My boss and I were discussing our hair troubles the other day. We both have wavy, somewhat unruly hair, and we shared our constant struggles to tame the frizz. We bitched about the need to blow-dry, opting instead for a simpler more natural look. But I'm not gonna lie, when I let my hair do it's "natural" thing, it ain't pretty. About as natural as I can get and still be willing to show my face in public involves either lots of smoothing serum or a big barreled curling iron. We decided the ideal styling was to wash and then use a heat protectant and a bit of smoothing serum. She opts to blow dry a bit, I prefer to air dry and then use a curling iron to smooth it out.
I was telling her how I have a constant internal struggle, not only with my hair, but with my style in general - part of me wants to be a polished and professional business woman in a short skirt and a long jacket and the other part wants to be an all natural outdoors girl with wavy hair blowing in the breeze... and so what I wear and how I fix my hair depends upon which mood I happen to be in that day.
But I've given this a lot of thought over the years, and I had to ask myself again after our conversation; does what I wear and how I fix my hair have anything whatsoever to do with what kind of person I am? Or do I just use those things to construct an image of who I want to be? Does my hairstyle really define me? Can you actually tell how good someone is at their job by the clothes they wear or the way they comb their hair? What about their loyalty? Their compassion for others? Their drive?
I've spent the past 11 years working in a professional office setting and there has been a lot of focus on the way we all look. And while it's not as formal as it used to be (I've been scolded multiple times for my reluctance to wear panty hoes, or even worse, for the x-rated sin of baring my toes by wearing flip flops. Oh! the horror!) I still have to show up to work each day in business casual clothes, sometimes a dress or blazer. And some days I embrace this.
But for some reason at other times, something about this doesn't feel quite right; it doesn't feel quite like me.
I've gone through lots of phases in my life. In high school, I dressed like a total weirdo, just because I thought it was cool. My high school boyfriend and I would go to Goodwill, and each pick out the wackiest outfit we could find, then wear our new attire to youth group on Wednesday night. I once converted a pair of my friend's Dad's work pants into the coolest jeans you've ever seen by sewing denim cut-outs of flowers onto them, and slitting the legs up the sides to make them look like bell bottoms.
Later on, I went through the outdoorsy phase. I used to go white-water rafting a lot, and I would just gaze longingly at the care-free rafting guides, with their cool river clothes and grungy hair. They were so rad. I resolved myself to be that badass someday. I did the same thing when I went to the rock-climbing center and hung out around all of those lean sinewy types. I so wanted to fit in with them.
Unfortunately I spent quite a lot of time and effort in my younger years trying to design the person I thought I should be. I collected images and clothes and hairstyles and make-up in an effort to fill myself up and paste together a collage of the "perfect" me, just like I tacked up artwork all over my bedroom walls and saved clippings from the Teen magazines I regularly devoured. I was building an image. I was constructing a facade.
But here's what I finally learned: while there is nothing at all wrong with fixing your hair and wearing stylish clothes, or being inspired by certain types of people and the way they make you feel, those things do not a person make. Those are shallow and superficial aspects of life, and if you never get beyond that stuff, you'll never get to the real you, and that's where the good stuff is. All we really need to do is BE who we are. I can't try to BE an outdoorsy, granola eating hippie, or a hard-core business woman. What I can do is participate in those activities that make me happy, such as hiking and camping and white-water rafting and designing buildings and doing my best at work. But those activities don't define who I am. They are a part of me, yes. But not all of me. And besides, those things are constantly changing as I get older and wiser in this world. Identifying my SELF with those things is a shallow and pointless endeavor. It misses the point entirely.
Over time, I've learned not to put so much effort toward my image. I've tried to focus instead on improving the actual content of who I am. You know, stuff like how I love and treat others, how I love and treat myself, compassion, empathy, service.
Because images will come and go. I may be in the mood to dress like a biker chic today, and maybe next week, a gypsy. But either way, I'm still me, and now I'm happy to say that I know exactly who that is. :)
And as for my hair? Well, these days with a 5 month old, despite how I style it, it usually has spit-up and/or pee in it... not sure what that does for my image, but it's a good thing I no longer care.
Till next time,
© Haley McManigal 2017
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