“So how have you been?” my new hairdresser asks as I settle into the chair. She’d just shampooed me, which is likely the most intimate I have been with anyone in quite a while, but she acts like it’s not big deal so I try to too because my goal in these situations is to be the least awkward I can be.
“I’m okay,” I say. “I started meds. So there’s that.” Being not awkward does not come easy to me.
To her credit though, she nods like this is a normal thing people tell their hairdressers. I’m not sure. Maybe it is. We are new to this dance, me and her, but I like her so far. She can meet my wit halfway, which is my very favorite quality in a person, and she politely ignores how I have shit hair and tend to sweat when she blow dries.
I lost my last hairdresser in the same tragic way I lost my mother. She was close to me in the way that only someone who washes the hair of your whole extended family can be, but not so close that I ever had to live with her quirks or be affected personally by her sadness, and so her loss hit me harder and quicker than the loss of my own mother, at least when it first happened.
I stood in the funeral home during her packed service and looked around at all the heads and hearts she’d touched and wondered, again, how someone could feel so alone amidst all that crazy love. How do we get so lost?
“And how’s that going for you?” my new hairdresser asks me.
I look at her in the mirror, at her bird-themed art on the walls, and at the tubes of dye lined up in neat little rows along one wall. I look at anything, really, to avoid looking at my own reflection, all soggy-headed in that black cape tucked just tight enough around my neck to create the slightest hint of a neck roll.
“Good. I’m good.” I look at myself by accident. That neck. “I’m putting on some weight though. I guess that can happen.”
It can, or so I hear. My doctor and my sister – who, together with “Grey’s Anatomy,” make up the full extent of my medical knowledge – say it’s more that the antidepressants take the edge off of that insane drive we have to stay thin at all costs. Like when we get hungry, we just eat (gasp). Or when we don’t feel like punishing ourselves at the gym because Netflix just dropped a new season of “House of Cards” and cozy pants are calling our name, we don’t go to the gym. Crazy, right?
I tell her this, and then I say something that as soon as it leaves my mouth we both realize is kind of revolutionary. I say, “You know, I think I would rather be happy and a little bigger than skinny and sad.”
She’s quiet then, maybe waiting for me to retract, drop a “Just kidding,” or fall on the floor and roll around amongst the hair clippings, roaring with laughter. I wait too, and am probably even more surprised than she is when I realize that I actually mean it. I would rather be happy.
Now, maybe this is common sense to the rest of the world. Maybe everyone else is well-adjusted and loves themselves enough to always choose the happiness, but I don’t think so.
I’ve been around enough women in my life to know that sometimes the choice is not as simple as it seems. I’ve seen the magazine covers, watched the shows, and scrolled through the Instagram feeds. For every strong badass Mama out there being true to herself and her body, there are 12 more people selling me shakes and wraps, and and telling me why I should stay at home or not stay at home, breast feed or bottle feed, find their God or renounce another, change myself in just enough essential ways that I will become the person I always wanted to be: a completely different one (and where is that thigh gap?).
I’ve been there. I’ve lived in that place my whole life, where we tell ourselves the same awful lies of unworthiness and ugliness over and over again until they beat like a wordless heartbeat through the backdrop of every moment of our lives. I’d wandered in there was I was 16, nestled right in, and made myself a home and, after a while, I became too scared to leave.
I still am scared. The idea of finding a new normal, of being comfortable in my own skin, is still terrifying.
I’ve been trying it on though, wearing it around the house or the office, breaking it in the way you would a new pair of heels. Every time I start to think something nasty about myself, something derogatory about my belly or my face or my choices or my personality or my life, I stop, I breathe, and I reframe.
This is how “God, I look gross” becomes “I am grateful for this body.” Or how “I need to burn off that cheeseburger” becomes “I run because I like the feeling of movement.”
It’s not just the things we say to ourselves about our bodies, it goes so much deeper than that. “I should be at home with my babies” can become “I am grateful for this job that allows us a comfortable life.” Or “I really should clean this house” might change into “Look at all of the living we’ve done here today.”
Can the simple act of looking at something differently be a revolution? I think so. I think that everything big, beautiful, and world-changing has to begin somewhere, and self-love is as good a place to plant seeds as I can imagine.
“If you’re being serious right now,” she says, affirming my suspicion, “then that’s a really big deal.”
I force my eyes to the mirror and take my reflection in. The same old shit comes bubbling up to the surface, of course it does, and I’m disappointed for a second. Then I realize that the opportunity lies right there, inside the thoughts. So I try.
I am grateful for this time, I think. To sit. To chat. To be shampooed.
I meet my eyes. I look tired, I think, but couldn’t that just be another way of saying relaxed? What a blessing it is to be relaxed.
On the way home in the car, I run my hands through my shorter hair and remember my old hairdresser, like I always do. I remember how she had called me one evening, shortly after my mother died, and I sat on the floor of my bedroom and talked to her for hours about nothing and everything until my breasts ached with the milk that Luca needed to drink and I was reasonably certain she was going to be okay, at least for that night.
After she died, I looked back on that conversation so many times and wondered if I could’ve done or said something differently, something more. I start to go there again, drifting into the habit, but I stop myself short.
Could I reframe?
So I try. “I am so grateful I had that time with her,” I say out loud to myself. Here’s the thing: this feels truer than the rest of it ever has anyway.
There’s more in here to learn, I know there is, but I’m only at the beginning of what is still a lifetime of healing. I’m starting with the neck roll because that’s where I am right now. I’ll work my way up to forgiveness and, eventually, maybe, hopefully, there’ll be a moment when I realize that I too live a life of crazy-love and just can’t see it because I’ve tucked myself snugly into the dark places.
Let me be clear about this because it’s important: I don’t have a life of crazy-love because I am special. I live a life of crazy-love in spite of the fact that I am who I am. Like my old hairdresser did. Like my mom did before me. Like we all do, or could, in a truth that is both beautiful and terrifying. Beautiful because it means we all have a chance at the extraordinary, but terrifying because it also means we have to open ourselves up to it.
We can change the world, one reframing breath at a time. (Also, meds help.)
This post originally appeared here on the author’s blog.