I’ll start this off by saying I have always dreaded taking care of my hair. I vaguely remember being a tween and shyly creeping up to my mom’s bedroom to ask her to brush the knots out of my thick locks, and her disappointedly agreeing because she knew that if I made an attempt I would somehow make it worse. I even tricked my dad into buying a Hannah Montana wig, because well, her hair seemed “better” than mine. (Safe to say that style didn’t end up working out.) I also often chopped my own hair when it got too long and hid behind messy pony-tails and knit beanies from Limited Too.
Years later, I made the choice to wear the hijab, and you can probably take a guess that my hair-care regimen didn’t exactly improve when I began covering. Although wearing the hijab was a spiritual and religious act that I wanted to take part in, I quickly started to hide behind it. I began to focus on primping the parts of me that people still saw, pushing “self-care” to the back burner, never considering the fact that some things that may appear “vain” can have important mental health and wellbeing benefits. (They didn’t exactly teach that in school.)
Growing up, I often watched my mom as she’d spend her weekends touching up her roots or carefully massaging almond oil into her scalp, thinking it was mostly pointless for her to do so. Her hair remained covered throughout the day — who was she doing this for? As an adult, I’ve come to realize that this time she devoted to her hair was the small slice of her week she took for herself. It was her time, and we all knew not to bother her. That’s not something women get very often.
Once I started wearing my hijab, I found myself focusing more on the way I dressed and the way I came off to others. I saw my style mainly as a means of presenting myself and my identity to the world around me; and everything unseen — whether it was my hair or my own internal well-being, I mostly ignored. This went on for years, and it wasn’t until recently, while socially isolating, that I realized this old habit of mine stretches deeper than the surface level of just my hair. I was so intently focused on the parts of me others saw that I was blithely unaware of what was, quite literally, on top of my own head.
Spending time at home in quarantine for the past two months and wearing my hijab less frequently (contrary to humorous belief, I do not wear it at home), I’ve been forced to pay more attention to my hair than I’m used to. I’ve found myself staring at the mirror thinking, ‘Well, what do I think of me?’ without concern for the judgement of others peering in. It became almost as if my reflection was a friend who was going through an existential crisis and needed my support.
Now, this isn’t to say I gave myself a makeover or started a lengthy blow-out routine every morning. But I’ve begun to incorporate a regular hair mask and have made a conscious decision to let my hair grow out longer than my usual bob length. I’m no longer fixated on curating the image of myself I show to others each day; rather, I’m learning to appreciate that there are real benefits to taking care of myself, under it all.
As we continue to social distance and stay at home in the face of a pandemic, many of us who are privileged with health, safety and the ability to work remotely, have also been able to take stock of the hectic slog of our daily lives — and perhaps reconsider the things we normally do (or don’t do) without questioning. For me, along with the stress and anxiety and fear that seems inevitable right now, there’s an element of healing that’s come from putting time into beauty rituals for my own sake, rather than for anyone else’s appreciation. It’s a tiny silver lining, but for the time being, any silver lining is a good one.