Every morning before kindergarten, my mom would take a blow-dryer and a round bristled brush to my hair, grooming every last strand until I was perfectly coiffed. I left the house with my locks straight and smooth, my dresses wrinkle free, my patent-leather Mary Janes shined and proper and my tights without a snag. Each morning I started the day off looking every bit the perfect, polished lady.
As hours passed, my hair would slowly lose its luster and rumple out of shape, much like my dresses. Scuff marks would appear on my previously shiny shoes and guaranteed, my tights would sport a fresh tear or, at least, a new run that stretched no less than knee to toe. As soon as my nanny got me home, I would change in to fresh clothes and attack my hair with a comb, trying my best to remove the knots and return it to the neat state my mother had sent me off to school with.
For years, I wondered why my hair was always unruly. No matter what my level of activity was during the day, it never stayed neat and straight. It became a quiet source of frustration as every Saturday at Korean school, I would see every other Korean girl’s hair reflect the light like a mirror, effortlessly hanging perfectly pin straight. What was I doing wrong?
As I entered my pre-teen years, I added magazines like Seventeen and J-14to my reading repertoire, taking high interest in the tween beauty sections. I will never forget one hair-care article featuring a picture of Mandy Moore that explained how to determine the natural texture of one’s hair. The instructions were simple: Shampoo and condition, scrunch dry with a towel, detangle with a wide-toothed comb, smooth a golf-ball sized amount of styling mousse throughout the length of the hair and let air dry, untouched-This was the first night I realized I had natural curls.
In my youth, I was only able to grasp a minute piece of the lesson held in that moment. At the time, I understood only that I no longer had to fight with the texture of my hair. It finally made sense as to why I could never keep my hair straight like the other girls could. It also became the beginning of my extensive collection of curly-hair-specific gels, sprays and styling lotions.
Today, I look back on that discovery and take a much deeper message from it all. For years prior to that moment, I had thought there was something innately unladylike about me. I thought that no matter how hard I tried, I would never be dainty like my mother. I harbored a twinge of shame within me as I felt like I was failing to be a perfectly primped daughter. Finally realizing that my hair was naturally not straight was the beginning of my drawn out development of sense of self. It was a literal portrayal of the uselessness of trying to be something I was not and the start of embracing and loving myself as I am.
To this day, I cannot keep a manicure chip-free for more than 48 hours and pantyhose is not even an option in my wardrobe. With the slightest bit of moisture in the air, my hair, despite the fact that I am genetically 100% Korean and the dominant hair-texture gene is pin straight, blows out in to a full-bodied wavy lion’s mane. Today, though, I embrace that against-the-grain-ness part of myself and wouldn’t dare fight the humidity by going at my coif with a straightening iron. I spend far less time and effort enhancing the things that I naturally am instead of trying hard to be or look like something that I am not. We hang on to memories that old certain significance to us. To me, the importance of the moment I discovered my hair to be naturally not-straight resonates throughout my daily life as I embrace my differences and create my image according to my own standards, not that of anyone else.