Not So Bad, After All.

Submitted into Contest #33 in response to: Write a story set in a salon or barbershop.... view prompt



Wow. How could it possibly be that my hair's such a disappointment? I am at the salon, staring into the mirror in front of me, apron wrapped around my neck, waiting as the stylist slightly wets my hair and combs out my curls. I am silent, staring into my own eyes. I'm about to cry. I truly hate my hair.

   I can still recall the first time I was actually aware of looks and saw myself in a mirror; actually registering and analyzing my own looks. Horrified is one word to describe how I felt. I thought I was the ugliest person I had ever seen. I was embarrassed anyone would see me, and wished I would just die.

   When I was 6, my mom was in labor and headed to the hospital.  My little brother was about to be born, and mom had asked me and my 7 year old sister to go get dressed and ready to go to grandmas house.  My dad had adopted my sister and I when mom married him two years ago.  It was his parent’s I had inherited as grandparents.  This would be our first time spending a few nights with them.  My new grandpa was nice, but grandma, not so much.  She had laid down the law. I can remember the first few sentences she ever said to me.  “Your mom may have tricked my son into marriage, but she will never got one red penny from us,” and “I don’t answer to anything except granny.’  

As I looked at my face, I felt the tears stinging my eyes.  It brought back that first memory of self-awareness.  How could God be so mean?  The face that had looked out at me was beyond ugly then, and still was now.  Light freckles, pale white skin, blue eyes, and hair that was a mess and out of control.  Untamed curls, and three cowlicks make me look like a homeless victim.  And to add to my distress was the fact my hair was red.  But no, not your typical red.  My hair’s orange, like a pumpkin.  I could always hear mom describe it when people complimented it as being strawberry blonde, but this didn't look strawberry anything to me, it just looked orange.  And I wanted to die.  Every person in my immediate family has tan skin, brown eyes, and brown hair.  How did I end up coming out looking like a freaking clown?  

Mom dragged me for haircuts only when the whim hit her.  It was never a planned event, or routine maintenance.  I was never taught how to care for my curls.  Everyone in my family had bone-straight hair, and no one knew curls required a different care routine.  Because of that, I look at my childhood photos and cringe.  Did no one stop to think, “Hey, this kid looks awful, let’s fix her hair?”  

Every single childhood trip to salons left me traumatized.  I either looked like a white girl with an afro because the stylist had brushed my hair dry, a big no-no for curly hair, and it had frizzed out.  Or, they left me with curls going every direction, giving me the distinct look of someone raised in the wild.  I truly hated anything having to do with my hair, and avoided mirrors at all costs.  To add insult to injury was women who would approach my parents commenting on how beautiful my hair was.  In my mind, I thought it just surprised them to see a red-headed child among all the brown-headed folks, and suspected I had adopted into the family. Well, it was not my birth dad, but other than him, everyone else was my blood.  Maybe they were just trying to be nice, but to me, the goal was to bring up how unusual I was, and hope that would spark my mom or dad into saying I didn't look like them because they’d adopted me.  That made me feel even more like an outsider, and like I didn't fit in or belong with my family.

Everyone always compliments my hair color or curls.  I want to shake them and scream in their faces about how miserable my hair makes me, and how lucky they are to have straight hair.  And, any color other than red.  I tell them how my hair holds me hostage daily, making up it’s mind about how it wants to look.  I struggle for hours with it, and sometimes I actually feel it looks okay.  But, I have never, not even once, looked in a mirror and felt thrilled or thought how beautiful I looked, or how amazing my hair was.  I envy women who can just get out of bed, shake their head, looking perfect. 

This week, my husband has nagged me to get a haircut.  It has been three years since I had one. I don’t enjoy being depressed for three months.  I have looked high and low for a stylist that can deal with curls.  I refuse to let a white person cut my hair, they have no clue how to deal with curls.  My motto is, if you don’t have curls, your not touching mine.  The stylist I finally found years ago does an okay job, it isn’t her fault, it is my hair she has to work with, after all.

The stylist is cutting my hair the way I have asked her to.  Dry.  She knows curls, as she is African-American, and she humors my whims.  I would love to get my hair wet and get a cut, but when curls dry, the hair goes up about two inches and if it's cut wet, I can't see how short it will be.  

I see my curls lying on the floor all around the chair I am sitting in, and think maybe I should just shave my head and wear a wig.  It is unreasonable, so I let the thought pass.  The stylist has turned me from the mirror and I'm now facing the lady sitting in a seat across from me, also getting a haircut.  She smiles at me, and tells me with a sigh how she wishes she had hair like mine.  I can’t hold back the tears anymore and just shake my head at her.  “No, you want nothing at all to do with this hair.  It will ruin your life.  You won’t be able to just wake up and go somewhere.  You have to wake up hours in advance to get ready to go to work, or out with your family.  You will face daily disappointment.  You will spend thousands on products, hoping maybe, just maybe, this one will be the magic potion you have searched for all your life.  And it won’t be.  Be happy with your hair, and thank God he didn’t punish you with hair like mine.”

I ask my stylist for a tissue, to wipe my nose, now starting to run.  She is sympathetic to my emotions, and pats my shoulder.  I apologize to her, and she continues my haircut.  She has turned my chair back to face the mirror, wiping off hair with a little broom, done with my cut.  I am not at all amazed, or surprised, I look the same as always, just with a little shorter hair.  I get up and make my way to go pay, and hand her a bigger tip than normal as I head out to my car.

Looking at my hair in the car’s rear view mirror, I decide I’ll go home and wash and style it, and maybe, just maybe, this time when I style it, I will be happy with the results.  Arriving home, I hit the shower and proceed with styling my hair. My husband tells me it looks better.  Not that it looks great, just better.  I’m crushed.  Oh, well, just another trip to the salon.  I don’t know what I expected, it always turns out this way.  I wish I didn’t fell crest-fallen.  Maybe I had gotten my hopes up, only to be let down again.  My husband hears me crying in the bedroom, and comes and hugs me.  He apologizes for being insensitive, and it makes me feel a little better.  

I put on my makeup, and dress in my best clothes, and we go out to have dinner with the kids.  I am feeling better, and try to put my hair out of my mind.  I admire the hair of everyone around me, and the intense jealousy I feel makes me want to avoid being in public.  I wish I had anyone’s hair but my own.  My husband reaches over the table and grabs my hand.  

“Honey, I want you to know something.  The first thing that attracted me to you was your hair.  The color just grabbed my heart, and it is the one thing I love most about you.  For years I have seen the anguish and pain you go through about your hair, and I just don’t understand.  It is beautiful to me, and I wish you could see what I see when I look at you.”  I am floored.  “You mean, you like my hair?  Why have you never told me this before?”  After all these years of marriage, he had never told me this and I don’t know what to say.  “I have always told you that you I loved you, how could I not love your hair?  Or anything about you?”

We leave the restaurant and head home.  In the car, everyone is talking and I am silent, reflecting on my own inner demons.  Maybe I have been too hard on my hair.  Maybe it isn’t so bad. I pull down the visor and stare at my reflection.  It isn’t perfect to me, the curls look dry and course, with flyaway s and stray hairs everywhere.  We get home, and I turn on the TV to keep myself company in the room as I change into my pajamas.  A night time talk show is on, and the guest is a woman with cancer.  She’s discussing how she lost her hair because of chemo.  She had hated her hair her whole life, and now that God had taken it away from her, she regretted all the years that had passed and she had never come to love it until it was too late.  I sit and watch her telling her story, and feel bad for her.  I decide I will embrace my hair.  The good, the bad and the ugly of it all.  To stop feeling sorry for myself.  I could loose it one day, and I think I will also feel like the woman on TV and will regret not being happy with what I have.  

Her segment is over, and I go back in the living room to face my family with a new attitude towards my hair, and make the announcement to everyone that I will no longer allow myself to wallow in negativity towards it.  I say goodnight to the kids, who head up to bed and my husband and I head to our bedroom.

I woke up this morning, took a shower and decided to not worry about my hair.  I did not even towel dry it, just let it drip dry.  I look in the mirror at the results, and am pleasantly surprised.  Either my attitude about my hair influencing how I feel, or the choice of not letting it rule my life seems to have made a difference today about how I see myself.  I put on my makeup, and look at my reflection at the final results.  I don’t really look any different, but I feel more positive about what I see. I head out of the room, ready to face the world with my new outlook. Maybe haircuts don't have to traumatize me anymore.

March 13, 2020 17:42

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


Phoebe Barr
18:47 Mar 30, 2020

This is a very realistic dive into a character's inner monologue and low self-esteem. I like that it wasn't just a generic "I don't like the way my hair looks" but instead an expression of the protagonist feeling like an outsider (feeling like she doesn't fit in with her family, feeling like other people don't know how to deal with curly hair, etc) which gave the story some real grounding and specificity. And I like how it ended with her being encouraged by someone she loved. She didn't have to change the way she looked, just change her pers...


Show 0 replies
Samantha Davis
18:35 Jul 01, 2020

Great story!!!


Show 0 replies
18:57 Mar 24, 2021

i didn't get it at first, but now i do, and it's pretty good! it's not my usual type of story, but i like it.


Show 0 replies

Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in the Reedsy Book Editor. 100% free.