Saturday, May 27, 2023 May 27, 2023
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That Time My Hair Went to Therapy

My natural waves weren’t bad; they were just misunderstood. Kind of like Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting.
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Illustration by Matthieu Forichon

The appointment started like any other. I sat in the salon chair and gave my new stylist an overview of my hair. Underneath, I had Shirley Temple ringlets. But left to its own devices, I explained, the top layer looked like a broom smashed against a brick wall. I did my best to blow-dry and flat-iron it, but in the humidity—nearly every day in Dallas—my hair shafts buckled like damp paper.

Beau Bollinger, a handsome young hairdresser with two sleeves of geometric tattoos, rolled his stool over and sat down to face me. “So—with what I’m hearing, it sounds like you probably have a long history of not loving your hair,” he said with a deliberateness I’ve only experienced in marriage counseling. “Maybe instead of fighting your hair, we can find a way to work with it.”

Two decades of hair styling flashed between me and the mirror. I spent 25 minutes every morning blow-drying and ironing, and sometimes wanding after blow-drying and ironing—all of this without a second thought, a robot programmed by Pantene swishes and sex-tape-era Paris Hilton. These days, I couldn’t even run my fingers through it; my ragged ends were hugging one another for fear of the guillotine that was my Chi.

“Working with my hair” meant rethinking decades of doing. Instead of shampoo and conditioner, Bollinger massaged my scalp with just one product: an essential oil-based non-detergent called New Wash by Hairstory, a line created by Bumble and Bumble founder Michael Gordon. And rather than brandishing an armament of hair tools, he simply applied a balm, lightly twisted sections to “encourage” the curls (no scrunching), then partially dried them with a diffuser (totally optional).

Bollinger challenged me to try wearing it curly for a week. I’m going on five months. Straight hair was surprisingly easy to give up. Getting ready is a cinch, and every day my layers feel less and less like a material used by Amish craftspeople.

Plus, after going natural, I started noticing it everywhere. Lily James in Baby Driver, Gucci’s fall ad campaign, street-style snapshots from fashion weeks, and then, in December, Beyoncé posted pics of what the internet labeled “mom hair”—a wavy, shoulder-length cut with a halo of untouched texture. That squashed any doubts I had about walking into the office with air-dried waves. Nothing is more validating than Queen Bey.

Recently, I went to visit Bollinger in his freshly opened Hairstory salon, a minimalist sanctuary with stacks of indie magazines. I asked him if my breakthrough was typical among his clients. “What’s common is clients doing the same thing over and over for a decade, and they’re never happy so they keep seeking out a new hairdresser,” he says. “But I didn’t do anything special with your haircut. More so, I gave you a different perception of what your hair could be. Natural, textured hair has some frizz and some unruliness to it, and that’s kind of what gives it its personality.”

The other day a friend complimented my curls, and I had to restrain myself from tossing my head and casually saying, “I just woke up like this.” But then she confessed her own feelings of over-processed inadequacy. I told her, “You should see my shrink.”

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