Thin is not in when it's our hair


There was a time when standard elastic bands couldn't withstand the weight of my ponytail. When hairstylists marveled over my mane as I watched, bored, in the mirror. When at-home color treatments required not one, but two L'Oreal boxes - and not because I was worth it, really worth it. Rather, my substantial strands required it.

To quote Joni Mitchell, you don't know what you got till your thick hair is gone. At least that's how I heard the song when I became one of 30 million women with thinning hair.

Appreciation for what once was overwhelmed me and acknowledgement of what now wasn't haunted me. My former crown of glory, after all, was thicker than a United Nations accent and had more body than a coroner.

And, as I discovered, it represented a good chunk of my identity.

You could say it started in the fifth grade. That's when a lice breakout hit my elementary school. Kids went home with notes to parents, instructing them not to send them back until the case was cleared. Most of my classmates needed a day off to get the job done. I needed two. When I returned to class, my teacher condemned what she saw as an unnecessary long absence.

Back then, there were two surefire ways to expedite anger in my mom. One was to question her decisions as a mother. The other was to make her brown children apologize for not being like their predominantly white classmates. Ms. McDowell managed both.

You pull your teacher aside tomorrow, my mom instructed, and explain that you don't have hair like most of your classmates. Getting rid of lice in hair like yours isn't the simple task it is with thin, fine hair.

The last thing a Mexican-American, Catholic girl in Utah wants is to be even more different from her peers. But what my mom said next made me envision one day untying a bun and shaking out long locks in slow motion. Different, as it turned out, could be a good thing.

"You tell your teacher you were blessed with thick, naturally curly hair," she said, "because it's beautiful Mexican hair."

I didn't have the guts to educate Ms. McDowell on the merits of "beautiful Mexican hair." But from there on, my hair and ethnicity were one.

Many years later, when my brush had more strands in it than my head, I started to feel like less of myself. Less Latina, less woman.

That's why, when I started to lose it, I started to lose it.

Denial arrived first, disguised in optimism: "It's just a little limp is all. If porn stars don't let that intimidate them, why should you? A good haircut will do the trick. Yeah, put that Pantene pep back in your step, girlfriend! Now who's up for a human pyramid?"

Anger knocked next: (With my hairbrush in a choke hold) "You think my hair's funny? Funny, like a clown? It amuses you? It makes you laugh? My hair's here to (expletive) amuse you?!"

Finally, acceptance: " 'Sup, Google? Tell me everything you know about women's hair loss."

That's how I wound up staring at the glow from my laptop until 3 a.m. on a Sunday.

Joni Mitchell may have experienced paved paradise, but what I was going through felt like shaved paradise. Not just thinning hair, but a woman's thinning hair. The difference is paramount.

Like the stock market, men know a recession is coming. They do that bathroom mirror ritual because a future hairstyle reminiscent of the planet Saturn is a very real possibility. But, truth be told, it's nothing a Bic razor and a little sunshine can't solve.

Women have it harder. Our femininity, vanity and - in some cases, sanity - are tangled up in our tresses. We express ourselves with it, save our money to change it and search high and low for professionals to properly handle it.

My research that Sunday night revealed that myriad sources could be to blame: hormones, genetics, stress. But two stood out: diet and the birth control pill.

I lost enough weight before my wedding for my bikini bottoms to sag from my lanky hip bones during our honeymoon. News that improper nutrition could have caused my problem provided justification to indulge.

As for the pill, it alters estrogen levels that can cause thinning. I stopped taking mine the day I read that news. I also started using Bosley Professional Strength shampoo and conditioner, designed for thinning hair.

It could've been the diet, the pill, the hair products or the praying, but with them all, my hair came back. It's not quite the same quality it was in the fifth grade, but it's almost as thick as a strawless milkshake and has about as much body as a liquorless strip club.

It's beautiful, Mexican hair, regardless, and it will never go underappreciated again.

Contact Xazmin Garza at xgarza@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0477. Follow her on Twitter @startswithanx.

 

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