QUIT: Fighting My Hair

[Part of my mission to “live deliberately” involves ruthlessly cutting out anything that saps my time, energy or money to no good end.  I’m calling these things my “Quits,” and this is one of the many items that have found themselves on my Quits List.]

I’ve always had a hate-hate relationship with my hair.  Over the past 29 years of living with it, I have struggled, cursed, resented, fought, and basically tried everything in my power to make it not what it is.

What it is is a plain, boring old brown, and curlier than a poodle in a wind tunnel that has recently been electrocuted.

What it also is is stubborn as a mother.  It absolutely and unequivocally refuses to be anything other than itself, too bad and deal with it, you punk.  (If it could speak, I’m fairly certain it would call me “punk” and “beotch” on a regular basis.)

This is the story of my lifelong battle with my hair, and why I’ve finally decided to let it go and (try to (learn to)) appreciate it.

Cordelia vs. Hair:  The Curl Front

I’ve always hated my curls because I never know what they’re going to do, and whatever they wind up doing, I rarely like it.

They can be fluffy, frizzy, sproingy, droopy, wavy, and Just Pure Evil, all in the span of an hour. And I have no idea why. It’s some mysterious combination of humidity, product, wind or lack thereof, zodiac alliances, and whatever my hair’s current level of spite is toward me.

I used to sit behind other curly-headed girls in school—the kind whose curls were always in perfect little ringlets, even after spending an entire day in Scrunchies—and wonder what kind of elaborate animal sacrifices they must be performing at home in the evenings to make such impossibilities happen.

I never did learn the god-appeasing secret.  So instead I did everything I could think of to try to eradicate my curls.

The look I’ve always wanted (minus the tail).

I bought a straightening iron—and quickly learned that I had neither the patience nor the arm stamina to spend the 2 hours necessary to manually flatten each strand into submission.

I had my hair “professionally straightened” by various complex and expensive chemical processes—only to learn that the only way it would stay as straight as it was in the salon was if I spent an hour every morning meticulously blow drying it back into that state.  And one step out the door only made it curl right back up again like nothing had ever happened.

Finally, I just chopped it all off—and for a while, I liked the super short look.  It was cute and easy.  But then something unexpected and completely inconvenient started happening:  I started envying every girl I saw with long hair.  In the store, on commercials, in magazines.  I began having unreasonable urges to be able to pull my hair into a ponytail.  Chopping off my nemesis had felt so wonderfully therapeutic, so finally freeing—and here I was missing it after only a few short weeks.

It made no sense, but then again, that’s how my hair works.

Cordelia: 0.  Hair: 1.

Cordelia vs. Hair:  The Color Front

I’ve also always wanted to be a redhead.  Like punch-you-in-the-face, call-me-saucy, Ariel-the-Little-Mermaid red.  Brown just felt so pedestrian.  I wanted to stand out.  I wanted to look dramatic.

My hair wanted otherwise.

At first I tried pharmacy-bought coloring kits.   (No good, I know, but at two bucks a pop with my mad couponing skills, it’s a hard bargain to pass up.)  But my hair being on the dark side, the red never really took.  Or rather, it took, but in a clandestine, visible-only-in-very-direct-sunlight way.  Meaning my hair was still plain old brown in almost all lighting, but if I stepped outside on a particularly sunny day, I suddenly become a freakish cartoon version of Little Orphan Annie.

The look I got instead (minus the tail).

So I decided to swallow my frugality and spring for professional coloring.  The scalp massages when they wash out your hair were positively lovely, but that was about the only difference between the pros and the boxed color.

At my latest (and officially last) professional attempt—a salon training academy where no less than 3 professors monitored and advised the student working on me—I sat for a marathon 2½ hours and underwent all sorts of fancy multi-level treatments (including some sort of fierce red-amping booster that my stylist kept making sure I really, truly wanted, because it was intense)…and it still only looked red in certain, very select lighting.  Let’s put it this way: one day three weeks later, I walked into an attorney’s office at work and apparently hit the right lighting conditions, because suddenly she exclaimed, “Oh, wow!  When did you do that?

She was the first and only person to notice anything had been done at all.

Cordelia: 0.  Hair: 2.

Admitting Defeat (-Slash-Embracing-What-Is?)

Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate how worthy a nemesis my hair really is. It fights the way I fight:  like a no holds barred, no concessions, hell-no-I-won’t-go dirty little punk.  And finally, after nearly 3 decades of losing miserably to it, I have recently decided to concede.  Grudgingly, and with a good bit of grumbling.

And, in a truly moral-of-the-story turn of events, once I officially let go and told my hair to Do Whatever the Hell It Wanted, I actually found myself—on very rare, very fleeting occasions—almost appreciating it for what it was.  It was different.  It was kind of fun.  It was interesting, if nothing else.  I’d never really noticed that all those years I’d been trying to turn it into something else.

Deep message on personal acceptance here.

There are plenty of things about my looks that I don’t love but I’ve learned to live with, like my height (I’m 5’2”) or the fact that I can fit into petite clothing but have freakish size 8W feet.  I’ve accepted these things largely because I know that there’s nothing I can do to change them.  But with my hair, there’s always been that hope that if I just found the secret—that perfect combination of salon-grade products and Ted Gibson pro technique—it would finally be what I wanted it to be.

But it won’t.  Because, for whatever reason, I am meant to be a poodle-haired saucy brunette instead of a normal-haired saucy redhead.

And I am finally starting to be o.k. with that.

To acknowledge that all those straight-haired girls who always said oh-how-they-wished-they-had-curls weren’t delusional.  (They still have no idea how much work curly hair can be, but they’re not delusional.)

To admit (don’t tell him) that when my husband says he likes my hair “poofy,” he maybe really means it and isn’t just trying to secretly get me to go outside looking ridiculous.

To accept that I don’t need to learn to “work” or “deal” with my hair.  I need to learn to let it be the brilliant, unpredictable mess that it is, and figure out how to revel in that.

It’s time to start rockin’ the poodle look.

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  • Not to leave a lame comment, but I absolutely love this post. I don’t know many women that “love” their hair or haven’t tried to alter it in some way, shape or form. Don’t get me wrong in that I’m often changing the color or cut and cursing it every freaking day, but in the end, it’s just hair.

    If it’s curly, we want it straight. If it’s red, we want it blond. Maybe it’s because it’s something about our appearance that we CAN try and control. Our feet are what they are and we’re not getting any taller or shorter. Plus, it’s a bit forgiving. If we cut it, it will grow, and hats are always an option 😉

    Great post–even if I think your hair is cute as heck anyway!

    • Aww. thanks. 🙂 (And not lame at all.)

      Yeah, I can’t say I’ve ever known any woman who’s been entirely happy with her hair. It seems like we always want whatever we don’t have. I always envied the straight-haired girls, while meanwhile they were trying to curl their hair.

      On a certain level, it can be really fun to experiment with your look and change it up from time to time. At some point I may go back to the short cut because it *was* really cute. But whatever I do, I need to learn that at the end of the day, my hair will be what it will be. I can only do so much, and sometimes I need to just sit back and accept (/flaunt?) what I’ve got.

  • I think your hair is nice!

    I’ve been one of those straight-haired girls wishing I had curls. I’ve also cut my hair short to look like Reese Witherspoon and immediately wished I had long hair like Kate Hudson. I think it’s very freeing to get to a point like you have, when you finally just accept yourself and your looks for what they are, embrace your uniqueness, and try to make the best of what you’ve got.

    Thanks for posting! (And it was fun to see a pic of you again!)

    • Thanks, Kathy! 🙂

      You’re right–it’s all about letting yourself just be who you are, “imperfections” and all. Once you stop seeing them as something that needs to be changed, you may find out they’re not really imperfections at all.

  • Sarah

    Cordelia, I got kind of giddy when I read this post because I just wrote a journal entry (I still don’t have a blog) about this topic, too. 😀
    A month ago I decided I wasn’t going to fight my hair’s natural color anymore. That redhead you mentioned? I’m her. But I only have been for 10 years. 😉 I started out in college as slightly auburn, then strawberry blonde, and then I met Erin. She was that (natural) punch-you-in-the-face Ariel-esque redhead with huge gorgeous waves, long and full and on fire, and with a beautiful porcelain face. She was my inspiration to go out and buy box after box of bright, fiery red, and visit countless salons to get the same color. And I was successful. I even dyed my eyebrows to match. And because I am so pale, people believed that shit was real. Woo hoo! People noticed and complimented me and talked about how they wished they’d be “born” with that, too. Haha. Born. Good one.
    And those compliments are some powerful stuff. I think it kind of messed with my head a little, because now so much of my self-image, my sense of beauty, and even my sense of worth is tied to the hair. The hair that’s not really mine. Lame. So as my roots grow in, I am having strange mixed emotions about this whole endeavor. I’m a little terrified to return to the slightly dull, washed-out brown I naturally am. My husband has never seen me with the real stuff and actually, I’m not sure most of my friends from college even really know what I look like naturally. But I’m also really excited to get back to what I truly am, and I’m looking forward to not having to maintain this high-maintenance color anymore.
    Trying to be someone you’re not is exhausting. Dying my hair seemed innocent and fun enough, but every now and then I’d wake up and my roots were brown, and I had a panic attack because I thought my boyfriend would realize I was a fraud, that I’m not beautiful after all. (Surprise! It’s all an illusion, folks!) I’m tired of having to plan for my hair. Going on a three week vacation would mean I’d have to dye it right before I left, but also stock up so when I returned I’d be ready to dye it again by the time the little brown seedlings started to poke up. Weeee! I’m so sick of it, dude.
    So as my roots approach the 2 inch mark, and as I’ve still been filling in the rest with a temporary brown color to match, I look forward to hair freedom. Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we punish ourselves for something we cannot really ever get complete control over. Why do we stare at pictures of friends or celebrities and kill ourselves with jealousy over how we don’t look like them. It sucks. I’m glad we both (and hopefully other ladies, too) are coming to terms with reality and accepting it, and really LIKING it.  
    And by the way, I dig your curls and your color and you know, if you ever want to be a redhead for a day, no strings attached, you could buy yourself that fancy Ariel wig. That’s what I’ve been telling myself in case I feel the desire to relapse. 😉

    • Sarah:

      1. You need to have a blog, because you are a flippin’ awesome writer and I would LOVE to hear more rants like this.

      2. Part of my secret fear during all my red attempts was the high-maintenance worries you mention. But I wanted it so badly I was willing to accept that. Luckily (?) for me, I never had to worry about it because I never really got to the RED red stage.

      3. I think it’s wonderful that you’re taking the plunge and going back to your natural color. I know all too well how hard it can be to let go of that possibility of being something different, but it sounds like your red has had its moment, and now you’re ready to let go. When I finally gave up my attempts and dyed my hair back to its natural brown, I felt an odd sort of relief. (And, to my surprise, my complexion started to look much better and I had less trouble finding makeup shades that looked right on me. Looking better in the color you were born with–fancy that!)

      4. I second the hope that other women will realize it’s o.k. to accept your looks for what they are. Add a little mascara here and there to jazz them up, certainly…and try the Ariel wig route once in a while for fun, absolutely…but in the end, You Are You and there’s a reason for that. It’s o.k. to just be as you are.

      5. Did I mention you should start that blog? Or at least do a guest Reader Quit for me. 😀

      • Sarah

        Cordelia, thank you so much for taking the time to read my gigantic comment and write such thoughtful and encouraging comments back to me!
        I would be thrilled to write a post for you – thank you so much for the offer! I will brainstorm. 🙂
        I’ve really enjoyed reading your posts. You’re one of my favorites. You write with honesty, you crack me up, and I appreciate knowing there are people like you out there who share all of these feelings of knowing that there is so much more to life than the 9-5.

  • I love this! I too have always been a closet redhead. I recently got red highlights for the first time and it was the same situation–hardly anyone noticed! I actually didn’t mind that much though, it was almost like having a secret in plain sight–mwaha, you think I’m the same person but I’m not! I have red highlights!
    Or something like that. 🙂

  • The struggle with one’s hair seems to be so commonplace with women. When I was younger, my mom did my hair well into my middle school years. It was long and thick and caused both me and my mother a lot of grief. But for me, I pretty much ignored my hair because I hated it so much. 

    When I got to college, I spend about 2 years wearing a headscarf because I refused to do my hair. And even when I finally selected a permanent style (wearing my hair natural), I still refrained from going to the salon. I’ve gotten better at it now – mostly it’s just a money issue – but for a long time I really just wanted the hair my mixed friends seemed to have. Naturally curly, but easy to straighten if you needed it to. 

    Now I’m coming to terms with my hair, and it doesn’t give me as much grief as before. Which is good – I think. :3 

    • It most certainly IS a good thing! 🙂

      I can totally feel you on the desire to just stick a scarf (or in my case, a hat) over your head and forget about your hair altogether. Some days I still do that, when I’m in a rush or I just can’t bring myself to the level of “accept your crazy hair” that I’m trying for now.

      It’s not easy accepting something that’s so troublesome and not what you would have chosen for yourself–but there’s definitely a sense of enormous relief in just letting go and saying “It is what it is.” I’m glad you’re getting to that point, too. 🙂

  • Melissa

    I have to say, your hair is super-cute!  

    As someone who did the perm it/chop it off/grow it out/dye it FANTASTICALLY FIRE ENGINE RED (don’t ask how much bleach that took…my hair starts off black at the roots before the sun bleaches it to a slightly lighter dark brown), dye it a slightly more sedate merlot battles before finally deciding that “Ya know, maybe mostly-straight (unless it’s humid) dark brown isn’t so bad after all”, I hear you!  I actually just got it all back to normal a little while ago and am strangely okay with it still.  Or at least I haven’t had the urge to hunt down a box or two of Garnier Sangria yet, anyway.  😉 
    Go you!

    • Thanks, Melissa!

      “Strangely okay with it” actually sums up my feelings perfectly. After all the struggling, I thought I’d feel so defeated when I finally gave up and let my hair be what it was. But now that I’ve conceded, I feel so much better. No more struggling, no more being dissatisfied when my attempts didn’t work out, no more wondering if anyone noticed the difference or worrying how long it was going to last. It feels good to know I don’t need to fight anymore, and things can be o.k. without that.

      Not that I too won’t have an urge or two for some Garnier Nutrisse–that shite is ALWAYS on sale at the pharmacies and I get it soooo cheap! Maybe I can just buy and garage sale it. 😀

      Go you as well!

  • Meg @ OneLoveMeg

    What a cute post. I too have the natural poof-curl (as I like to call it) I recently got a Brazilian blowout (I know not the best for you) but I absolutely LOVE it. You still have your curl but it removes ALL the frizz.  I have hated and despised my curls my whole life but now I am finally able to embrace them with out all the fluff. My boyfriend also says all the time how he likes it natural and curly but I just can’t see why. 🙂 I am glad you have learned to except your hair. I think that’s a great start!

  • Meg @ OneLoveMeg

    I am so glad I found your blog by the way!

    • Me too. 🙂

      Curly girls unite! The Brazilian blowout was one of the last things I considered in my fight against my curls, but at that point I think I’d just gotten tired of spending so much time and money on it and was just ready to let them be. I’m glad it worked for you, though!

      •  Ummmm – what’s a Brazilian blow-out? I’ve heard of several other “Brazilian” things (all of which seem to be theoretically sexy, and verrry expensive for some reason?) …
        Yeah – hair battles. I let my roots grow out far enough to check on the progress of the gray, and then dose it again! My ideal, at this point, is my Mom’s glowing silver with no brown in sight, but mine is still a variation on salt-an-pepper, and the pepper part is pretty bleah, so Feria it is and Feria it shall remain….

        •  It’s just another straightening procedure, but you’re right–extremely pricey.  And I was so jaded at that point that even though I’d heard great things about it, it just wasn’t worth the investment for me in the hopes that it would work.

          Ironically, shortly after writing this post, I found a fantastic new hair stylist from a friend’s recommendation who gave me an adorable curly cut that’s actually incredibly easy to straighten just with a straightening iron.  I’ve been wearing it straight ever since!  I guess I just had to finally let go and give up, and then the universe decided I was ready for a change!

          I go the home coloring route also.  I prefer my hair a shade darker than it naturally is, and I can get perfectly lovely results with a $10 box of Garnier Nutrisse (or $2 with my couponing skills!) as I can with a $40-$50 salon coloring.

  • Aw, shucks, just another thing you’ve written that I love.  I think it’s so true that one we realize that we can’t change something, we come to accept it.  I, too, have large feet (size 9.5-10!!!! I am a yeti) and sometimes I get disappointed when I can’t find cute shoes in anything larger than an 8.  However, I know I can’t go cutting off toes so I just shrug and move on.

    I feel like this is where you are at with your hair – if you could change it, you would, but you can’t.  So you just shrug and get on with your life.  It must be so freeing!  I hope that more people can feel this same way and accept that what they look like is just the way it is and it’s nothing to feel bad about or try to change.  It takes so much TIME.  I hope I can get to that point as well 🙂 Thanks for the inspiration.

    • You are so sweet. 🙂

      You’ll go to that point. It sounds like you’re already aware of why you should–it just takes, like you said, a while to get from the point of *knowing* you should accept yourself to *actually* accepting yourself.

      p.s. Love the yeti comparison. I can totally relate. 😛

  • Anonymous

    I’ll be rockin’ the poodle look right along with ya.  Not that I really have a choice.  ;P

    When I get my hair cut at the academy, the stylist blow dries my hair straight.  I don’t know what kind of magic she uses, but it looks 20x better than anything I can do with my own two clumsy hands.  It looks pretty good for at least that day and the next.  So I try to time my hair cuts for evenings I have an event I want nice hair for, just for the free blowouts!

    • Nice strategy! I’ve always envied your curls–they always look so put together, whereas mine kind of do whatever they want and I go along for the ride. 😛

  • Cordelia’s Mom

    When will you finally learn that Mom is always (well, at least usually) right.  How many times did I see your dyed hair and say, “So, what is wrong with the hair God gave you?” (or something to that effect, seeing as I’m not religious).  Glad you’ve finally seen the light.  Now, if only I can learn to accept my grey hair!  (Oh, and by the way, your relatives on my mother’s side were all redheads, so you probably do have red highlights, but they just don’t show most of the time.)

    • Sheesh, now I have to say that you were right AND Ryan was right? 😀

  • Annie Anderson

    Oh, I have that same relationship with my hair! When I was young, it was blonde. Then around age 11-12, it got darker and finally by time I hit my 20’s, it was medium brown.

    And when I was young, it was mostly straight but it’s gotten curly as I get older. It seems the older I get, the more curly it gets – at least in the back and sides. The top is still fairly straight.

    However, it’s now mostly gray and I’m sorry but gray is not ok for me at 38! So I do color it and I probably will for a few more years yet. LOL Usually I color it somewhere between a kind of honey brown and a medium auburn (I have red undertones. Probably why it went from blonde to brown when I got older).

    And also – you’re taller than me. 😉 I’m 4’11 on a good day!

    • I have to admit that I color mine too–but only to get back to my natural dark brown.  I too have some whites (not just grays, actual whites!) creeping in at the mere age of 29, which I completely agree is not acceptable.  🙂

      • Annie Anderson

        Yes,  some of mine are quite white also, actually. Still, totally unacceptable!

  • I love that philosophy!  The only person you can be is the best version of yourself.  We start to get dissatisfied with our looks only when we wish we were something that we’re not.

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