I grew up watching Disney movies, dreaming that one day I could be the heroine of the story or wed a handsome prince. I yearned to live out an epic romance, where I would be swept off my feet by a loving man. I wanted a guy to see me and think, “Wow! That’s the type of woman I’ve been searching for my entire life.” And I thought I knew just the way to achieve that.
I have naturally curly hair—the kind of curls that go “boing” when you pull them. Ever since I can remember, I’ve been flooded with compliments from people who were jealous of my spiral, blonde locks. But for just as long, I’ve despised my hair. I was different from the other kids, and always found myself wanting smooth and sleek hair. I spent the majority of my life angry at genetics, wondering why I had to be born with this curly mess of a head.
I thought of curly hair as something that should be reserved for little girls, like Shirley Temple, Little Orphan Annie, or Curly Sue. To me, a little girl was someone who couldn’t protect herself—a victim. As a little girl, I had no control over the sexual abuse I experienced. It was terrifying to know that I never had a choice in what was done to me. I was powerless to stop my abuser, because I was a defenseless little girl.
I didn’t want to be that little girl anymore. I thought that if I could shed that image, I would have the control I craved. I wanted to become a woman—in control of my life and my sexuality. I saw beautiful woman with their perfect Victoria’s Secret-esque blowouts and wanted what they had. With their smooth hair and every lock in its place, they seemed like women who had it all.
By the time I was in junior high, I began experimenting with different straightening methods. My efforts only resulted in having a slightly less curly ball of frizz—not the look I was going for. Until my senior year of high school, I was still attempting to tame the curls I was born with, but with no luck. My battle with nature always left me defeated and frizzy. I finally retreated with my tail between my legs. I wasn’t happy to have curly hair, but I decided I would no longer make attempts to fight it on a monthly basis.
When I was twenty-one, I finally happened upon a blow dryer that made all of my hair dreams come true. Sure, it took me an hour, but I could get silky-smooth hair with a simple blow out. I’ve been concealing my curly hair ever since.
Everything seemed to change for me after that. For the first time in my life I felt sexy. I would walk into a room with the song, “Man-Eater” playing in my head. I no longer saw myself as a cute girl, but as beautiful woman, the object of desire, someone in control.
I’ve been taking a look at my dating life with a magnifying glass lately—or rather, my lack of a dating life. The type of men who approached me were the charmers, the players—guys who were just looking for a one night stand. I could see right through them, but I couldn’t understand why I kept attracting that type of guy.
My hair dreams came true, but my romantic dreams didn’t. Then, I had an aha moment. For five years, I’ve had the bombshell hair I once coveted, but what I failed to realize was that those girls were lusted after, not pined after. Straightening my hair was a method of concealing my former self and hiding the vulnerable little girl inside. I thought that if I could look different, I could be someone else. But the someone else I became was neither good, nor fitting. The illusion of control didn’t actually give me control. I wasn’t any less vulnerable just because I changed my appearance.
The person I really am is a fun, quirky girl who is wholesome. The image I was trying to put on contradicted that. I was attracting men based on my false identity. I was walking around with the image of a femme fatale because I pictured that as someone who was in control, and that’s what guys were picking up on. My hair changed my perception of myself, but it also changed others perceptions of me. Until I changed the image I had of myself, all I would get was men attracted to me for the wrong reasons. There was nothing wrong with a beautifully blown-out hairdo. There was something wrong with the false identity I put on.
I didn’t want a casual affair; I wanted a romance. I began seeing myself for the woman I had become, despite what my hair looked like. I’m no longer a little girl. I’m strong and outspoken. I came to my own defense when I reported my father for sexually abusing me. I stood up to my family. I protected myself. Those actions require a confident, independent woman–which I had become. As I changed my perception of myself, my perception of curly hair began to change. I no longer saw it as the mark of a victim. Curly hair doesn’t mean I’m out of control. Regardless of what my hair looks like, I’m not defenseless. I’m empowered to do something about my life.
I finally gave up trying to be something I’m not and embraced my curls. I own my curly hair. Instead of feeling like a victim of genetics, I feel like the heroine of a Jane Austen novel, written just for me. I now see my curly hair as romantic, something that adds to my beauty. For the first time in a long time, I feel like myself. I’m comfortable in my skin (and in my hair). I have hair that matches my spunky personality. Instead of seeing myself as different like it’s a bad thing, I see myself as set apart. Others are seeing me that way too. Since changing my perception of myself, I’ve changed the men I’ve been attracting. Now that I’m presenting my real self, I’m ready for a real relationship.
Bethany, along with her mother, Christina Enevoldsen, is the cofounder of Overcoming Sexual Abuse, an online resource for male and female abuse survivors looking for practical answers and tools for healing. Besides helping abuse survivors see the beauty within themselves, she enhances the beauty of others as a professional make-up artist and has worked in television, film and print. She lives in Los Angeles.
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