I consider our lifestyle to be pseudo-minimalist. If we don’t need it or really, really want it, there is probably not room for it inside. My girls have never really played with toys, no matter how much they thought they wanted them. Art supplies are what they collect. My son liked two things: books and legos, and managed to amass about 500,000 of each between the ages of 5 and 10. I don’t mind dirt on children. I want them to make a mess with mud outside and paints inside, but clutter really freaks me out. I get short of breath, I feel walls closing in, I want to run outside screaming and strip off my clothes in the street.
Lying in the tub tonight (incidentally, the one enormous feature of this house is a huge jacuzzi tub that sits smack in the middle of the master bedroom) I saw something that stopped my breath. Hanging on the back of the door to the toilet is a shoe rack that holds all the things that would normally go into a bathroom closet, except that we don’t have one of those. The pockets are all overflowing, bulging really, with hair products and tools. It looks like a bizarre modern art exhibit by a deranged Walgreens addict. I keep a small bag of cosmetics under the sink, which mostly contains various tones of slut-red lipstick, my only must-have. But the back of the bathroom door is evidence that I am not the minimalist I sell myself as. Every pouch is crammed full of shit that is supposed to make my curly hair straight. I guess I’ve never found the right one, and instead of tossing the ones that don’t do what they say they’re going to do, I smash them in on top of each other in a shoe rack on the back of the bathroom door. There are three electric heating devices to burn my curls into submission. Then there are the lotions and gels and sprays and balms and mousses (meese?) and serums and oils and cremes of all sizes and shapes. Each one says it can make my curly hair straight without being frizzy. Each one lies.
“How did you get so crowded?” I asked the shoe rack. “Who did this to you?”
“You did,” answered the shoe rack.
“Impossible,” I said from the tub. “I’m a minimalist.”
“Ha!” scoffed the shoe rack. “Imposter!”
“Hey, you know what? Screw you. You don’t know anything, you’re a shoe rack.”
“I think my pockets speak for themselves...Curly!” hissed the shoe rack.
I gasped. “How can you be so mean? I’m literally naked right now... I’m vulnerable! And it's really humid in here. Asshole shoe rack.”
The shoe rack was silent. I closed my eyes and tried to concentrate on relaxing. But one eye kept peeking to see if it was still there, if it was coming for me.
It’s disturbing to realize that you’re not who you thought you were. It’s uncomfortable to admit that perhaps, as rad as your life seems, there’s one little mental duck out of the row. And there it is, waddling about, flaunting itself to anyone who might pass by my bathroom door. The hair crap is obviously a symptom of a much more serious condition. What is at the root (ugh, pardon the pun) of this chronic longing for hair that isn’t mine? What the fuck is all this shit?
Rather than clearing out the shoe rack, I poured a glass of wine and sat down to write this out. The answer to any problem is in the middle of page two. That’s universal. Got a problem? Start writing. The solution, or at least the real question, is halfway into the second page. Anything beyond that, you’re overthinking it. Which brings me to my answer. It’s about options. I am what my husband calls a tough broad. I don’t like to be told what to do. I want escape routes and I want options, and without them I will fiercely fight my way out of whatever imaginary corner I feel myself backed into. I’m pretty sure it’s really that simple. No one is going to tell me that I have to have curly hair just because my hair is naturally curly. I have options, damn it.
The trouble is that the option is not very attractive. In its natural state, my hair is somewhere between ringlets and waves. It’s not that really great tight curl that girls can work into awesome afros. I’d rock that in a heartbeat! But it appears happy and healthy enough, and not entirely hideous. Straight, though, it becomes angry. A few dozen disobedient hairs (wretched individuals) usually on top of my head, refuse to recognize my dominance over them, and curl skyward in rebellion. The ends become thirsty and pissed off. I have never achieved the sleek, edgy look that the bottles promised me. This isn’t necessarily something that anyone else would notice, but I notice, and it’s frustrating be faced with a situation that offers no attractive options. That’s it.
I could launch into another six pages on the misogynist corporate machine and how it warped my brain into believing that I’m not attractive in my natural state with my curly hair and without my MAC Slut-Red #140, but that’s all been said. It’s not that I don’t believe it, it’s just that I don’t think it matters much in this case. I have to work from the place on page two where I realized what’s wrong with me: I’m not realistic, I’m not satisfied, I'm vain, and I’m stubborn.
Quick confession, my style idols are those women at the farmer’s market who dress in khaki cargo shorts and t shirts with flannels over them, who wear sensible sandals and sunscreen every day, and funny hats. They might wear lipstick a couple times a year, a muted shade like Not-Slutty-Dusty-Rose #13. I want to be like that, but I’m not yet. It would be a lie, an uncomfortable, transparent lie. Last year, in a bar in Memphis (or maybe Nashville? No, it was Memphis) a very sweet, very flamboyant flight attendant for Delta Airlines called me sex-on-a-stick. Actually, because he was from the bayou of Louisiana, he said Honey, youuuu are seh-yux on a stee-yuk. My husband makes almost daily reference to this phrase, whether I’m in makeup or not, whether my hair is straight or curly. I’m not hurting for affirmation around here (one of the benefits of living with a man who really loves women), but no amount of attention can counter my stubborn dissatisfaction with not having a better looking option about my curly hair.
Now that I've revealed the truth to myself, and to increase the chance that I'll feel I'm making successful progress, I’m striving for something in between the bulimic, self-deprecating girl I was in my teens and twenties, when nothing about me was good enough, and the satisfied-with-my-all-natural-self woman I hope to be while I’m selecting heirloom tomatoes at the farmer’s market someday. This is the best I can come up with: it’s going to have to be okay, for now, to be dissatisfied and unrealistic, as long as I’m telling the truth about it. I have to be honest with myself and not call my shoe rack an asshole when it points out the obvious discrepancies of my personality.
I guess the point is this: if you find yourself critiquing an aspect of yourself, physical or psychological, my advice is not to punish yourself for being dissatisfied. Admit vanity. Of course we want to conceal blemishes, whether they're on our skin or our psyche. Just be honest about where they come from (see the middle of page two). If you get stuck, have a conversation with your shoe rack, or your bathroom closet if you’re lucky enough to have one.