Alexandra Owens vs. Her Hair: This Time It’s Personal

Hey bitch! It’s me, Ally Owens. Today, I want to rant. No, not about the performative liberalism of Nancy Pelosi, not about Liam Neeson, and no, not about the governor(s?) who admitted to participating in the Reagan-era epidemic of blackface Halloween extravaganzas. None of these issues can be properly addressed and unpacked in the length of a blogpost, and frankly, I’m not going to try to because…why? So, instead, dear reader, we are going to talk about….

My hair.

Alright, let me explain. As a result of a year of terrible hair decisions on my part and terrible salon service (but we’ll get to the specifics later), my hair is now shaped like an “H”: inexplicably long, loose and wavy on the sides, yet tight, coily and short in the center-back. My hair could be described as an “extreme Kate Gosselin.” Yes, it looks worse than it sounds. I currently have no idea what to do during this interim period of growth, as I have found my hair looks equally damaged when curly as it does when flat ironed. In both fashions, the same chunk of shorter, differently textured hair makes any attempt to craft a ‘do a strenuous task. The “H” is unavoidable. As you have probably guessed, I have been wearing a lot of buns.

The mess I currently find myself within began innocently enough: I convinced myself to get a lob. The “lob,” or long bob, is the style of the moment. Bluntly cut. Middle parted. Sleek and mature. Edgy, yet classic.

For as long as I can remember, I have problematically associated summer vacation with transformation (thanks, teen movies!). Whenever — sadly this is quite frequently — I find myself to be unhappy with an attribute of my being (e.g. weight, hair, personality, relationships, etc.,) I look to summer as a beacon of hope, a fixed deadline to try to and “fix” abstract issues masqueraded as superficial annoyances. Every year it has proven unsuccessful, yet last spring, I geared up to repeat the same process. This time, the probléme du jour was my hair.

Towards the end of the school year, I began to notice that my hair was looking a little fucked up. My first real Michigan winter rendered my curls dry, brittle, and almost straw-like. This was particularly true for my nape, or the region of hair closest to the neck. My nape was a bit shorter than the rest of my hair and felt incredibly damaged. I was cornered. Unlike a zit or flyaways, there was nothing I could do to hide the fact that a section of my hair was about two inches shorter than the rest — you can’t create hair to even things out (or at least, I couldn’t afford to buy a weave or a wig.)

So, like any good University of Michigan student, I turned to research.

Looking back, this quest for answers was utterly purposeless. When I was met with a series of solutions that diverged from the course of action I wanted to take (e.g take pill and instantly have better hair), I compartmentalized the critiques and continued looking for “yes man” answers. And so the process began: ask question, read three articles, ignore the reality, rinse and repeat.  Most remedies posited the obvious: cut the rest of my hair to the length of the shortest part and wait. Why did I insist on ignoring these solutions?

Because my face is roughly the same size and width as Stonehenge, I have never been the biggest fan of short haircuts. The platitude that it is “just hair” and “will always grow back” espoused most commonly by girls whose hair grows faster than pubes is meaningless to me, as my hair takes nearly an epoch to regain its original length. However, day after day of looking at (and obsessing over) my uneven hair eventually drove me to settle on the idea of a haircut.

My decision to go for the haircut was hinged on three events:

1.) My discovery of the “lob”

2.) My subsequent pressuring of everyone around me to tell me I’d look good with it

3.) The resurrection of the ideal of the “summer transformation”

It was summer after all; I had more than enough time — four months — to make what I considered to be a “full recovery” by the time I had to go back to school in the fall. Along with the other proposed parts of my 2k18 “summer transformation” plan, a haircut would simply add to the mystique of the new, chic persona I was trying to construct.

Until the woman who cuts my hair forgot the meaning of the word “even.”

The hairstylist, who I have had on-again-off-again beef with since the great disaster of my eighth grade graduation, did not cut my hair even with the shortest length. The sides were still longer than the back. Essentially, she left everything the same save for three inches. I now had the same debacle of the “H,” just with less hair. When she revealed the finished product to me in the mirror, I was devastated. It was not a lob, it was a bob. And I did not feel like a glamorous Manhattan socialite or Yvonne Orji, I looked like a Black Kit Kittredge.

And because I was too chicken-shit to confront her, I paid what I owed, walked to my car and cried hot tears while other drivers looked on in horror. Realizing that I could not build a time machine or glue my hair back in place, I persuaded myself to look on the positive side of things. It was summer. The only people that I would be seeing on a regular basis were coworkers and my immediate family. Who cared what they thought? Also, I’d have a whole summer for my hair to grow properly and healthily. It had to grow out. And by the end of summer, it actually was.

Until I decided to “reward myself.”

In exchange for spending an entire summer with a hairstyle I hated, I convinced myself that I deserved a reward for my pain: I’d get my highlights retouched! I’d go blonder! My mother told me not to. My bank account told me not to. I did anyways, and resultantly, my entire nape — remember her? — was now more over-processed than Jojo Siwa’s image. Absolutely fried. Text me if you want pics, I still have them.

So, yes, I am writing to you today STILL with “H” shaped hair that is worse and shorter than it was before I began this entire process last spring. I am not afraid to admit that I hate my hair. I actually look back at old pictures of myself from last year — the same photos that inspired this rash “transformation” —  with a pang of bittersweet regret. The irony of this is not lost on me. I guess this is just training for my mid-forties when I realize that I had the body I always wanted all along, I was just too caught up in compulsive perfectionism to actually appreciate it for what is was worth. Dark. Sorry.

I won’t lie and say that I am “grateful” for this experience because I’m not. I would prefer it if my hair had not actually been chopped off or bleached to a crisp,  and that this whole scenario was an elaborate dream or simulation to get me to appreciate what I had all along. But, because I am not a Charles Dickens character, I must wrangle with the consequences of what I have done. I’ve got to make it work.

What this scenario has revealed to me is the problematic nature of our society that constantly pushes women towards self-improvement. Why must women constantly be in the process of remaking themselves in the style of the Six Million Dollar Man — with enough money, resources and dedication, a new, better you can be built out of the rubble of your original self! It’s a scam. In the process of constantly improving and working on the next problem to solve, we never get a chance to bask in the beauty of what we currently have. I hesitate to preach this platitude because it is not something I currently practice — not for lack of trying, just the difficulty of breaking out of a cycle that has been ingrained for more than a decade of my life. Pardon my cliche, but I can’t help wondering if my hair was a sign. For so long, I have quantified my worth through my appearance and other people’s perception of it. After a wildfire, shrubbery grows back stronger than ever. Maybe I needed to experience a drastic change to actually begin to take action to counter this. Maybe I needed to start with nothing to start appreciating myself as an entity outside of my looks.  

Ally Owens,

Staff Writer, What the F Magazine

Art by Ariana Shaw,

Staff Artist, What the F Magazine

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