When we have our picture taken, we tend to focus on the parts of our bodies that make us the most self-conscious. While some people hold their arm “just so” to make it look smaller and others know exactly how far to tilt their head to make their neck look more slender, I always think about how much of the picture my hair will consume.
My hair drives me crazy. If you know me or have seen my picture, this probably won’t come as too great a shock; next to me, Hermione Granger and Merida look like they just had Keratin appointments. My hair has always been what most people remember about me, even if they’ve only met me once. While I’m happy to report that I’ve made peace with my hair thanks to some good old-fashioned growing-up and a superstar hairstylist, my hair remains a very intimate part of my body. Getting professional headshots taken on Friday was a challenging experience to say the least!
Fortunately, I am friends with an incredibly talented mother/daughter tag team who have their own photography and videography businesses. They generously allowed me to turn their entire space into my closet/hamper and didn’t kick me out when we realized I forgot pants. They helped me breeze through the normal awkwardness of not knowing what to do with my hands and smiling without showing a shocking percentage of my gums. I even started having fun…and then they asked me to take my hair down.
*Don’t worry: the featured picture is not from my photoshoot. It’s a selfie I sent my Mom (LOL) when getting highlights a few weeks ago.
In my mind, my hair already was down: granted, I had it half-pulled back, but that’s literally the most “down” I’ve worn it in over a decade. When I took out my hair clip, I felt so exposed that I might as well have been standing naked.
My discomfort isn’t really all that surprising; people haven’t always been particularly kind. A bold hairstylist told me I would never be pretty unless I had it permanently straightened. A friend’s sister once remarked that she had always wanted curly hair, “but of course, not like yours,” prompting the whole family to laugh hysterically. Other people’s remarks were so unkind that I refuse to immortalize their words by including them.
While it was uncomfortable for me to take out my hair clip, I knew it was important to be brave and try to let go of my insecurities. I was with people I trusted and they had my best interests at heart. It wasn’t nearly as bad as I would have anticipated! Reflecting on this experience, I finally concluded: I was (am) afraid to show my hair because I was (am) afraid that my hair prevents some people from being able to see the real “me.” I want people to see Molly, not just a bunch of frizz.
But that frizz is a part of Molly. Because our bodies are a part of our identity, when someone sees our bodies, ideally, they will be able to really see and understand who we are in all our imperfect glory. When someone sees my hair, they have the opportunity to get to know me. When someone looks at your body and fails to see the whole you, it reveals their weakness, not yours. Often this weakness is a tendency to objectify. Objectification is the separation of someone’s body from their full identity. The body is no longer a part of a respected and integrated whole, but an isolated form devoid of its full beauty, worth, and purpose. Thus, such separation is de facto degradation.
When a woman exclaims, “I feel naked without my lipstick!” what is she really saying? She is saying (however subconsciously) that without lipstick, she fears people won’t be able to see her for who she truly is: a beautiful woman with full dignity and immeasurable value. And that includes seeing herself in the mirror. Because humans have an alarming capacity to mess up, we are often the ones objectifying ourselves.
I recently saw a picture of myself with my gorgeous Nana and was so upset by the way my hair looked in the picture that I ran to the bathroom to cry. Those unhealthy tears were the prideful result of my disappointment that my hair “ruined” a picture with my Nana who passed away over 10 years ago. I was objectifying myself because my shallow and mean opinions about my own physical appearance prohibited me from seeing who I truly was in that picture: a joyful child who, thank goodness, was more focused on hugging her precious grandmother than fretting about her (very) bad hair day.
Probably without realizing it, my friends gave me quite the gift when they encouraged me to let my hair fly (and I mean literally fly…it’s so fine and frizzy that it floats around my head in a never-ending expansion of volume). I was in a safe environment and could trust that they were looking at it from the proper posture: respect and celebration. My photographers are authentic artists: those able to share something intangible through something tangible. They took my large hair and used it to share something even larger: me. My hair became a window into Molly, and it was a privilege to entrust them with this very tender piece of my identity. Seeing them is one of the greatest gifts you can give someone, and I’m so very grateful.
This piece is dedicated to every person who has struggled with any kind of hair loss. You’re beautiful, just as you are.