For Myself

In high school I had a friend named Erin. She was smart, athletic, talented, beautiful, and never seemed to have the same teenage insecurities I felt I had. I admired her and wanted to be like her.

She had very curly red hair that always looked great. One day she came to school with it cut very short and I told her how much I loved it and added, “I wish I could cut my hair short.”

“You can,” she said.

“Yeah, but guys [I might have said, “my boyfriend”] like long hair.”

“I don’t do my hair or wear clothes for other people. I do it to make myself feel good.”

I wish I could say that my mind was blown and suddenly a world of opportunity opened up to me. But no. I spent the day trying to figure out what she was talking about. “I do it for myself” didn’t make sense to me. The thought was so foreign I tried to work it out in my head, but all I was getting was “Did. Not. Compute.” I decided to laugh it off and inwardly think she simply hadn’t grasped the concept yet.

I mean, seriously. Why do your hair for yourself? It’s not like you’re looking at a mirror all day and are even going to see it! Who cares if you like your hair? And how can hair even make you feel good unless people around you are telling you how great it is?

Somewhere along the line I had picked up that I had to look good for other people. Actually, everywhere along the line I had picked that up. I had been made fun of at school for having unshaven legs and greasy hair when I hit puberty. As a family rule, I wasn’t allowed to wear makeup until I was 16 because “why would you need makeup if you’re not trying to impress a guy?” And of course, I needed to cover my body in lots of clothes because everyone seeing your cellulite and stretch marks? Disgusting. Fashion magazines, church classes, cat calls on the street. They all told me that my appearance was for other people.

It took me years to find the wisdom in Erin’s words. And when I find another person as self-actualized, I always wonder, how? How is it that Erin managed to become a teenager and not feel like she had to dress for other people? What’s the secret? Is it innate: are there people out there who just have that kind of self-confidence? Is it taught and people like Erin are the products of great families and childhood experiences?

I try to remember to ask myself if I’m looking to impress others or feel good about myself. And it doesn’t need to be mutually exclusive- Erin impresses me because she feels good about herself.


TopHat is putting her roots down in the Bay Area with her husband and three children. She loves the earth, yarn, and bicycling.

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13 Responses

  1. Caroline says:

    Love these reflections, TopHat. I too have had (probably still do have) a hard time disconnecting looking a certain way because I like it and because other people think it looks good. In fact, the two are so interwined in my mind. Maybe I like a certain hair style or dress because others think it looks good? I’d like to think that I dress and look the way I do because it makes me happy, it’s comfortable, etc. but I suspect others’ opinions are still tied up in it all for me.

    Good for your friend Erin!

  2. Diane says:

    The year was 1976 and Dorothy Hamil was the sweetheart of the Winter Olympics. I was 11 years old and had long dark brown wavy hair, but, I saw Dorothy and wanted to be her, or at least have her cute hair. I begged and begged my foster parents to let me have my hair cut. They said if I still wanted it cut short in the spring(My birthday is May 11) that I could have it done. I waited and waited for the anticipated day.

    I was in the hairstylist chair, she washed and conditioned my hair and asked me what I wanted done. I showed her a picture of Dorothy. She asked my foster mother if it was okay. She shook her head in agreement. The woman turned my chair around and began cutting my hair. Every few inches she would ask” Are you sure you want to go this short?” I said ever so confidently.”Yes,” then she got to my shoulders and asked again,’ Are you sure you want to go this short?”I gave her an enthusiastic thumbs up. The woman did all the final prep work, snip, snip, snip. Then she asked,” Are you ready to see your new hair?” I shook my head in agreement.
    She twirled my chair back around to face the mirror. I bawled. I was so shell shocked. It took a few days to ‘grow” on me. but, I eventually got very used to it, and I have never ever let my hair grow that long again.

    And as I write this, I remember the remarks of one of my classmates to this day. A one student named Stacey Scheuren, Her father was the school science teacher. She gave me what she thought was a most sincere compliment, but it wasn’t “As least you do something with yourself, unlike Shannon” Shannon was almost as unpopular as I because we were both poor.

    I have never gone what other people have said, or even have held the same belief systems. I have learned that even the popular people have insecurities that they aren’t willing to show. I know that sounds cliche but as I’m know and adult I can step back and see for who they really are. These so called popular people who have it all together, really aren’t. Stacey was later implicated but cleared in a murder, another popular student was arrested for drug possession. here I was the poor kids from the wrong side of the tracks never arrested.

  3. Now if I could just teach my children this. Took me til I was 25 or so before I believed it in myself, and i really don’t want them to have to go through that.

  4. spunky says:

    This is perfect, TopHat. Its funny, I am so exhuatsed and busy right now, that I usually just have my hair in a ponytail. I don’t hate it, but it doesn’t always suit me, and I mostly do it so I don’t have to think about my hair. I’ve often wondered about shaving all my hair off, but am too cowardly to do it. There must be liberation in having one’s hair (or not) the way we want it to be. I am not sure I understand where that is for me, yet. Thanks for helping me think about it.

    • TopHat says:

      I’ve never shaved mine off, but I would love to see what a buzz would be like. Take a number 2 to it or something. But I don’t know if I’m that brave yet. On the plus side, it really does grow back quickly when it’s short.

    • Amelia says:

      A #2 is awesome. 🙂 Of course, I had pretty short hair before I went full-on buzz. I like my hair longer, as it is now. With curls. (though they frustrate the hell out of me cause they’re a little temperamental about looking good) But I do sometimes miss my short short hair. And even my buzz.

      I mostly handle my hair and make up and clothes in terms of what I like and feel good in. But I do sometimes do things for other people. P likes it when I wear lipstick. It’s not something I have a really strong opinion about one way or the other, except for the convenience factor. So sometimes I wear it for no reason other than I know he likes it. Sometimes I do it because I feel like it. And most often I go without.

      I also don’t do things for other people. I’m looking around for a new job right now. I could buzz my head because I feel like it and just believe that if prospective employers won’t hire me b/c of it, then they’re the ones with the problem. But that’s not the whole story. I live in a culture with certain norms and violating those norms in very visible ways can have consequences. I can still choose to violate them, and in some instances I do, in spite of consequences. But I can’t choose not to pay the consequences. There are businesses that hire people in spite of such cultural violations, while others do not. I choose not to take unnecessary risks in that regard. Even if I think whether my head is buzzed or not should have no bearing on my eligibility to fill a particular position. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this, at the end of the day. It’s just a practical acknowledgement that there are cultural boundaries and consequences to violating them and being willing to make my choices–choices made for myself–inside those boundaries unless the price of breaking them is really worth it to me.

  5. Penny says:

    The summer after I graduated from high school I cut my long hair into a very short pixie. I was so terrified what people would think (that I would look like my brother when he was 12, and to be honest I kinda did), but it was one of the most liberating things I’ve done. It was like I was a new woman! We women often hide behind our hair and when its no longer there, at least for me, you become more confident. Despite this experience I still feel like I often wear certain clothes, makeup and styles not necessarily for myself but for those around me. This is a great reminder of what I need to work on. Thanks!

    • TopHat says:

      I know that feeling- the last two times I’ve gone short felt like a weight was off my shoulders. I held my head a little higher when I walked and felt more confident. It felt exactly like I couldn’t hide anymore.

  6. cchrissyy says:

    I have has that kind of confidence as far as I can recall, as does my daughter bi don’t think it has a thing to do with how we were raised. It’s part of an independent personality type. The way I think of my looks as “for myself” is just a piece of how I just don’t care what others think in other areas, and how I am very self-driven and almost impossible to motivate by outside forces.

  7. Suzette Smith says:

    Seems that this is the challenge of our whole life – to learn to live authentically. To be, each day, ourselves – our best ourselves – and give God the glory for making us a unique, talented, beautiful individual. To hold our head up and feel “good” and feel confident with who we really are, with how we really look. To embrace it all. Not for other people, but for us, and for the God who made us.

    Great thoughts. I love people like Erin.

  8. EmilyCC says:

    When I was a teenager, my mom used to say, “No one is thinking about you as much as you think they are.” Thanks for this reminder, too.

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