My hair means a lot to me. I have gotten a lot of compliments for its style, shininess (that's such an awkward word), and color. On a few occasions, I've even gotten compliments on my eyebrow-grooming capabilities.
But my hair is more than just an accessory of vanity to me. If the first most notable thing about my hair is its awesomeness, the second most notable thing about my hair is the ability it has to give me comfort. It is a fact that when I was a baby my father would stroke my hair as he held me, and this would put me to sleep. As I got older, if I became distressed or came home crying, I would sit on his lap and he would pet my hair as I told him all my troubles. Sometimes I wouldn't even have to talk because it was clear that I was upset. Either way he would pet my hair and the worries would go away. I would get sleepy, but most importantly I felt safe and comforted.
At age 4 1/2 I had a major operation before which my hair was completely shaved off and during which a team of doctors made an incision from ear-to-ear and reshaped my skull, and after which I wore mummy-like bandages over my head and eyes. I couldn't see anything, and it is my only experience being completely blind, but I still wanted to listen to a tape narrating "The Wizard of Oz" and read along with its accompanying children's book. Before the operation my hair had been blond; when it regrew, it was brown.
When I was in middle school my friends thought it was hilarious that simply stroking my medium brown hair (it wasn't dyed until I was in 10th grade; now at age 26 it's black) would put me nearly to sleep. This theory was tested in the middle of choir class, and, sure enough, my eyelids began to droop and I yawned deeply and loudly and we all got discerning looks from our peers and the teacher.
I was in 12th grade when I started going out with my first boyfriend. I never cut my hair during that relatively short period, nor did I keep it up (on a separate note, it seems like you let go of some things when you have been with someone for just the right amount of time). After the break-up, I cut my hair and dyed it red. An act of defiance against post-relationship depression. A statement of independence, flashiness, and a reclamation of one of my greatest assets.
Throughout college, I explored all different sorts of haircuts. I cut my own hair, had roommates and friends cut my hair. It was dyed blonde (multiple times), black, burgundy, shades of purple, and bright pink. It was comforting to know I had control over something.
At the age of 24 I cut it all off. "It's, like, Halle Berry-short," I'd say when giving others a visual over the phone. The haircut was perfectly functional for me but it got mixed reviews:
"I usually like women with longer hair."
"Why'd you cut it so short?!"
"Hmmmmm . . . " (my mother)
I could do anything, anywhere, anytime with my hair -- the constant of utilizing my hair as an instrument of comfort still remained.
Almost a year ago I moved to my current space, a room in a house with others I don't know. If I wasn't hanging out with friends or my boyfriend I was hanging out with myself (the necessity of which increased as my workload did), and I began to stroke my own hair now and again if comfort was needed.
During this past week in preparation for school I've felt more anxiety than ever before an academic year begins. I've been petting my own hair a lot -- waiting for public transportation, in heavy contemplation, or to subside a bad dream or feeling. My hair is most definitely an instrument of comfort and silky candy for my sensitive fingers to touch; with all of this in mind, I continue to wonder if all the effort will ever result in a permanent feeling of safety and reassurance.