We begin, I'm sorry to say, with hair. I'm sorry to say it because the amount of maintenance involving hair is genuinely overwhelming. Sometimes I think that not having to worry about your hair anymore is the secret upside of death.
That photo of me up there on this page is a lie. Not the unintended smirk—that part is just my face and short of reconstructive surgery or shock therapy, there is nothing to be done about that. I often think I'm smiling on the outside only to find out that my mouth and brain have very different ideas of what constitutes smiling. Anyway, it's the dark, shoulder-length hair that is the lie; I chopped that ish off months ago, my friends. But that is not where the story gets revolutionary.
Last Christmas, my friend Suzanne styled my hair before we headed out to a party. We were in Los Angeles and Suzanne sat me down on the toilet in her bathroom and expertly waved and expertly tousled me into a dreamy volume I can never achieve. It was done to look like it hadn't been done and in a manner I could never do (but to which I'd always aspired).
It should be noted that my friend was—and still is, actually—a professional model. Not the PetSmart advertorial kind that is slipped into the D section of the Saturday paper. But the kind whose face still gets her recognized in public restrooms when she's just trying to go about her glitter-and-cotton-candy business. Angels don't poop, if you know what I'm saying.
So it wasn't surprising that with a few hot rollers and a can of hairspray, she had my hair looking just like hers when she used to grace the covers and pages of magazines I flipped through in college. How she made '80s pouf look '00s fleek in under 10 minutes is a backstage secret.
But lo, the curse of mere mortals. Trust me when I say you do not want your photo taken with someone in that line of business. Not even if she has a pimple on her nose, spinach in her teeth and a case of pink eye. She was still at the front of the Bone Structure and Thick Hair Line. No amount of glowy Snapchat filter with a crown of butterflies is going to save those around her. Neither will a gallon of Aqua Net.
My friend's heaven-sent hair held up as we did the Wobble late into the night beneath an actual disco ball. Mine fell flat just like it did when I was five and the ringlets my best friend's mom had curled into my stick-straight pigtails for picture day had quietly un-ringleted. My mother still has the kindergarten shot of smiling-on-the-outside me, so proud of my pigtails, unaware that each was its own sad testament to the second law of thermodynamics.
"You just have to shoosh it," my friend said trying to cheer me up when she saw my disappointment after I caught my reflection in a mirror. She fluffed and mussed it with her fingers to no avail.
It was during the drive home the next day that I decided it was time for the mop to go. I didn't want to spend the time on it anymore. I'd quit washing it years ago and regularly resorted to the convenient topknot, the ubiquitous choice of college coeds everywhere. The effort just wasn't there.
Two days later, I cut my hair to my shoulders. Three weeks after that, I took it to my chin. One more week and I went full pixie, and I up and quit coloring it, intentionally letting the gray come in. I've been feeling progressively better about graying, acceptance coming quite easily. And then:
"Women over 40 should definitely go gray and let me tell you why," said a woman to my face recently at a cocktail party. "There are two reasons for this," she told me with all the confidence of a gerontologist.
"One, you age yourself." She swept an arm under her long, sort of wavy/sort of stringy brown hair and flipped it over her head to the other side. "It's true! You do! You age. Your. Self. I'm almost 50 and I know this." She flipped her hair again to the other side. "And two...," she continued. "You're sexually undesirable to men."
Note: As I was writing this, I made the goddamned best hard-boiled egg I've had in my entire life and I didn't even boil it. I steamed it, and this makes me sexually desirable to at least one man. Especially since I made this hard-boiled egg in my underwear.
I was smiling on the outside at my conversation with that woman because, whether I'm sexually desired by men or not, this particular philosophy combined with the hair flip made that conversationalist intellectually undesirable to me, which is a better gauge of worth in my book. I walked away validated by my decision to sever the mane, go natural and embrace aging. With her every word and every flip, I loved my short, greying, flipless, shooshless hair—and my sexually-undesirable self—even more than ever. I'm smiling on the outside about all that.