I was so concerned about being perceived as a control freak or hurting her feelings that I didn’t say a word. I could only see the possibility that I was wrong: I’m too controlling. I couldn’t see the possibility that maybe she didn’t know how to cut curly hair.
I couldn’t conceive that sometimes, I might be right.
It sounds bonkers, I know, but that’s not what I grew up learning. I grew up learning to bend my personality and needs to fit those around me; that if there was conflict, I was probably the one at fault.
I grew up learning to play nice, to be polite. To keep quiet and take care of what those around me need.
And let me be clear: I don’t think it’s a noble thing to constantly put others first to the point where you neglect taking care of yourself. Because when we do that, we’re forcing other people to take care of us. We’re copping out of the self-care responsibilities and putting that on others. It also means we’re not as available for the people around us, because we’re over here with an empty cup.
I don’t think it’s admirable. I don’t think it’s noble. In the end, I think it’s kind of selfish.
So now here I am, a grown-ass adult, learning to be honest and take care of myself in a new way for the first time in my life. It’s hard work—I’m undoing conditioning that’s dictated my behavior since before I could speak.
It’s also completely worth it. In the glimpses of success I’ve had so far, I’ve seen other people respond with grace and relief that I’m being honest. I’ve seen encounters that might’ve taken up an entire day’s worth of energy be over in seconds, opening both of us up to focus on other things.
Most importantly, I’ve been taking better care of myself. When I do that, I have more capacity to be there for my friends, colleagues, and family. I have more capacity to contribute. I’m working from a full cup.
And maybe best of all, I will never walk out of a salon with a haircut that bad again.