shirley templeIt was the year of the winged bangs and I was hell-bent on having them. Despite being born with a headful of ringlet curls and living in an oppressively humid climate, I wanted to belong.  I was 14, it was the Seventies, and a world of adolescent males awaited me. That is, if I could tame my damn hair into a Farrah Fawcett do and miraculously find a way to have perfectly flat wings all day long.

God knows I tried. I slept on my back. I bobby-pinned them down on the way to school. I went to the bathroom 800 times during the day. Teachers were concerned that I was having issues with incontinence.  I took it all in stride, because I knew that everything I did was for the greater good of finding someone to notice me.

I was born with a mane of thick hair. It took patience to blow it dry. I was a teenager and had nothing but time. The days were long and languid. The sun hung in the air until after dinner. I spent every moment with Linda, my very best friend. She would often sit on the edge of the tub and watch me struggle with a bristly round brush and a can of spray.  In those days, my hair was as abundant as the amount of time I had to fuss over it.

As soon as I mastered the skill of having wings, I had to cut them off. It was a routine blow-drying day, with Linda carefully watching as I tugged at the brush while simultaneously twisting it. Suddenly, nothing moved. I panicked. Linda tried to offer suggestions to no avail. With the apparatus dangling from my hair in alien-like fashion and tears in my eyes, I screamed for my mother. After what seemed like hours, she produced a pair of scissors. My hair fell to the floor, along with my dreams of ever fitting in with the cheerleaders and pretty girls who graced the halls of my junior high.

It took a while to learn that my curls were my greatest asset. By the same token, it took a long time for me to realize who I really was. I hoped college would be the place. I dreamed of the freedom it would allow and the opportunities I would have to make lifelong friendships. I hoped that the wings that fell to the ground and the blonde-haired cheerleaders of high school would all be a distant memory.

But it doesn’t always work that way. Looking back, I wasn’t self-aware enough at 18 to let my hair go curly. I tried to fit in with everyone I met. I tried to be something I wasn’t. In the end, it backfired. Although I had a few girlfriends and a sprinkling of boy friends, I never quite gelled with the kind of group that would have my back forever.  Any late bloomer will tell you how excruciating the wait can be.

When I graduated and moved to New York City, I decided it was time to let my hair be what it always wanted to be – long and curly. The lights and late nights of those days dazzled me. The city’s electricity fueled my creativity and lit up my social life. After years of conforming, I found my groove.   I became strong, opinionated and full of the energy that continues to define me today. My hair was a statement — I could be just me and still be loved.

To prepare myself for my daughters’ journey to college, I have been going through stacks of old photos. There are many from my twenties and thirties, a giant mop of spirals cascading down my back. My arms are draped around friends or my husband. I am snuggling my babies with the knowledge that the moment will pass too soon. These photos show the best of me – how comfortable I am in my own skin, how I feel beautiful both inside and out.

And, my girls’ love their hair. One has a mop of perfectly proportioned coils; the other has long lustrous waves. They have never tried to fight their looks, never felt compelled to conform to someone else’s idea of perfection.

My hair is thinning. Gone are the long tresses that I rediscovered in my twenties. For the most part, I don’t mind. I’m happy to have raised two young women who don’t need blow dryers to prove that they are confident and self-sufficient.  As for me, I’ve replaced the round brush with anti-frizz gel.  I wear it up and I scrunch it down. No one pays attention and that’s a good thing. After all, I do the best with what I’ve got.

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