By Amolika Bharti
Ever since I was young, all I could remember myself by was my black hair. It defined me, it embodied me, and it complemented me. I enjoyed looking in the mirror and seeing it, or running and feeling it flow beside my shoulder, and seeing the almost identical hair on my mother. Although my hair was essential to my identity, it also satisfied an internal superficial desire. A desire to look a certain way as I had always put much importance into physical appearance. I had been used to the way I looked for as long as I could remember, and I couldn't imagine presenting myself in any other way. There was only one thing I strived for: perfection. Overall, striving for an external idea of perfection is unhealthy to a person’s mindset and can blind one to having gratitude.
The summer before freshman year of highschool was filled with a frenzy as all my friends prepared for the “flashy life” of highschool—I did too. That summer I spent riding bikes, weaving in and out of my town, and imagining the perfect years to come. I also spent much time looking in my mirror trying to envision the better version of myself. I indulged in makeup and hair tutorials online or went on shopping sprees at the mall because I couldn't imagine perfection in any other way. My mantra at the time included: Perfection outwards equates to perfection inwards.
So one morning as I looked into my foggy bathroom mirror and began to comb my dripping wet hair, I was shocked to find strand after strand come out. This was not unusual, however more hair than I had imagined. After my hair dried, I ran my fingers through it, and to my surprise a fistful of hair adorned my hand. I ran my hand through it again, another fistfulI— a sense of panic overtook me almost immediately. I ran to my mother. My mother was just as puzzled as I: “What did you do to it?” she exclaimed. Her face changed from shocked to panicked as she ran her fingers through my hair and examined the remnants of my thick mane. I looked in the mirror. I was definitely not bald, but my hair was already visibly thinner than it had been before. I looked at myself in the mirror and the straw-like hair hanging to my shoulders. I felt like a stranger.
Visiting the doctor for my hair led to little explanation on my circumstance. Everything at the doctor’s office was monotone: the muted walls, her dull voice, and the stillness of the air. My eyes darted to the only pop of color: the children’s books which stood out in the depressing room because of course this was a pediatric office, a reminder of my childlike obsession with perfection. My doctor began to list numerous reasons for my conundrum. “It’s quite uncommon for a girl your age to be losing this much hair.” She laughed a little maybe to make the room seem less still, “There might be a dietary deficiency, hormone imbalance, or the possibility of thyroid…,” she stated clutching a clipboard and exchanged a couple of worried glances with my mother. I couldn't help but burst into tears, everything at the moment just felt like the end of the world. I had never experienced the possibility of being truly sick, I had only encountered the occasional fever or scraped knees, but I had at no time felt a true threat to my health.
I remember the painful six a.m trip to the doctor’s office so they could draw blood from my veins—the whole procedure repulsed me. I had never liked needles, but the idea that I could have a serious illness on top of that made me feel nauseous. I remember the week long process waiting for the lab results which would be concluded from my blood. It was the longest seven days I had ever experienced—each day tasted like a new level of anxiety. Eventually the lab results came, neatly wrapped in a padded envelope for me to open. I didn’t have thyroid, but the results did indicate I wasn’t getting all my nutrients, which could have contributed to the loss of my hair. An additional reason for the shedding could have been excess chlorine or the use of chemicals, which was a comment my doctor added at the end of her report. I was relieved after getting the results as I did not have a serious illness.
My hair did not magically start growing after that day of relief; however, it was a day my mindset began to start a healing process and I realized not to take my health for granted. The
summer had started out light hearted and full of innocent yet shallow aspirations but this event made me touch base with reality. As the summer changed to autumn and I began highschool, I cared less about the elaborate hairstyles and makeup looks all my friends were obsessing over. Instead of focusing on a superficial idea of perfection—which had always been a priority to me and what had been marketed to me from the media at such a young age—I embraced a more authentic idea of myself. What had seemed so important and vital to me at the beginning of the summer now just seemed like silly accessories or distractions to what was truly important. On the first day of school I wore a tight bun that tucked my hair all the way back. Although my black hair was hidden, I reassured myself there was more to me than just hair— I wasn’t just a combination of physical characteristics. I also monitored my diet for a good portion of the year to make sure I was getting all the nutrients I needed to sustain a complete diet. There comes a point in everyone’s adolescence where they have realizations about life and themselves. This was the summer I realized not to chase an image but be thankful for what I was blessed with. I was just grateful for my health and no longer sought “perfection.”