What follows is a short story that may seem petty and insignificant to many, given the multiple crisis people are experiencing over the last several years. My problems scream privilege at me – even if others who encounter me might not think so, on sight.
“How,” some may ask themselves, “can a someone with a disability ever fall into the ‘privileged’ label?” Believe me, we can. Assuming that someone who has a disability is automatically void of privilege in today’s world is a really uninformed point of view – trust me. Women on wheels are perfectly capable of being rolling bitches, and men on wheels are more than capable of being rolling dick-wads because we’re…human.
There you have it.
My disclaimer: My short story is vapid, could be defined as vain, could definitely come off as whining, and is absolutely meaningless in the grand scheme of human suffering. Yet, in its defense I will say that as a woman with a disability, looking my best and presenting myself in ways that accentuate my strengths and make me feel confident is not only important, but necessary to function in modern society.
Generally speaking, at first glance when society sees a wheelchair person (me), it can make several assumptions in a micro-moment, and it rarely looks back. Sure, they might stare — (which is rude by the way, if it’s for any other reason than thinking ‘Wow, what a woman!’ or possibly wondering ‘Maybe it’s Maybelline?‘). Either way, stereotypical assumptions are made — figure those out on your own. However…if there’s something more, a spark or a flint of energy that reaches beyond the obvious, there’s a glimmering moment where one can grab at those stereotyped assumptions and flip the narrative. There lies my constant, my aim, my point, my personal power, my solar-plexus-chakra-ace-up-the-sleeve approach to self-management in public life.
We all do it.
Unless we intentionally want to be below radar (which I’ve done to the best of my ability before), we all try to be seen in ways we prefer to be seen. I do that with clothing, makeup, shoes, and styling. That’s just my way. It’s not for everyone, but it is what makes me feel great, it is what empowers me to [literally] keep pushing, and I believe it is what launches me over the barriers in life that try to block me. So, this short story about something seemingly small and petty to the world at large, for me, is a significant part of my personal narrative and optics.
I can’t speak for anyone else, but I tend to have a habit of changing my look to keep up with what is evolving from within. When I feel like I need to simply maintain my equilibrium, breathe through any anxiety, or live below radar, my look is more subdued. When I feel empowered, I naturally move into a bold asymmetrical look that fits who I really am. Living subdued is not my milieu. Unfortunately, that’s where I chose to exist for a number of years. Now I have begun to feel myself opening back up to life’s possibilities, fit back into my own skin again, live above radar, have new experiences, and acclimate to my new surroundings. Naturally, the time has come to make my look match the attitude and revitalized energy of who I really am inside.
Shortest version? I have gone back to a short pixie hairstyle in platinum blonde.
Short version? At this pivotal point of new-city-new-chapter crossroads in life, I met with a brief hair disaster.
Long version? The stylist cut waaaaaayyyy too much off from my Covid19 grow-out, and I left the salon feeling both excited that I actually do have cheekbones and full lips, and that I don’t look as old and haggard as I thought did — while simultaneously being shocked at how pixie my pixie-cut turned out to be. Short hair suits me and hair grows back, so I’m breathing through that part.
The coloring from sultry copper-red to femme fatale ice-blonde? Well. That’s currently a patchy ice-blond/brass/strawberry-blonde concoction that is freaking me out to no end. It is a problem that I’m carefully, delicately solving so that my super-pixie cut doesn’t fry me to flat-out baldness or cotton ball frizz.
While it is now repaired, at the expense of the true health of my hair, there are no regrets for making the moves towards my outer self reflecting my inner self. Panic and all. Thankfully, living right now is kind of extraordinary with its “anything goes” approach to fashion and style. So I figured if everyone else can choose their style and color (from the shocking to the neonate) and walk with pride in leisurewear, skin-toned full-body leotard onesies with confidence, or pajama bottoms — then I can certainly psyche myself up for 48-hours to fake-it-like-I-made-it my hairstyle on purpose, too.
The real problem and reason behind telling this story is this: This ain’t my first rodeo. This isn’t the first time a cool new chapter in life has been gifted to me, and I have simultaneously scorched my noggin for the occasion. Take my 50th birthday, for instance. You know. The big milestone birthday that we Spina Bifida folks are super happy to achieve…that one.
I decided, literally right before The Big 5-0, that I should let my hair get healthy from all the over-processing platinum blonde coloring can hazard over the years. I had let the roots grow and recover, and I went to a salon and asked the girl to color it to what it would naturally grow in to be, thinking I would later add highlights for a more natural look. I went into the salon ice-blonde with long dark roots. I could see for myself my natural ash blonde coming in behind the dark roots. That is what I thought the outcome would be…ash blonde. Instead, when I was spun around to see the final product in the giant mirror, I was a bonafide brunette.
Nothing is wrong with brunettes; some of my best friends are smoldering brunettes. But I’m a sultry redhead or fatalistic platinum blonde. Typical for me, I thanked the colorist, paid the colorist a lot of money, transferred into my car, cracked a nail in the process, cussed a lot (I mean…a lot), and cried all the way home making sure I avoided a Dunkin’ Donuts scenario along the way:
DD: Welcome to Dunkin’ Donuts, may I take your order?
Me (Sobbing): Yes, I need a half dozen jelly-filled glazed donuts. STAT!!
DD: Yes, ma’am. Is there anything else for your order?
Me (Sobbing and Screeching): Take my money! Gimme the damn donuts!! [Tires squeal away]
It didn’t get better when I rolled through the door and my ever-supportive mustering every effort not to throw fuel on the catastrophic fire that was my head, my husband’s first words through a grim smile were, “Oh! Wow! Hey….its…”
I went into damage control mode that led to more damage. I decided to add my own highlights. Which turned orange. And weren’t “highlighty” as much as they were “swatchy.” I figured I could ride out the storm unseen and give my hair a rest before really resetting the game board and re-emerging into public view.
However unbeknownst to me, my dear brother (whom I love dearly) threw me a surprise 50th birthday party where he brought in immediate family and relatives from over 14-hours away. Folks I hadn’t seen for more than a year, including my Dad and a favorite older cousin traveled to celebrate my 50th birthday. They brought the food, the cake, and the decor from up North. Yep. On my milestone birthday, I debuted to family and friends I hadn’t seen in over a year with shoulder length orange hair, which I pulled back in a pony to lessen the “Bozo The Clown” shockwave I’m sure rippled through their dear unsuspecting souls. Everyone was kosher and though there were some curious glances, no one outrightly asked what the hell happened to you (and we don’t mean the wheelchair bit…we’re really aware of that part already). Still, it isn’t how I thought I’d ring in my Fabulous 50’s in the looks department.
The actual birthday party itself was an amazing gift and surprise and it felt incredible to be celebrated by family and friends – it was surreal, actually. We had a fabulous time making memories that far outstripped my hair disaster.
(The pictures are buried).
The very next day the world went into Covid19 quarantine lockdown — no joke! For the rest of their out-of-town stay, we couldn’t get together and go shopping or meet up. For the next year and a half I grew out my hair, returned to the sultry copper-red I was throughout college. As life began to open back up post-pandemic, I moved to a new city with my little family, celebrated the new milestone with a makeover, and >>>BAM<<< wound up back at square one.
Which is where I am right now, even as I write.
It’s okay. I’m working through it. I’m actually not wearing baseball hats thanks to the anything goes culture here….but I am wearing very bold lipstick, stunning earrings, high heels, fun clothes, and smokey eyes — anything to detract from the coiffure on my head.
I’d like to say there’s a moral. I’d like to say that I didn’t lose my cool at the realization that “I’ve been in this position before,” and I’d like to say that I didn’t dwell too much on the fact that this was sad, familiar territory, but I can’t. There were tears. There was deep frustration that yet again, I was celebrating something great, not at my best. The emotions were equivalent to running to the grocery store looking like a heap of laundry and meeting up with ALL the people from high school you ever wanted to impress…it just isn’t how you pictured yourself looking at those impromptu reunions…
Ironically, I have not asked the life-changing question, “what’s the lesson, what is the take-away?” You think I would since I am normally overly self-analytical and tend to stay in that phase for too long.
But I didn’t this time. And there’s the true gift.
For the first time in my entire life I just surveyed the fashion carnage and said, “Meh.”
To me, that is a fabulous testament to how much positive change — the kind that matters — has occurred in my life since moving to D.C. And you know what? It feels amazing! It ultimately plays as personal progress, and that is exactly how I claim it.
I mentioned hairstyles and clothing choices I am seeing around the city that I could never pull off or would never choose. I mention them not to be judgmental or insulting, but to recognize that what works for others does not work for me, and that is okay….because it works for them. I am completely impressed by the “If you don’t like it you can lump it” air of confidence and the This Is Me attitude that women today are embracing. No one around here seems to care one way or another what anyone else is doing; it is part of the draw for me. People seem to let people be who they are. This is new to me, it’s refreshing, it’s fantastically obscure, while being brazenly obvious.
So maybe a hair disaster is just another step towards releasing expectations that do not work for me anymore. Maybe the lesson and take away is that I really shouldn’t care what others think about me, how I dress, what I believe, how I vote, what I reject, what I embrace, or where I see myself going. Harm It None and Be Done.