“What are we doing with your hair this time?”
My hair stylist and I look at each other in the mirror we’re both facing: me in a black cape wondering if that’s really me in the chair, and her standing behind me, examining my hair.
The ends are dried out and the blend between new growth and the pieces she colored a few months ago glare back at me like a challenge. I sigh. I’ve been trying to blend my bright white beacons of aging with my naturally jet-black hair so that it can grow in without such a strong line of demarcation. I’ve been trying to let it all go, like Elsa, for a little over a year now. It’s been a journey and while it’s “just hair,” it’s also everything.
I’ve always wrestled with my hair. I was born prematurely with a full head of it. Black as night, and thick and heavy like a winter blanket, I’ve never been able to forget it’s part of me.
My mom said she prayed that no matter how I turned out, the daughter of a Korean immigrant and a green-eyed, brown-haired Californian, that God would give me her hair. And it was so.
My wrestling went much deeper than changing hair trends and experiments with cuts and colors. At times, I hated how dark it was. I hated when other stylists called it “ethnic” like it was diseased and charged me extra because of how thick and ample it was, and how unyielding it was to their efforts. My hair broke countless hair-ties, wouldn’t fit in most barrettes and clips, and protested by giving me headaches on the rare occasion I found a hair-tie strong enough to keep it in a pony tail. No matter how much my hair shed (and it did, wherever I went like a trail of crumbs), there was always more. It’s broken vacuums that claimed to be unbreakable. In junior high, a kid who sat behind me staring at the back of my head once announced to the class, “ Tasha’s hair is so thick I could floss my teeth with it!!” And it’s true, I’ve compared one of my strands with floss and though I haven’t tried it, they are a similar width and strength.
My hair was the visible part of me that made me stand out and tied me to my ethnicity – the part of me that I spent so many years resisting. As a teenager and young adult, I prayed against that prayer of my mom while spraying Sun-In until the bottle ran out. I’ve ironed it down, I’ve cursed it in the mirror, I’ve dyed it and tried new styles in hopes to tame it into something less strong, stubborn, and “ethnic.”
But God gave me my Korean hair, and after my decades-long struggle, receiving it now feels too late. As it goes away and becomes more and more gray with age, I grieve the years I lost resisting it, and surprisingly, I find gratitude woven alongside these waves of grief. I apologized to my hair and the Maker of my hair more than once in the mirror.
There’s a sisterhood of gratitude and grief, of death and resurrection. I find both in the strands of my midlife hair. I look at a section of still-jet-black mixed with lightened pieces and bright, almost-translucent-white strands and feel an ache for what was and a thanks for who I am becoming with age, change, and redemption.
It’s okay to feel a stretch and pull over who we are, deep into our ethnic and family details. It’s okay to feel more than one thing about aging. We are never too old or too late to feel these things, and every wrestling is an opportunity to draw near to Jesus and surrender to His love. May we never arrive when it comes to this.
I stare at myself in the salon mirror while wishing I still had the original version of the hair my mom prayed for. I tell my stylist, “Let’s keep these long white strands, blend it a bit, and trim the ends, and then maybe next time we can just let it go for good.”
She’s Asian American too, so I feel comfortable telling her how much I miss my dark Asian hair. She brushes it gently and as she does, I sense God saying, “You still have the Asian hair I gave you. Being Asian and being you isn’t just one thing.”
We live in a dance of yesterday and today, of grief and gratitude. We do not have to pick one. Both are good; today, in the salon chair, I receive it.