I’m going to start off by stating a simple truth: We all want what we don’t have. From jobs, to homes, to people, to clothing, to basically everything else, we’re always striving to achieve something that is just out of our reach. And when we finally get the object of our concentrated efforts and aspirations, when our dreams have finally materialized, we simply move on to the next thing. Oh I got that internship, well let’s see if I can get this job. I finally got got this person’s number! Now why aren’t they calling me?! Oh my plant has just grown a leaf! When will it ever flower and bear fruit?! (While I am exaggerating a bit, I’m striving to make a point).
And while this chronic dissatisfaction with what we’ve achieved so far is beneficial in that it pushes us towards greater success, it’s also unfortunate in that we fail to appreciate what we already possess.
And even in spite of my worldly rant of the subject, I too am guilty of this. I too have obsessed over something to the point of tears. And what have I always desperately wanted, craved, desired, and aspired for, one might ask?
Yes, you read that right. Sleek, shiny, smooth and manageable. Ever since I was little, I loathed my puffy curls, viewing them as an unsightly burden. All of the glamorous celebrities would have flawless smooth strands framing their gorgeous faces. Oh how I envied them. How I longed to possess their seemingly effortless beauty.
I’d stare in the mirror dejectedly, cursing every strand on my head to its roots. Why? Why can’t you just stay in place? Why must you always rise like freshly baked bread! Why must you always curl into a messy tangle of springs! Why can’t you just be perfect and straight!?
Each day this ritual of self-loathing went on and on, until I’d decided to forever hide my unsightly curls by braiding them into pigtails. And this wasn’t just once or twice a week. This was every day. 24/7 from preschool all the way into middle school.
My friends would sometimes ask, “Why don’t you ever leave your hair out?”
“Why don’t you ever do anything new with it?
I treated these inquiries with a mixture of fear and dread, immediately seeking to evade their hair-related inquiries. There was no way they could see the hideous monster that lay behind the neat braids. No. No. No. There was no way. I would have to distract them somehow.
“Yeah, I totally will guys…Oh hey did you do that math homework last night! Super hard, am I right?”
And so it went, on and on, my constant battle against my gnawing insecurity. Upon reaching high school, I realized that pigtails may appear too juvenile and so gently transitioned to a ponytail. And even this was met with tremendous encouragement from my friends.
“Wow, Anusha! I love your hair! It’s so bouncy and curly!” they cried at the site of my partially exposed hair.
“Aww thanks, guys!” I’d always gush. But even then an insidious little voice would always whisper, they’re only saying that because they’re your friends. It’s hideous. Keep it away.
And so throughout my four years of high school, I allowed my hair only a little more freedom in a ponytail, which I would sport tirelessly on a regular basis. Of course, it wasn’t long until I encountered the same problem that I faced in middle school.
“Anusha, why don’t you ever leave your hair out?”
I cringed. Oh the agony! Why does everyone want to see my horrible hair?! Why can’t they just let it be?! Why can’t a ponytail be enough for you demanding fools!?
As always, I continued to retreat further into my insecurities, evading the question altogether, refusing to entertain their imploring requests.
Then before I knew it, my first year of college hit, and I was still rocking my ponytail. With all of the new friends and people I met on campus, my hair history wasn’t much of an issue. After all, most people didn’t even know about it. It just seemed like it was a strong personal preference rather than the harrowing insecurity that it was. So I wore a ponytail everyday, what was the big deal?
But it didn’t take long even for my new friends to notice. You didn’t have to be a genius to see that I was desperately hiding from my hair, choosing to always keeping it back and away from my face. And even with my insistence on the hairstyle, something always tugged at me at the back of my mind.
Yeah, Anusha. Why can’t you wear your hair out like everyone else? I’ve seen other curly-haired girls do it, and they look great!
And then I remember a conversation I had with one of my friends while we were studying for our respective classes. Somehow she had strayed far from her analysis of the demand and supply curves of monopolistic competitions and I from my synthesis of 2-pentanol, and we instead found ourselves watching an extended string of Dove commercials on YouTube.
When we’d gotten to the one where Dove tricks several women into believing that their new product, the “Beauty Patch” significantly improves their outward appearance when in reality it did nothing but boost their self-confidence, we lost it. How could so many women be lead to believe in some magical beauty patch? Wasn’t it so obvious that it was nothing but a farce? A fallacy? A mere trick of the mind? How could Dove create a product that suddenly made everyone more beautiful? Wasn’t beauty subjective anyway?
Could it be that some women’s self-confidence was so lacking that they were desperate for a magical solution to all of their insecurities? That all women were all hiding from parts of themselves in someway?
My friend must have started thinking along the same lines as we both grew silent.
“Do you think some women are really that insecure about themselves?”
Myself being a shining example of insecurity, I answered almost immediately.
“Absolutely. Women have so many things they dislike about themselves. Their size. Their skin. Their facial features. Their hair…” I added as a guilty afterthought.
A pensive silence hung between us for a few moments before she said, “I’ve always been self-conscious about my hair.”
I looked up at her, incredulous. This girl’s hair was the type of stuff I’d lost sleep over. Blonde with streaks of brown, glossy, smooth, well-kept, and straight, it was everything I’d ever wanted.
I was so shocked that for a few moments I was completely at a loss for words.
“You’re crazy!” I gushed, continuing, “Your hair is perfect! What could you possibly dislike about it!?”
And the thing was, I wasn’t just saying all of this because it’s friend code to have each other’s back (even though it is). I was genuinely stunned by the fact that she didn’t see her hair as exactly what it was: flawless.
She laughed at my absurd facial expression before saying, “Yeah, I just wish it wasn’t so flat. I wish it had more volume and life. Kind of like yours…”
Woah. Woah. Woah. Woah. Okay, I thought this girl was a little confused before, but now I know that she was certified crazy.
“What!” I shrieked.
“You want more volume!? I’ve always hated my hair because of its volume! Because of its curls! Because of its inability to stay in one place! Because of its inability to just be perfect, and smooth, and flawless like yours!”
It was like something inside of my had snapped, and years worth of my insecurities had come bubbling to the surface.
“But I love curly hair,” she insisted resolutely.
“What? No way,” there was no way this could be the truth. No one could ever want what I had.
“No really, your hair is so bouncy and interesting to look at.Why do you think a bunch of people curl their hair? Straight hair all kind of looks the same.”
“I guess we want what we don’t have,” I said before cracking up. We both laughed at the absurdity of it all. Why couldn’t we just be happy with what we had?
Since then, I’ve started leaving my hair out more often, allowing my curls to freely bounce with the wind. I remember looking in the mirror one morning and thinking, hey, I look kind of cute today.
And that’s something I had never, ever done in the past. Rather than curse my curls for their natural springiness and volume, I started appreciating them for what they were. Rather than tearing myself down, I started building myself up. I realized that what we despise could be the object of envy in another’s eyes.