I did my research, got some endorsements and scoped the joint out. But even then, I had serious trepidation. After all, going to a new hairdresser can be a real nail-biter.
Settling into the stylist’s chair, I waited for this affable-looking young woman with a green streak in her hair to comment on how baby-fine my hair was, fuss about the damaged ends and then discuss what shade we’d use to cover the gray roots.
But Shelly hit me with a different question. “Have you thought about” — I braced myself — “going curly?”
I sought out her bright eyes in the mirror. Was she crazy — or a genius?
I'd just had a relaxing yet invigorating shampoo. As Shelly ran her fingers through my wet hair, I contemplated the thing I'd spent years taking not only for granted but as a personal challenge. I had long ago accepted that I would always have to compensate for certain physical attributes.
And while my hair is naturally curly, flashing those curls isn’t something I had even considered since Meg Ryan’s unbridled head of curls began looking so yesterday. Believing that straight and sleek equaled professional and mature, I either slicked my hair back into a lifeless bob or waxed, fried and shellacked it into a style as straight and limp as fettuccine.
“No, actually, I hadn’t,” I finally replied. “But why are we discussing my curls? Aren’t you supposed to be talking me out of going gray?”
(MORE: Real Shades of Gray)
“Why?” she replied. “Your curls and your natural color are pretty. Your ashy roots blend nicely into the dark blond that’s growing out. Your hair is begging us to let it be.”
“Let it be?” I repeated back, pondering her words of wisdom.
“You know,” Shelly said as she twirled finger after finger of strands into corkscrews. “Go green.”
Stealing a glance at the emerald streak in her hair, I pulled a face of deep concern. Shelly laughed.
“Not green green. Green as in organic — natural. I’ll just cut the weight off the ends and let your hair do its thing. Look around. Everybody’s doing it.”
I observed what was happening at the other stations, and, sure enough, every hair on every head was springing forth in the direction it had been born to go. No smelly concoctions, no turbo blow-dryers battling to undo what came naturally. Then I got it. This was not just hair styling. Here be freedom.
Shelly represents a new philosophy of hairstyling that has much to teach us. What a blessing to sit in front of a no-longer-hostile mirror, every hair on my head welcomed and accepted for what it was. For the first time in decades, I looked at my natural locks and felt nothing but pride.
This is, clearly, a very different take on beauty than the one our generation grew up on. Shelly neither tugged nor pulled, but rather diffused my hair as gently as a spring breeze. My curls and my spirit responded by spontaneously, energetically, springing to life.
(MORE: Beautiful Hair at Any [Every!] Age)
This led me to wonder in what other ways I had compromised my authenticity and strained to adopt self-contorting habits? What else was I ready to leave behind?
For starters: Why was I forcing myself to endure power yoga classes when I knew that what my body really wanted to do was Tai Chi? How often did I agree to expensive, fattening lunches when I was dying to suggest what I really wanted — and suspected those friends wanted too: a long walk? Instead of going to the dreaded annual holiday party, might I dare stay home and listen to music?
And then there’s the biggie: my writing. For years I’d wanted to write a novel. But a college professor had persuaded me that my strong suit was nonfiction. As a result, I buried my desire so deeply that I convinced myself that I had no interest in fiction. Had the time finally come to pursue that lifelong dream?
I left the salon feeling lighter and freer than I had in years. I loved the new me. Every time I looked in the mirror to marvel at my curly hair, I would be reminded of what I’d discovered that day. I was only just beginning to relish the possibilities.
What we want most in life is not always a matter of doing more, trying harder or putting in more effort. Sometimes the way to progress is to simply stop wanting to be what we're not and learn to be true to our own nature. And now that I’m gray and curly, there’s no stopping me.