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Give Me a Head With Hair

My roommate did not initially want me to tell you this story. She’s since agreed that she can deal.

Our shower drain, on the other hand, cannot deal with the volume of hair that it’s been tasked with handling. We figure Currier House was built before Harvard/Radcliffe admitted too many of our kind—our bathroom was probably intended for a pair of flaxen, thin-haired maidens, not two Jewish girls with manes.

While I spend a great deal more time thinking about what I’m going to have for lunch (hopefully not that barbecue tofu stodge that HUDS has the audacity to call pizza), I’d be lying if I said that I never think about my hair. I am, after all, a 20 year-old female from earth. So you can imagine my mortification when I found out that someone had suggested that I would be pretty if I were to “do my hair.”

Before they let me turn 20, they made me do all of the numbers below that. Indeed, up until the age of 12, I considered myself a member of the follicular elect—my hair was blonde and wavy. It was that summer that I realized I’d fallen from grace.

First, I learned the theory of chromatic relativity: What was blonde in New York City was not what was blonde to the Southern girls I went to horseback riding camp with. As I got older and my hair darkened further, this theory became irrelevant. I was a brunette. (If I were less selfish, I’d emphasize how telling it is that we categorize women according to their hair color. But I didn’t especially mind the blonde/brunette hierarchy. I just minded being on the bottom of it.)

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Next I learned that there exists a special place in hell for girls who do not straighten, relax, or otherwise tame hair that is dark and (for me, newly) voluminous. At least that’s what my counselor suggested with her death stare as she struggled to fit my hair underneath my helmet before a horse show.

I’ve learned a lot about the world since I was 12. I know that society is a lot less hard on me about my hair than it is on women of color—the last thing I want to do is to trivialize the racial and cultural bias faced by anyone else. I just want to tell you a story—a human story, I think—about feeling ugly and bad.

My first impulse upon hearing the upsetting comment about doing my hair was to figure out what the other women were “doing” that I wasn’t. I went for a walk and saw straights, curlies, even blues and pinks (it is Cambridge, after all)—what was wrong with me, in particular?

Then I called my sister and read her the famous line from Robert Burns’s poem, “To a Louse”:“And would some Power the small gift give us, To see ourselves as others see us!” “Lisa,” she reassured me, “no one thinks you look like Kyle Broflovski without his hat on. You’re not even a redhead!”

I know (I watch coming-of-age Lifetime movies, too) that I’m supposed to love me for me. And, I admit, that in addition to feeling inadequate I felt an intense desire to prosecute the offending commenter for crimes against Lisa Mogilanski and humanity. As one of my friends pointed out, there’s only so much loathing to go around—we ought to direct it outward rather than squander it on ourselves.

But, broadly speaking, self-acceptance is not my style—I prefer slowly and painfully to analyze (and hopefully eliminate) my flaws. Indeed, if I were physically and mentally capable of sleeping less than I currently do, I’d probably get up an hour earlier each day to “do” my hair.

I’ve decided, instead, that I prefer the sweet spot between denial, laziness, and acceptance, laughing and reminding myself that no one thinks about me nearly as much as I do. This is bold—female physical imperfections aren’t supposed to be funny, just sort of sad. You can make a joke, but when you’re done laughing you’d better make an appointment to get something waxed.

But in baseball and in genetic lotteries, you win some, you lose some, and some get rained out (in this latter scenario you also go home with frizzy hair). We’ve all got some things we wish could change, even if we’re not rich or desperate enough to get the surgery.

I think the advice of the Wu Tang Clan is wise and applicable: “Don’t chase people. Be you, do your own thing and work hard. The right people who belong in your life will come to you and stay.” (It makes sense that they would say this—most of the hip-hop group grew up on Staten Island, which means that anyone who came to visit had to like them enough to get on a ferry.)

The people who like me in spite of my hair—or, God forbid, because of it—are the ones who matter. And if there are no obvious “right people,” people who’ll come to me, I’ll just go hang out with the men in front of CVS. They seem to like me no matter what I do to my hair.

Lisa J. Mogilanski ’15, a Crimson editorial writer, is an economics concentrator in Currier House. Follow her on Twitter at @lisamogi.

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