10/1/19 - Hair IS EVERYTHING!
Updated: Oct 4, 2019
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“Hair IS EVERYTHING. We wish it wasn’t so we could think about something else for a change, but it is. It’s the difference between a good day, and a bad day. We’re meant to think that it’s a symbol of power, that it’s a symbol of fertility, some people are exploited for it and [to the hairdresser] it pays YOUR fucking bills. Hair is everything, ANTHONY.”
Hi! This is Coach Sarah, and this is the Morning Mantra!
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Hi, my name is Sarah Axelrod. I'm a run coach and a lover of poetry, and a person who cares about your well-being. You don't have to be an athlete to be #coachedandloved, and if you need an anchor to hold onto as you move through a tough situation, you've come to the right place.
Today’s mantra is: “Hair is everything.”
Like our makeup, like our bodies, like our lives, our hair is supposed to look natural and effortless. It’s supposed to tell a story of how we don’t care - about how we woke up like this, about how we value more substantial things than our looks.
Must be nice, I thought all through high school, as I looked at the girls whose ponytails just seemed to bounce into smooth and casual perfection even on the days when they arrived at school with wet hair. Must be nice, I thought, as I wrangled with frizz around my face, spent all my money on blowdryers and flatirons and mousse, spent all my time on heat and effort and yanking. And still, the smoothness I achieved lasted an hour at most before the frizz asserted itself again. I was at the same time frustrated at the uselessness of my effort and ashamed at feeling so inadequate as to need to expend all that effort. Wasn’t I supposed to be SMART? Didn’t I go to a good, expensive school? Shouldn’t I rise above the state of caring about my hair?
For starters, I already have a lot of hair privilege - even on its messy days, my hair’s unruliness lands within the bounds of the socially acceptable. As a white woman somewhere on the blonde spectrum, my hair would never be grounds for discrimination against me, even though it is for so many women of color who have to go through exponentially more pain than I voluntarily did in high school in order to conform their hair to standards that were never created with them in mind. This kind of discrimination is illegal in only ONE state, as of July 2019. That should sober you. So if my relationship with MY hair is complicated, I can only imagine the lengths that women with less hair privilege than me have had to go to in order for their hair to be accepted. I will accept the premise that we should be less preoccupied with our hair ONLY when there is not a single person who could lose a job over the natural state of her hair.
I felt ashamed of my obsession over making my hair behave, even though my own mother spent HER life in a permanent state of wrangling with her hair. The first essay she produced for her creative writing workshop was in fact called “The History Of My Hair.” I loved “The History Of My Hair” so much I read it at her memorial service, and I somehow managed to not hear what it was saying to me. My mom cared about her hair her whole life, starting when she was barely old enough to remember. It was precious to her, and no one was allowed to touch it except for her own mother, my Nana, which, as she writes, became a problem every time Nana had to absent herself to have another baby (and there were five more babies after my mom). On one such occasion, my mom’s hair went uncombed for a whole week until Nana was mobile enough to take her to the hairdresser and get it all cut off. Undivided maternal attention, scored (a feat in a family that size).
Mom goes on to write about her hair’s later stages - somewhat forgotten about through college, ultimately in a state of permed, wild frizziness. Then, cancer came and chemo took it all away from her. I remember being completely freaked out by my bald mom - she notes in the essay that I wanted her to cover her head so that we could all pretend things were normal. Her hair - or lack thereof - is the ultimate marker of time in family photos from my childhood, the visual representation of the passage of 1993. Then, after chemo, a miracle happened.
It took about a year after chemo was over, but my hair did grow back. I got not only my hair, but curls to boot. I mean, I had always had wavy hair after my childhood curls disappeared, but I needed a permanent to achieve the curly, bushy look I sought. Now I had real curls. Soft looking and feeling; abundant. I loved them; loved my new hair. I look at pictures of myself during this period and think I have never looked better. Whatever haircut I got seemed to work. The curls lasted about a year, and then they just, well, relaxed. Fell out, faded away. Back to waves and the need for more creativity in haircuts. Do I want it long, short, in-between, permed again, colored, styled. Oh, agony. Life as usual. I realized how much anxiety I have over my hair and my looks. I agonize over the cut, the color, the “no work” demand even today. The post-chemo hair was the closest I came to perfection in my fantasies about how I wanted my hair and me to look. What a gift.
In other words, hair IS everything. Fleabag the character played by Phoebe Waller-Bridge may be wrong about who’s to blame for her sister’s pencil haircut in the second season of Fleabag the show (which cleaned up at the Emmys last week!!), but the “hair is everything” speech went viral when it aired because that didn’t make it any less right. “It’s the difference between a good day, and a bad day. We’re meant to think that it’s a symbol of power, that it’s a symbol of fertility, some people are exploited for it and [to the hairdresser] it pays YOUR fucking bills. Hair is everything, ANTHONY.”
Coincidentally - or maybe not - the summer I found a hairdresser who specialized in actually cutting curly hair and making it look good in its natural state, rather than acceptable as long as it had been tamed by a flatiron was also the summer that I started running by heart rate, with the help of a coach who taught me that my difficulties with running had never really been my fault. As running became easier than I ever thought possible, so did my hair. And that was when a lot of other things began to change, too.
I’ve been told since then that I shouldn’t be so serious about running, that it’s just for fun. It’s been heavily implied that I spend too much on haircuts - I am a Millennial after all. But some things are really fucking worth it. Some things are essential, and to claim otherwise is frankly bogus. Anyone who tries to tell you that that thing of yours, that thing that makes the difference between a good day and a bad day, that thing that when it works, it works is silly or not worth your time, I want you to hear me and my mom and Emmy-award-winning Fleabag in the back of your head yelling “HAIR IS EVERYTHING, ANTHONY.”
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