Hair I am with my authenticity!

There are many reasons I somehow found myself out of touch with my identity.

I grew up knowing I was different. I didn’t feel that I fit in at school because I was one of a few Jewish kids in my grade. Class picture day was held on Rosh Hashanah (school was open, I was absent). I was asked to sing “Ave Maria” in the school holiday show which only had Christmas songs. I went into Manhattan a lot with my family and wore clothes that others announced were weird. I was even accused by multiple kids in my class that I was lying when I said I had been on an airplane.  

I didn’t feel that I belonged at Sunday School either. There the kids were mostly from a different district and knew each other from their zip code. I also didn’t seem to wear the right clothes there or be into the right things.

For years, I’d toggle between trying to conform with hopes of building friendships and feeling accepted. Or at least to fly under the radar from any teachers or other authority who let me know in a subtle way that they didn’t appreciate what I brought to the table.

It wasn’t until high school that I felt more relaxed about my uniqueness. I met others through a shared love of music explore, pushing fashion-norms and expanding beyond my suburban bubble to meet others who were also considered “others.”

Throughout those years, one of my biggest struggles was with my hair. It was curly and was tough to “feather” or “straighten” or look more like “permed curls.”  When I was little, I gravitated towards the black dolls because their hair looked more like mine. I connected more with Donna Summer. My imaginary friends were the cast of The Wiz (on Broadway with Stephanie Mills as Dorothy). 

I had a hard time finding a hairdresser up in my parts who knew how to cut and/or style curly hair so I went for styles that were punky or trendy in a way that I could style with my fingers. Pulling my hair straight and strapping it down with hairspray and gel. I started going to Astor Place in Greenwich Village for cuts and then following it up at a local Barber Shop for upkeep.

When I got to college, I was encouraged (for the first time ever) to let my hair be curly. I found an amazing stylist who was great with curly hair. Celebrities like Maria Carey began to surface and finally I started to see women who looked more like me and were considered beautiful. It felt good.

Flash forward to the mid-2000s when I began working for a company that was more conservative than I had been in years. It was creative too but sort of in-the-box (at least that was my perception).  It didn’t feel quite right and in hindsight I realized how much of it brought me back to unresolved feelings of reporting daily to a place where I didn’t always feel like I belong.

I would get occasional comments about my outfits. I was once in a meeting where my favorite color to wear was described as “lowbrow” by an executive when seeing it in a potential ad. Color and fashion are choices, I suppose. But when I received unsolicited suggestions about straightening my hair, I felt personally attacked and judged. 

I know many people go through this sort of thing (and far much worse than I, a white woman, will ever experience first-hand). One day, I felt pushed too far and explained how my curls were my ideas growing out of my head. My hair was my power. My hair was one of the only things that no matter how I cut, dried, brushed etc, it will always keep coming in as it was 100% intended to. Curly. Unruly. Unpredictable. I loved how that also mirrored how my thoughts flow.

Getting back to authenticity and what that meant for me in the workplace, I knew it was time to cut bait and be my own thing. I had a beautiful image from a co-worker who wanted me to get back to who I was and now I needed a tagline to go with it. My brain shot off dozens of options. My hair and I agreed upon, “every curl on my head is an idea” because it is true and I am true.

For further discussion around being authentic, listen to my guest appearance on Your Practical Magic Podcast.

Published by Gennifer Birnbach

Every curl on my head is an idea.

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