Dear Teen Me,
I know what you're going to think. I know it word for word.
Why am I ruining the one thing that makes me beautiful?
You will repeat this thought inwardly and outwardly to your mother on the way to the hair salon. She will give you the occasional glance, but she won't say anything about turning around. You've made your decision with that hard-nosed attitude of yours that tells the world 'this is final'. I know it all too well. Even though you and I have grown to be different over the passing years, we remain the same in our thoughts and memories, and I will forever look at you with admiration for these tense moments to come where you will questions yourself so deeply.
As a child, you carelessly whipped people in the face with your long braid in the lunch line. Thick, wavy locks of deep brown. A wild mess, a rat's nest on the worst days, a flowing river of brown that trailed all the way down your back. Grown into a teenager, nothing has changed about it. The river tangles and catches on every single thing imaginable, but it is worth it when passersby flash you their adoring smiles. "Your hair is so beautiful," they say to you, "I wish I had hair like that!"
You love the way people weave their fingers through your locks, play with it and tease it in this way and that. The tangles are worth it, as long as you have that attention. It is, perhaps, the only thing that continues to wake you up in the morning. The feeling is all too real to me now, as I tangle some of my hair between my own fingers. Your courage to come mystifies me even now.
The shaking will rattle your bones. You will feel as if you want to vomit while sitting on that uncomfortable wooden bench in the lobby of the small salon. The women will spare glances your way every now and then, but your hair will be tied behind your back with the thickest scrunchie you have. You, my dear girl, are just another face to them without your hair showing, an observation you will have experimented with over the last few grueling months. And then you will hear your name, and the woman that will take away your beauty actually pronounces it correctly.
And you will do the only thing that seems appropriate in that moment – you will laugh your loud laugh and stand up, hike your jeans up over your hips, brush loose hairs from your t-shirt. Your best smile will be offered to the woman, and she will return it, as though she senses your apprehension. And do not be critical of what I say – you may take my words with chin high, but you will be shivering and wanting to run the entire time, no matter how nice her face is.
In your hand you will clutch a magazine, picked up from the small table in the lobby. As you take a seat in the barber's chair and toss your long ponytail over the back of it, the woman audibly gasps. Knowing what's coming, you smile reluctantly to yourself in the mirror. It will be the last time you hear the adoring words. Savor them, but you need to follow through with your decision. Now or never.
The woman with the soft face is going to ask you how you want your hair – a trim of the ends? Layering? Bangs? Brazenly, nervously, the magazine will be offered up, and silly little you will point to the shortest hairstyle you could find. She is going to ask you again, and you will say the most powerful words of your whole life. Chop it off. You won't be all that satisfied to see her jaw drop a bit, but later you will look back on it just as I do and you will only smile.
To this day, I regret nothing of this experience we will soon share. Trust my words, teen me, that you will not regret it either. As your hands fiddle with your bare neck, as you swing the bag that holds your ponytail bound by your thickest scrunchie, you will make a very bold realization. So bold, yet it only needs description in one word.
This word is a common thing on my tongue now, a word I no longer disqualify in my vocabulary.
It is this change that will be the driving force behind your mental recovery. You are suffering right now. You feel your confidence in the world fading each day, your confidence in yourself now dwindled down to all but nothing. But on this day I write to you about, you will understand me when I tell you that there is certainly a light at the end of the tunnel.
No, I do not get compliments on my hair anymore. The locks barely reach down to my shoulders now in messy and natural curls, in need of a trimming. But, teen me, you will not need those compliments to feel beautiful. You don't need invading fingers in your hair to tell you that you deserve to walk this earth. I'm so proud that you will have the courage to take the steps to realize you're fine just the way you are.
That day, you will have the courage to tell that world that your appearance and the acceptance of onlookers do not define you! Your beauty is not feminine, but it is one that no other can copy. For the first time in months you will go home and look into the mirror and you will not feel like you don't belong in your skin. And most importantly, you will begin to finally know yourself, and to change yourself. Because change is what matters and change is not bad. It is a fact of life, a recurring story, and you will grow used to it and accept it with a friendly regard.
One day, many years later, you will be cleaning out your studio apartment, younger sister in tow. In a cabinet you will find a Christmas tin, and your clumsy hands will tip it over. Across the floor a bag will fall, splaying a brown river across the floor. Your sister will holler in disgust and you will laugh at her. Yeah, that used to be attached to your head. So what.
But a few hours later you will sit down at your laptop in a university café and you will write a letter to yourself, about a few feet of hair and how chopping it off changed you. And how that few feet of hair being stripped away from your head helped you recover from one of the worst incidences of your life. A secret between you and me.
If you ever doubt yourself in the future, teen me, then take up a pair of scissors and look in the mirror. And don't forget to smile, because you're beautiful, girl.