Atta Girl
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Atta Girl

How I Learned To Style My Own Hair At 38.

image via unsplash

I don’t know how I missed the memo. I didn’t even know there was a memo to miss.

My mom and grandmother (on my dad’s side) had perms my entire childhood. They had thick hair that seemed to cascade away from their faces into effervescent plumes. The original latte art, I think, looking at their well-coiffed pictures. I remember pressing my face into my mother’s hair, inhaling the chemicals. It was my favorite smell.

Her hair bounced, I noticed.

My hair did not bounce. It did not appear tousled. There was nothing beachy about it. My hair lay flat no matter what I did to it. If I washed it on cold days, it became electric, sticking straight out, styled only with static electricity. If I did not wash my hair, my scalp was instantly greasy.

As a queer femme, I felt like not only had I missed some essential skill, but that I was also missing out on what could have been another joyful layer of my identity. Having to do my hair was like having that dream where you show up to school having to take a test you didn’t study for. I was sure there was information that no one had ever thought to give me, but well into my thirties, I didn’t know how to start over.

So I opted for whatever felt like it would be the least work — and the easiest to ignore. I tried short hair and long hair and layers. I dyed my hair within an inch of its life until I could barely remember my natural color. I buzzed the side into an aggressive undercut when I had my kid at 34. No matter what I tried, I just couldn’t get it to bounce — hell, I couldn’t get it to do anything but lie there — so I decided to just do nothing with it, aside from getting a haircut a few times a year. This was my strategy for decades.

But something happened when my son’s daycare closed because of Covid. As the structure and rhythm of our days withering on the vine, my self-care practice became unmoored. We tried virtual classes (which, for a three-year-old was an abject failure). We went on long walks. We did baking projects. I would work during his naps, but I was desperately low on “me time.”

One morning, I decided to blow-dry my hair while listening to music. I didn’t remember the last time I’d used my blow dryer. My hair wasn’t particularly long, and it seemed like a silly waste of time when I usually had work or parenting I needed to do. I used some unopened “volumizing cream” that I’d bought in order to feel something while in quarantine. It took me all of ten extra minutes, and I felt… kind of cute?

The best part was that, even though I took an extra ten minutes in the bathroom in the morning, no one in my family died. They didn’t even bat an eye. So I tried again the next morning, experimenting. It grew into a daily habit.

Eventually, I was able to get an outdoor haircut, losing my split ends and carving in new layers. I shared with my stylist a little bit about what I’d been doing at home. (At every other haircut in my entire life, when asked, “What do you do at home?” my reply had been that I do nothing. This felt like progress somehow.

“You need to break up your hair more,” she said. I nodded as though I knew what that meant, but the next morning I used the same hand gestures she had: something between a scrunch and a squeeze and a twirl. I mushed in some of the same product that she’d used on my hair.

I long ago accepted that I would never have my grandmothers stately curls, but finding my way to hair acceptance and to figuring out how to style the hair I actually have has been a gift. Sometimes, my son even buries his face in it.