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The Price of Pretty

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Vanity is wrong. Since ancient times, this concept has been drilled into the heads of young children of almost every culture, since ancient times. In Greek mythology, the beautiful Narcissus turned into a flower after staring at his reflection for too long. In fairytales, Snow White’s wicked stepmother was made evil before our eyes the moment she dared to stress about who was “the fairest of them all”. Yet, despite the numerous fables designed to frighten the vanity out of children, today’s society is still one that is fixated on outward appearance.
Hair, a woman’s follicular glory, is one particular body part that garners beauty obsession. Speaking as someone who has dealt with hair trauma all her life, I can say that hair has the ability to drastically affect lives. Many would say that hair only has as much power as we choose to give it. Even if this is true, it is undeniable that hair can have a great impact on happiness.

It has been said that people must learn to make the best of the cards they have been dealt in life. Whoever said this never went to school with other children. From the moment I was dealt the Crazy Hair Card in life, I was destined to spend majority of my elementary school career crying. It’s true, things could have been much worse— but they were still pretty bad. If I have learned anything in my sixteen years of life, it is that kids are mean. They say and do things that could make a grown man cry, but instead they choose to focus their evil skills on other children. Their tactics are extremely effective and children tend to choose their victim by picking the one that will be most hurt by their teasing. Naturally, I, being the girl with the hair of the widest diameter and the body carrying an extra thirty pounds, was the most vulnerable target. They told me if I died my hair orange, I would look just like a clown and have a great career entertaining birthday parties (even though, at the time, I was rarely invited to other kids’ birthday parties). I was always the last to be picked for a team in gym, and I really only had one friend, a fellow social pariah. My life seemed to be following a pattern similar to the script of any famous Hollywood “coming of age” movie, sans big, colorful, musical numbers. I sat there at recess wondering when I would get to the part of the movie of my life where I would be able to stand up to all my bullies and become the most popular girl in school.

Unfortunately, it never came.

Every time I cried behind the blue plastic slide on the playground, I wondered how much therapy I would need someday to get over the intense emotional damage these kids were doing to me. I realize now, I was a very precocious third grader.

The summer before seventh grade, my parents made the decision to send me to fat camp. At the time, I hated them for it; but in reality, it definitely changed my life for the better. Although I was infuriated for being shipped off, I was actually excited to meet the other kids at camp. I was convinced that overweight kids, who had probably been taunted their entire lives, would never make fun of me. However, once again, my theory that children have an irrepressible tendency toward cruelty was proved correct. For once, I was not happy to be right. Girls who were 400 pounds called me “Jew-fro” behind my back. To my face, they asked questions like “if I stick a pencil in your hair, will it get lost?” I thought about defending myself but realized that majority of them were three inches taller and hundreds of pounds heavier than me. I would then decide a broken arm was not worth the twenty minutes of gratification saying some snide remark to them would give me. Avoiding confrontation at all costs is how most outcasts, like myself, get through their childhoods with all of their limbs attached to their bodies. I came home that summer having lost twenty five pounds— and whatever was left of my confidence.

Life is a hard journey and friends are supposed to be the ones who help you through it. This is only a part of the explanation for the adolescent obsession with constantly being surrounded by others. Teens can not handle alone time, they must always be able to speak, text, or video chat with a friend. The single exception to this rule is the loner. To the bewilderment of our peers, we loners prefer to spend our time on our own, rather than being lost in a crowd of noisy adolescents. Try as they might, my generation can not rap their pop-culture filled heads around the idea of a breed of teenager that does not suffer from monophobia. This is the reason why school is so hard for loners; we are just tragically misunderstood by our peers. The best option is to find a group and stick to them like Elmer’s glue stick until graduation. So, I found my group of girls but in hindsight, I probably should have given it a bit more thought before I joined.

Becoming part of a pre-teen girl clique is similar to becoming a member of the mob. One engages in dangerous behavior, inflicting pain on others, and no one quits the group unless they are iced out. I always seemed to be the victim of the clique’s cruel games. Though I had lost weight, my physical appearance was still constantly ridiculed and the jokes were usually aimed at my hair. My “friends” would entertain themselves by telling me that certain boys in our school liked me, and then they would laugh as I made a fool of myself. I had come to a point where I hated my own “friends”, but still envied them for their perfectly, stick-straight hair.

According to a British survey conducted by Tresseme, on average, women spend $50,000 on their hair over a lifetime, and polls have shown that they are willing to undergo all sorts of painful beauty treatments. Clearly, the price of “pretty” is very steep. I, myself, have struggled trying to tame my hair from an incredibly young age. Curly hair is supposed to be cute little ringlets cascading down a girl’s back, not an ambiguously shaped blob of fuzz atop her head! This is what I yelled futilely at the mirror whenever I daringly attempted to run a comb through the hair at the nape of my neck. When I was in kindergarten, I begged my mother to take me to the drug store to buy a new curly hair product I saw on TV. When I got to the hair care aisle, I saw two different versions of the product. One was designed to eliminate frizz and the other to shape curls. I was unable to make a selection, so I placed them both in our shopping cart. Neither of them had an effect on the bird’s nest that was my hair. So like a mad-scientist searching frantically for the antidote to a deadly disease, I mixed the two products together. A week later, I developed a severe rash from the new chemical compound I had created. Imagine my embarrassment as I tried to explain what happened to my male pediatrician, who obviously had no idea what it is like to be a teenage girl dealing with rebellious hair.
For my thirteenth birthday present, my mother took me to a hair salon that catered exclusively to clients with curly hair. As I entered through the door of the salon, I felt like Alice as she fell through the rabbit whole into Wonderland. Except in my Wonderland, every woman sitting in the stylists’ chairs had flawless, shiny ringlets framing her face. The hairdresser told me he was going to cut off a good amount of my hair. I sighed, but allowed him to do what he felt was best; after all, he was the expert. The next day, a woman on the street stopped me and complimented my new haircut. Besides my mother, she was the first person to ever say anything positive about my hair. Ever since that day, I have been going to the same salon and seeing the same hairdresser every time I need a trim. It is that kind of fierce loyalty that keeps businesses open, even through a recession.

Is it idiotic of me to place so much significance on hair? As mentioned previously, it is vain to do so and vanity has been condemned since ancient times. Then again, the power of hair has also been glorified through ancient myths and fairytales. Medusa and her reptilian tresses had the capacity to turn both mortals and gods into pure stone. Repunzel used her unusually long and lovely locks to unite with her handsome prince and free herself from captivity. Hair does not stop or start wars, and it can not save a dying life. Actually, it has a completely different function for me.

I have always been a “good girl” and I have never actually voiced my internal monologue to anyone. Yet, I still consider myself a rebel. You may not see me behind the good grades and type A personality. But if you would just dig a little deeper, you would find the actual me. I am a sarcastic, suburban ridden, fashion-trend-defying, maverick who is not afraid to speak her mind disguised as a studious, complaisant teenage girl. The one true example of my iconoclastic alter-ego is my crazy, curly, admittedly imperfect hair. I see it as my refusal to conform to society’s idea of beauty, which is currently long, sleek, straight hair.

Every night, I sit at home grueling over ridiculous amounts of homework, doing as I am told, like countless other girls who “follow the rules”. I walk over to the mirror, look at my radical tresses and know that, through it all, I am still an independent at heart, liberated of the confines of the status quo. So to all my fellow struggling curly girls out there: throw away your flat irons, your blow driers and your chemical relaxants. Stick it to society and The (Wo) Man, and let your curls bounce autonomously free. Stand with me and be the ones to prove that curly hair and all that it stands for, individuality, unapologetic unruliness and unconventional beauty will never die.



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This article has 4 comments. Post your own!

PrudenceFang said...
Sept. 13, 2011 at 5:25 pm:
I'm "chubby" and "ugly" and ignored by kids my own age. When I try to hold conversations with people, they sort of brush me off and go to join other "pretty" people. Thanks for writing something like this. :) I really appreciate it. 
 
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Danealle said...
Jul. 7, 2011 at 9:17 pm:
I love how this has a mature voice to it, but it still sounds like a teenager. You make good points, but why can't a person be pretty and a CEO?
 
AliceH replied...
Jul. 7, 2011 at 9:30 pm :

I appreciate your input. My intention was not to imply that anyone successful isn't beautiful. The opposite: success is beautiful. The article is about not having to conform to society's arbitrary opinion of what is attractive. The point is that an "ugly duckling" shouldn't dream of growing up to be pretty. Dream of accomplishment, dream of happiness. "Pretty" is irrelevant.

P.S. Thanks for giving me the chance to get that out!

 
Danealle replied...
Jul. 7, 2011 at 9:34 pm :
aww! I see that is a very good point! 
 
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