It all started with four simple words from the soft-spoken young cashier at the grocery store as she rang through the eclectic assortment of foodstuffs I’d chosen to carry my husband and I through a quiet New Year’s Eve at home.
“I like your hair,” she said shyly.
Like many (dare I say most?) women, I have a rather dissatisfied, grass-is-always-greener-on-the-other-side approach to my relationship with my hair. It’s a mousy shade of light brown; I wish it was dark. It’s fine and thin; I wish it was lustrous and thick. It’s naturally curly, tending toward frizz; I wish it was straight or, at the very least, sleekly defined curls. It looks better short; I wish I could wear it long.
Oh, a few of these things I can change, of course… and sometimes I do. Achieving the perfect shade of colour is a fairly easy (albeit somewhat high-maintenance) task. Occasionally I will brave my stylist’s disapproval and grow out my hair – though I always breathe a sigh of relief when I come to my senses and have it cut short again. In a rare “perfect storm” of mild temperatures, no rain, and low humidity, a good blow-dry followed by the use of a salon-quality straightener can do wonders to temporarily tame my tresses. And there are thousands of products which, when used properly, can move one a little bit closer to body, fullness, and sleek curl definition.
But for the most part, when it comes to my hair, it seems that I spend a whole lot of time wishing.
So the cashier’s quiet words, so far removed from my own feelings about my hair, stopped me in my tracks. I smiled with some embarrassment, said an automatic thank you, and exchanged a few comments about curls, and haircuts, and wishing we had something we didn’t… then I quickly packed my groceries and headed to the car.
But it was too late.
My day had been made, and I basked in the glow of that unexpected, sweet, sincerely-offered compliment for hours afterward.
Later, I checked out the topic for the last day of the December photo a day challenge in which I’d been participating, and was dismayed to find that it was “self-portrait.” The horror! As you might imagine, my feelings about my appearance are very much along the same lines as those toward my hair, so the idea of posting a photo of myself for all the world – not just those closest to me – to see? Terrifying. I was in the midst of frantically trying to figure out how I could capture something abstract, non-identifiable, and safe that could still be classified as a “selfie” when the cashier’s soft words came to my mind.
“I like your hair.”
I don’t much like my hair… but so what? She did. I don’t think of myself as pretty… but so what? My husband does. I dislike the size and shape of my nose… but so what? They say my eyes and smile are nice. And in the end, does it really matter? It’s quite obvious that externals are subjective – but who I am, how I live my life, the way I choose to treat others… that’s what really matters.
I have always known this. But this time I felt it.
So why focus on things I can’t substantively change, and that may actually, from some views, be pluses rather than minuses? Why invest so much emotional energy on loathing rather than loving, rejection over acceptance, criticism instead of praise? Why spend a lifetime wishing and not appreciating?
I can’t say it was easy – in fact, it was particularly difficult! – but in defiance to my instincts I tentatively picked up my iPhone, pushed aside my discomfort, and bravely snapped a few photos of… myself.
And then I posted one.
And no one laughed, or mocked, or told me I had no business splashing my unattractive self all over the internet. But you know what? I’m not sure it would have mattered if they had… just as the handful of compliments I received from those who know me were, while much appreciated, far less important than the awareness that tiny seeds of self-acceptance had been planted by a total stranger and seemed to be taking root in my heart and mind.
So here’s to a new outlook! Let’s each go forward and learn to treat ourselves with the sort of kindness and acceptance that we offer to those we love… and then let’s take a step further and do whatever we can to enable others to do the same.
Have you ever learned something important from a stranger’s words?
(Updated from original post in January, 2013.)