"I Don't Like It When You Wear Your Hair Like That"

Getting ready for a shift at the ice cream stand I used to work at, my current girlfriend (who we will call Jane) sat on my bed as I changed and got ready for work. Positioned in front of the mirror, I threw my hair up into a high ponytail, took one look at my hair, and decided that it would suffice, until Jane said, “You should wear your hair in a low ponytail, it just...suits you better than that.”

After that instance, I never found myself wearing my hair up in a ponytail anymore. Instead of just throwing my hair up and moving on, I would try style after style before I felt okay enough to walk away from the mirror. Twenty minutes would be spent putting my hair in buns and braids just to eventually take them out again. Truthfully, I don’t even remember when Jane made this comment, but it has been over a year since it happened and I still go through this seemingly senseless process every day.

Though Jane never meant me any harm, the “harmless” comment that she made is still something that unconsciously plays over and over in my head. In all honestly, it was pretty innocuous. All she really said was that she likes my hair styled differently, so why am I still so hyper focused on it?

Anthony Rodriguez, a sophomore writing, literature and publishing major, expresses a similar feeling with an ex, but in a somewhat backwards circumstance. “When [we] met, he was like ‘I don’t date guys who don’t have beards,’ which was weird for me because I always shaved...so I grew out a beard, but whenever I shaved he would get mad.” Even though it isn’t a direct comment about our appearance, sometimes even these insinuated messages can affect us in different ways.

Although significant others seem to be a common source of this feeling, it is likely that if my mother or father made the same comment, it would have affected me much the same way. Olivia Luisi, a sophomore visual media arts major, has felt similarly, but in a different relationship dynamic. “So my sister’s having a Sweet 16, and I’m supposed to go out and buy a dress,” she begins. “I try on a few dresses, I snap a picture for my mom, and she’s like, ‘Oh, that doesn’t fit you well.’” Reflecting on what her mother said to her, Luisi was left wondering why her mother would make such an unnecessarily rude comment like that.

Jan Price, a relationship psychotherapist with Greenbridge Counseling and Wellness, has seen Luisi’s exact issue with some of her clients. “Mom is sort of acting out her own insecurities around it,” says Price, regarding a similar situation. “Mom herself struggles with eating issues and self image—so basically that’s getting masked and mirrored on top of the daughter. Which is damaging…you may recognize that [hurting you] was not her intention, but these are still abusive [types of] messages.”

We have a tendency to want the approval and acceptance from our family and significant others since they typically offer this sense of comfortability. “The people in our lives, like family or significant others, always feel like the safest places in the world,” Price explains. “When we come home, we’re thinking that these are the people that know us best, and we’re going to take their opinions more seriously.” When people we deeply care about make comments like these, we automatically assume they know the best decision for us. “Even those subtle messages,” Price specified, “if there even seems to be underlying messages, it sort of creates this ‘Why am I not good enough for you the way that I am?’ mentality.”

Over the summer, a few of my friends and I decided to visit a flower field in the middle of August. It was beautiful, but it was probably one of the hottest days Massachusetts had seen in a while. I kept my hair down until I decided to tie it up as we were leaving and one of my friends said, “You look so nice with your hair up like that...I feel like you never wear it up!” It made me realize just how much the opinions of our loved ones vary. Although their opinions may seem like small wounds, they are in fact mini traumas that do need to be cared for in the journey of self love and acceptance.

Photography by Emily King and Caitlyn Ong