Falling in Love on Fridays: I Am Not My Hair

This week’s Falling in Love on Friday’s post is by one of my dear friends from college, Allison. Though I haven’t seen here in years — since her last layover in New York for a night — she inspires me every single day via Gchat and witty Facebook statuses. She’s one of those people who feel and care with their whole heart, and as this blog will tell you, with her whole head of hair, too. Her post goes to show the bigger meaning behind Falling in Love on Fridays: you don’t just fall in love with men or people, sometimes you fall in love with things as simple, and yet as necessary, as… hair. She’s doing something ridiculously awesome and brave that I’m totally supportive of – but you have to read to the end to find out what it is. Learn more about the beautiful Allison here, and to learn how to submit your own Falling in Love on Friday story here

I Am Not My Hair

July 8th, 1986

I emerge from the womb in a Long Island hospital, screaming bloody terror at 10:35 in the morning. The doctor who delivers me declares “It’s a girl! Look at that hair!”

Kindergarten, picture day

The school photographer calls me “Curly Sue,” and would continue to do so until the fifth grade.

Every morning of my childhood

sassyMy dad gets me ready for school, and lacking any knowledge about little girl’s fashion or hair, lets me wear whatever I want. To do my hair, he makes me lay upside down on the couch and bunches all the crazy blonde curls into something vaguely resembling a bun. Sort of. I look at the Disney princesses. Their hair is flat and pretty. I look at the villians. Theirs is messy and curly and wild. Princesses never have to have their wild hair stuck up on their head.

First day of seventh grade

Standing at the bus stop in a plaid flannel shirt and JNCOs, with my hair still dripping wet, I press my hands against my hair and hope and pray it stays flat. It doesn’t. I will try this every day for many years.

Summer, 2003

I dye my hair so many different colors it turns orange. It gets huge and poofy and damaged. I look like Bozo the Clown, if Bozo the Clown wore green chuck taylors and punk tshirts. I cry on the way to my senior portraits, which will be someday documented in textbooks under the “worst hair in human history.”

Spring, 2006

I move into my first apartment with a fellow curly haired girl. She tells me to throw away my shampoo and my hairbrush and shares her products with me. I start getting real haircuts. The frizz starts to look like real hair again. A friend flatirons my hair once and I hate the way it looks.

Summer, 2007

Men love my hair! This assumption is based solely on a handful of weird dudes touching my head in bars, but I can only extrapolate to entire male population. More importantly, I love my hair. For the first time ever.  My personality becomes an extension of my wild curls, or vice versa – I’m not actually sure. I cut it short and wear big earrings. I grow it out and wear it in an updo on any day of the week. I tease it up and out and put on too much lipstick. I weep when fellow curly girls straighten their hair. I weep harder when a friend’s three year old curly headed daughter says she has “bad hair.”  What have we learned of princesses and villains and what it means to be wild?

January 11th, 2014

weddingI have some drinks in an arcade with some cute boys in the middle of a storm. We joke about shaving our heads. I tell them I would never. I love this hair too much. I make them all touch it. It’s so soft! It’s so pretty! It’s my thing, I tell them. A few hours later, my best friend asks if I wanted to participate in St. Baldrick’s with her, in which we will shave our heads to raise money for children’s cancer research. I say yes. She makes sure I am sober. I am. I use the word “YOLO” anyway. I send a text to my mom that says “Don’t freak out, but I’m shaving my head in a few weeks.” (It’s less permanent than the previous two “Don’t freak out” text messages, which have been followed by “….but we all got matching tattoos,” and “I got another one, and it’s pretty huge.”)

In the three days since we’ve committed to shaving our heads, we’ve raised $900 to help fund research for childhood cancers, which are severely underfunded and under researched.  Our goal is $2500 by March 1st, when she and I will publicly get our heads buzzed and the thing that has been so linked with my identity will lie in a pile on the ground. For three days I’ve been looking up scarves and wigs and hats and imagining all the dramatic ways I can now get away with doing my makeup. I’ve tried to figure out how long my hair will be for the wedding I’ll be in later this year.

I’ve also been thinking about what it means to be bald. This is a choice, for me. I get to dictate what happens to my body, and what I claim to be linked with my identity. I get to find it liberating and freeing and I get to think about how much time and money I’ll save. But for so many people it is not a choice. Children with cancer don’t get choices, and I hope you’ll join me in changing the odds. To make a donation, visit here.

This Valentine’s Day, write a self-love letter to yourself and it’ll be published (anonymous or not) on Confessions of a Love Addict! And you enter yourself to win a prize pack of beauty products and a Home Goods gift card! Learn more here. Submit here

This Baby Loves Her Back

My boobs were bigger when I was 10 years old than they are now.

Something happened the summer before I started middle school — my mom let me shave my legs for the first time (at our lake house in a bikini, terrified of cutting myself), acne snickered at my skin and well, every top I owned suddenly was a bit too small. And though I had always waited quite impatiently to look like a real woman, when those curves arrived sooner than expected, I wished they would go away.

Having an inappropriate body for a young girl brought all sorts of things — unwanted attention from older guys, untrue rumors at school because surely if my body looked sexual, I must also be sexual in nature. The truth was I found myself wearing a 32 D-cup and sincerely had no idea what to do with such a massive and speedy physical transition. I hadn’t “french kissed” a boy and yet I had a chest to insinuate I was ready for quite more than that.

Sixth grade was really the first year I started cursing my own body. I was too heavy on top. My stomach pooched more than the other girls in gym class. I couldn’t run as fast because my breasts were too heavy. My skin was speckled. My teeth weren’t perfect and I didn’t want braces. The other girls were prettier. They were skinnier. They didn’t have awfully huge knockers that I hated so badly I kept them only in sports bras for years until one of my friends demanded I wear a proper underwire freshman year of college.

Throughout my many growing body pains, my pants and dress size fluctuated too. Following a stressful period my sophomore year of high school, I gained close to 20 pounds and kept it on until I graduated. To compensate for my insecurity, I covered up the extra weight in loose-fitting clothing and cardigans to cover what I saw as embarrassing rolls in every place. When I went off to college, I not only had to walk — uphill, literally in snow — everywhere I went, but I discovered a newfound love for running, too. The thing that triggered my actual shedding of the baggage around my midsection and thighs wasn’t anything healthy though — it was the depression I fell into following that terribly awful thing that happened on my 18th birthday.

And then I was thrown into a dark world of strange feelings about my body.

Not only was it slowly shrinking due to quite a loss of appetite and desire for much of anything, I also felt foreign to my own limbs. And maybe more devastating to me, that power I had always felt sexually since I lost my virginity to my high school sweetheartfaded. I didn’t want to be naked and I really didn’t want to be touched — unless it was a touch of love. And love was pretty much void for most of college. I didn’t know how to get back all of that fire that got me through everything, so I took the advice of someone special and I faked it until I made it. I led one of the sections at the student newspaper, I volunteered, I became an orientation leader and I went on dates with men I knew I’d never actually care about. And inside, I felt like the ugliest person alive. Like this body I had, was damaged or broken, that it wasn’t worthy of what I once thought it was.

But after lots of counseling and even more determination to pull myself back up, I found myself interning in New York and starting to finally feel beautiful. Or maybe glamorous is the right word. My bra was not only significantly emptier but my waist and heavy heart was too, making me feel unstoppable and vibrant in a city that mostly defines itself by beauty. Or at least being surrounded by it, that is. But when you spend your time trying to be social and liberated and basking in the light of a bright new chapter, you also start drinking more. When I returned to finish my last year-and-a-half of college, I found myself staring at yet another number on the scale I didn’t like and pulling out those hefty bras I thought I could throw away.

And so this pattern continued pretty frequently over the next five years… until last summer.

Mr. Possibility was still in my life — in and out — and though he did help me get over my intense hatred of my acne (“Those are only your freckles!“), he didn’t do much for my body image. His love (and constant praise) of those 5’10-and-up skinny, long-legged gals made my shorter, curvier, womanly frame feel unworthy. Unappreciated. Not good enough for any successful man in New York. While almost every guy I’ve dated (Dr. Heart included) has adored the little extra I’ve always packed, I’ve never felt quite comfortable having them like it so much. If it jiggled or wiggled or moved at all, surely it’s not an attractive sight for a man to see.

But in the sweltering heat of the July sun, after a knock-down, drag-out fight that ultimately kicked Mr. P out of my life for mostly good with the shocking slam of a taxi cab door — I made a decision to be beautiful.

Scratch that — to feel beautiful. To embrace my beauty. To accept it. To know it’s there.

And as much as falling in love with myself is more than my mirror’s reflection, a positive, accurate body image is part of the courting, too. I got back into running after a long-delayed absence, I starting drowning myself in water, I went on Accutane to get rid of 15-year-old acne and I stopped comparing myself to every girl that I saw.

That last one was the doozy.

I had been measuring myself up against every pretty lady I passed, wondering if she had all the things I wanted because her thighs were the size I wished mine were. Or her skin had never seen a bad day. Or her teeth were aligned so symmetrically it blinded me. Instead of seeing perfection in everyone around me — and ignoring my own shine — I started reminding myself about how superbly awesome my body is.

And maybe more importantly — how incredible it will be one day.

Now, it can run 6 miles and not be out of breath. It can make it through an intense Pilates session and hit the pavement minutes later. It can endure the brutality of the city and stay in step with the fastest New Yorkers who push by. It’s hand can comfort a puppy who has a nightmare in the middle of the night. It can hold the head of a friend in need or embrace a celebratory moment. It can rock out a black mini and a red dress, and then look equally good — and damn it, curvy as hell — in tight workout pants and t-shirt an hour later. It can curl and go straight, it can go natural or pageant-faced and be just as pretty. Even if the beauty is in the fruitful flaws.

But one day — it’ll even be better. It’ll produce life. It’ll carry a baby. It’ll give birth to that baby. It’ll grow and stretch and sag and wrinkle and change and with all of that, it’ll just get more astounding. It’ll get lines and have scars that hold meaning — ones that were caused by things I survived. Or memories that were worth every bit of pain. It’ll be touched by a man worthy enough to be loved by me for the rest of his life. It’ll be held delicately because it’s precious and one of a kind.

And it’s mine.

So why not love it? Why not be madly in love with it? Big boobs, freckled cheeks, a baby-got’s-back rear end, frizzy hair in all-weather and everything in between belongs to me. And to me, all of it is beautiful.

Louie Armstrong Moments

The morning my flight left from JFK, the last day of my summer internship several years ago, I set my alarm early so I could take in as much New York as possible before our extended separation. I decided to sit  in Madison Square Park, a place I frequented to people watch, lay out in the sun, and meet friends before heading out. Though not anything particularly spectacular, this miniature space of green housed several of my memories from that summer.

After stopping at a café across from my apartment, I grabbed a scone and coffee, and found a table near Shake Shack. For an August morning, it was rather chilly and the leaves were falling much earlier than I anticipated. Yet, the energy of the park, even at this early hour, was buzzing. There were families and dogs, couples and strollers, children and musicians, waking and rising, starting their New York days with conversation and caffeine.

I sat in a wrap dress and cardigan, my hair air-drying and curling, writing in this giant blue journal I kept almost daily while in New York. Even though I now live here permanently, that tattered and worn notebook remains one of my most prized possessions and will always have a home on any bookshelf I own. I scribbled sentences that don’t mean much, yet mean everything – and as I was finishing up the last paragraph, a single yellow leaf stained with red tips fell to the page. Seconds later, a tiny bird landed on my patio table, picked at a crumb I left, and flew away.

Charmed by the simplicity of that single moment, I smiled, and looked up, catching the eye of an older woman reading a book across from me. Maybe she was watching me or just happened to look up at that instant, but when we locked eyes, we shared the same thought in that park on a Sunday, when the sun was making its way mid-sky.

I’ve always called these experiences New York moments. Recently, however, I discovered a better fitting name from my friend, K. She calls them Louie Armstrong moments.

We were sitting at Fig & Olive on the Upper East Side, after just leaving the opening of Pipino 57 – Wella Professionals Flagship, where champagne and celebrities were ripe, and talking about our unique New York experiences. Though, maybe not that unique. If you hold a certain love for the city, if it is a place you’ve always wanted to live in, your experience doesn’t differ too much from the other dreamers who always wanted to gaze at the lights of the Empire.

And that’s kind of the beauty behind a Louie Armstrong moment. Where you realize what a wonderful world it really is by sharing it with other people, even the ones you don’t know and never will know.

When you’re in a place where most people are strangers and not friends, it’s easy to feel alone. You can walk miles without seeing a familiar face and when you battle the street trenches and crowds, you can feel like just another number, just another gal whose hair is frizzy from the humidity and whose feet are tired from unreasonable heels. But if you wait for it, if you don’t look for it, but stay positively alert – you’ll find yourself sharing an experience with someone you don’t know that you’ll cherish forever. For me, it’s with a woman who witnessed a bittersweet ending to my first New York adventure, for Kate it’s the natural smile of a man who watched butterflies take flight unexpectedly. Both of our Louie Armstrong moments coincidently happened in Madison Square Park, but we’ve had more.

And we’ll continue to. As long as we’re blessed enough to live in New York, that is. I’m sure it is capable to connect in a fleeting instant with people you’ll never see again anywhere, but for me, the only Louies that I remember are in the place where I see weathering trees in Central, and tulips too – for me and for whoever walks by. I see skies with scrapers; stars that don’t come out at night. I see the colors of the rainbow in Chelsea, so pretty walking by. I hear taxis cry, I watch them speed, and I realize they’ll see so much more New York than I’ll ever know.

And still, I think to myself, what a wonderful world.

An Ugly Inequality

This may come as no surprise to anyone, but I’ve been thinking about men a lot lately.

But contrary to that statement, I haven’t been wondering about them in the romantic sense, but rather as people. A while back, I wrote a piece called “Men Are People Too?” which discussed a revelation I had about seeing guys not just as potential mates, but also as friends. May sound a tad crazy and I’ll admit it may make me come across immature for my age, but the majority of my friends have always been females and men to me, for a while, were only meant to fulfill a romantic role. But thanks to Mr. Hubby, J, H, and Mr. Unavailable, I’ve learned how to curve my attitude.

However, what I failed to mention or perhaps, realize, was the advantage and liberty women have over men.

More so than it has ever been before, females are encouraged to be independent. We’re the daughters of the women who grew up in the 70s and the 80s, who dominated corporate while remembering it’s okay to also dominate in bed – missionary be damned. Our mothers were the first to not only demand to be part of the workforce but to rise as high as they could, and then fight the glass ceiling that stopped them. We’re the women who were raised to be free thinkers, to accept that feminism isn’t about burning our bras or creating a No Boys Allowed club, but understanding the power of being a feminist is based simply on choice. We can decide to wear pumps and pleated skirts or pants and kicks and still be a woman. We can raise our voices, raise our eyebrows, or raise our hands – and all three will constitute as a way to stand for what we believe and what we know we deserve. We were brought up with the notion that we could be anything and also not have to be anything at all – a ring, a baby, or a house do not have to be our happy ending. But if we decide to, it can be a beginning or a part of our lives.

In a lot of ways, we’ve shaken off the titles that held us back for so long. Sure, we have a long way to come stateside and globally, and I’m in no means the most qualified expert to speak on the topic, but I do care about it. I am proud and thankful that my family always gave me every indication that I could do anything, that my sex (note: not gender, they are different) does not define me and it doesn’t hold me back. Just because I’m a lady, doesn’t mean I’m less capable of anything as my male counterpart. My dad let me be a tomboy that went on grand adventures, but he also assured me it was okay to want to feel protected. My mother bought me a training bra, but she also trained me how to body slam a guy if he happened to rub me the wrong way or get closer than I wanted him to.

But what about the guys? Do we teach men that it’s okay to have feminine characteristics? That having emotions are just as vital to a human as the ability to cope and carry on?  The great Gloria Steinem said it best: “We’ve begun to raise daughters more like sons… but few have the courage to raise our sons more like our daughters.”

Yesterday, Mr. Possibility and I headed to his hometown to run some errands, visit his mother, and stop by the barber shop he’s been going to since he was eight years old. The place was rather adorable, quintessentially Queens-Italian, and the prices were ridiculously low, unaffected it seems by a downward economy. As I waited for him to finish, sipping coffee, and reading New York magazine, I found myself distracted by the little boy in the stool to the right. He was maybe six and best described as all-smiles. Everything the barber did – from buzzing and cutting to brushing and joking around – made this kid giggle. When his cut and style was finished, he swiveled in the chair and excitedly asked his mom: Don’t I look pretty?!

Seeming embarrassed by this remark, his father quickly chimed in: “No, son you look handsome. Girls look pretty.” The young boy, who was delighted a second before, turned his head down, and that smile that captivated me from across the bench fell as quickly as his spirits. Wanting to tell him that any adjective would do and that female and male connotations are only important when learning a language, I looked over at Mr. Possibility, who had missed the whole exchange and was chatting it up with C, his pot-belly barber. As I looked at him in the mirror, I wondered what child he had been twenty years previous, in this same shop, in this same little town. Was it okay for him to play Barbies with this sister (or alone) as much as it was acceptable for him to kick, catch, or hit a ball? Could he watch Oprah and ESPN in the same hour and still consider himself a man?

Why do men give themselves less liberties than the ladies? Why does the USA allow itself to be so drenched with homophobia and fear of the demise of the “good ole’ boy”? If you ask me, a great man is one who is brave enough to accept and embrace all that he feels, even if some of that is stereotypically considered girly.

Like in relationships, like in love, like in life – when we stop placing so much emphasis on titles and trying to define what everything means – that’s when we find our true freedom. So, why not give the dudes some room to grow? Some space to explore other ways of thinking and go after those things that they’ve always been forbid to do. Or forbidden themselves to try. Those rules that mothers and fathers are still placing heavily on their sons, while encouraging their daughters to chase any dream they have.

Because those restrictions, those unwavering, old-school, ways of determining what makes a man keep guys from truly becoming the best men they can be, or rather, the best person they can grow into. Don’t call it handsome, don’t call it beautiful, don’t call it lovely, don’t call it cute, and don’t call it pretty. Call it what it is – an ugly inequality.