An Open Letter To The Woman Who Insulted My Face

(cover photo by HMCB Photography)

To the elderly woman in the hair salon who insulted my face:

You will most likely never read this because, without profiling too much, you seem like the type of elderly person who prefers to avoid the internet if you can help it (which is totally fine. Maybe more young people should consider doing that, honestly). However, your significantly younger home nurse may come across it one day, so I feel the need to tell you that I am not mad at you, nor do I view you as a mean old lady with no filter.

I’ll admit that while I’ve had some time to rationalize my thoughts, I did originally view you that way for pretty much the entire night after the incident that I’m about to describe. I was hurt, taken off guard, and completely insecure for the remainder of the evening. I couldn’t even bring myself to go to church that night, which everyone knows I actually love dearly.

I understand that you most likely didn’t mean any direct harm by what you said. I could tell from the second I walked in and saw you getting ready to leave that you had lived a long life, filled with experiences beyond my imagination, and that you have reached a point in your life where you now need a nurse to escort you to do simple tasks such as getting your hair done and going to the store. I don’t know if this was a hard adjustment for you or if you were okay with it. I just know that I DON’T know, and therefore I can’t sit here and try to come up with reasons why you said what you said. Maybe you just like telling it like you see it, and that’s also fine.

I can’t say for sure where you are mentally. I don’t know if you suffer from any form of Alzheimers or dementia, or if your mind is clear. All I know is that you are a person who has lived longer than I could probably hope, and therefore I have nothing but respect for the person you were and are now.

When you stopped on your way out the door to stare at my face, I thought the best thing to do would be to politely say “hi” and flash a smile of respect. I wasn’t expecting you to rant about how my face looked, and how you couldn’t believe “such a pretty girl” would make herself look “like that.”

During your rant, I was shocked. However, I wasn’t actually hurt by your comments on my nose ring (ugh, the amount of times I’ve heard THAT one is insurmountable), or how you thought my eyelashes looked fake and clumpy, or how my foundation wasn’t the right shade. I’m not a makeup expert and I openly own that my makeup most likely DID look like that. Oh well.

The part that made me unable to laugh the whole experience off was when you commented on my eyebrows. You thought I didn’t look natural because I had them filled in. You said you could tell I filled them in, and that I was taking away from my natural beauty. What you didn’t understand, and couldn’t possibly have understood, is that I have suffered from trichotillomania since before I can remember.

DSC_6142(photo: HMCB Photography)

I don’t know why the researchers decided to give this condition such a ridiculous name. I usually don’t even call it by it’s name when I tell people, because when I do, I’m usually confronted with “huh??” and believe it or not, that makes me feel even more abnormal than I already do. So on the rare occasion that I do mention it, I normally just tell people that I have a nervous habit where I pull at my eyebrows until they come out, and I’ve been obsessively doing this almost my entire life.

There are types of trich where sufferers actually pull out the hair on their head, leaving giant bald patches where their hair should be. I fully understand that, in the world of trich, I am one of the lucky ones. It is much easier to fake having eyebrows than it is to fake having a full head of hair, and my heart goes out to those friends because I know first hand how hard it is to stop, even though you know that it’s ruining you. Still, though I recognize that my form of trich isn’t nearly as severe as cases like that, it’s still difficult to get through life with no brows when “eyebrows on fleek” is trending.

I don’t know why I pull out my eyebrows. My mom says that she can remember me starting right around the time my parents went through their divorce, so it may potentially have been a response to that stress. I also suffer from depression, for which I have been both hospitalized and medicated, and my last therapist attributed it to that. I think it’s a little of both. Usually, trichotillomania isn’t an isolated mental illness, but rather a reaction to one that already exists. 

Either way, it sucks. I can understand how those who don’t suffer from trich wouldn’t be able to make sense of it…I can’t even make sense of it. I just know that I can’t stop, particularly when I’m in a high stress situation (which for me is an any-stress situation). The best thing I could compare it to is nail biting, which is much more common but is also a compulsive behavior that is difficult to stop.

So, ma’am, when you pointed out the unnaturalness of my filled-in brows, it cut me deep. Something I haven’t given much thought to since I started coming to terms with it came rushing back into my system like a tsunami. I know I suck at filling in my brows, because usually, there’s a natural line or arch for folks to follow when filling them in. For me, it’s significantly more difficult, because I HAVE NO NATURAL LINE as most of my eyebrow hairs are permanently gone and I have nothing left but slivers and sparse patches. So I do what I can.

I’m painfully aware of my bad brows. I always have been; except in middle school, Cara Delevingne hadn’t yet come on the scene promoting her full bush brows as a trend, so it was kind of acceptable to wax them into shoestrings to match the non-trich folks. Now, though, it’s a struggle. They say the first thing an interviewer looks at upon meeting you is your eyebrows. If that’s the case, I don’t know how I’m employed (I actually doubt that’s the case but I read that somewhere once).

Your nurse was extremely apologetic. I could tell she felt uncomfortable, but the look on her face and the words that came after told me that this wasn’t the first time you had done something like this. I pretended to laugh to make her feel better, and you both left.

I wanted to run home. I didn’t want to get my hair cut because that would mean the hairstylist would be painfully close to my terrible brows. I thought that people were probably always judging my brows, but that you were the first person to actually say something because you felt you had nothing to lose. I felt ugly, insecure, and disappointed in myself for not being able to get a grip. Instead of going home, though, I went to the stylists chair. I wasn’t about to waste my stylists’ time.

When I got in the car, I took out my pack of makeup wipes and scrubbed them off as hard as I could. Instead of going to church, which I had anticipated most of the day, I went to the Target to scour the aisles for something that could save my brows, because obviously what I was doing was making me look worse. I had a panic attack. I cried. It was all very dramatic.

Again, I know you didn’t know. And even if I was somehow able to tell you, you might not even understand. I’m not trying to be overly-sensitive…like I said, nothing else you commented on probably would have affected me as much had it not been for that ONE comment that played directly to a 20 year old insecurity. It was extremely painful.

“My goal is to one day grow them out enough to where I can leave my home without even touching them and feel confident in doing so. Maybe I should try doing that now. I’m not ashamed of my disorder, after all. And if you are a fellow trich sufferer, you don’t need to be ashamed either.”

I’m reminded now that the reason I tried straight across bangs in the first place was to make an attempt to hide my brows. However, I actually love my face with them now, and feel like I would keep them regardless. I’m reminded of how much I hate walking into Sephora or Ulta because those women and men know so much about makeup and would be able to tell that I struggle with my brows. But that ONE time that a girl in Ulta told me that I had a really nice complexion and really beautiful brows (it was one of my “good brow days”) it completely made my afternoon. I’m choosing now to focus on those things in an effort to increase my sense of self-acceptance.

I like to believe that I’m getting better at finding a good balance between filling in my eyebrows enough to hide my trich and making them too unnatural looking. Like I said, that’s hard to do when you don’t really have brows to begin with, but I’m learning what works and what doesn’t. My goal is to one day grow them out enough to where I can leave my home without even touching them and feel confident in doing so. Maybe I should try doing that now. I’m not ashamed of my disorder, after all. And if you are a fellow trich sufferer, you don’t need to be ashamed either.

This experience was so painful and embarrassing for me, but in a way, I’m glad. Like I said, I’m not upset with you. I respect you, and I’m glad that you have the opportunity to still do the things you’ve always done, like go and get your hair done. What you said struck a nerve for me, but it also prompted me to be more open about my trichotillomania and to write this post, which I can’t say I would’ve done otherwise.

I’ll change how I do my eyebrows and even try to stop pulling. I agree, they should look more natural.

The nose ring, however, is here to stay.

Sincerely,

B

 

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You Are Here

You are here, and that’s okay.

This has been my steady mantra for the past few weeks. Like most twenty-somethings, I’m finding that transitioning into adulthood isn’t always as seamless as our friends on Instagram make it seem, and that even during the times when I do feel like I’m killin’ it out there in the real world, it’s usually due to victories of minimal significance, such as “Wow, look at me, getting my cat medical insurance” and “YES, I made that phone call to AAA all by myself and DIDN’T HAVE A HEART ATTACK.” Yep, I’m a real big shot.

In light of all of the rapid changes happening in my life as well as the lives of my peers, (and after allowing myself to wallow in self-pity way too many times), I’ve finally allowed myself to be completely transparent with my own insecurities, labeling the core of my general unpleasantness as what it really is: discontent. The kind that is constant, never-ceasing, painful and callous: the kind of discontentment that can never be coerced into the opposite.

I can envision a map: the kind that is emblazoned with treacherous mountains, roaring rivers, and wide open plains, all hand-sketched with slightly choppy line work and, in parts, smeared from overuse. The map has also faded over time, and it’s corner is tainted by a water mark that got there from God-knows-where and originated from God-knows-what-beverage. There is no beginning, and there is no end. The only words that grace the surface of the map, in bright red and bold print, are the words YOU ARE HERE. 

When I was in high school, all I wanted to do was go away to college. The lure of quasi-independence, new faces, and a fresh start was mystifying. I lusted after the opportunity to live the full college experience. Once I did, I lusted after graduation. Full independence. Real life, with no papers or required reading.

Once I graduated from University, I wanted a career, or at least a job where I could climb my way up the ladder into what eventually could become a steady, fulfilling career. Once I found that career, I wanted a contract. With the contract, comes the constant yearning for a promotion. To excel beyond expectation. To expedite my journey to the top of the ladder (…at twenty two years old. I know, keep dreaming).

When I was single in college, I wanted a relationship. After a few failed attempts, I unwrapped God’s offering and found Shane. Now, I can’t wait to become engaged. It is likely that once I’m engaged, I’ll be itching to be a wife.

The trend continues. And try as we might, it’s so easy for us to get stuck in the quicksand of wanting the next best thing (the quicksand that the map fails to warn us of). We have a distorted understanding of the map: never does it say that there is an ultimate end that will bring us the happiness we crave. Nowhere does the map label a moment where we can finally say “this is it! I’ve done it.” There is no beginning, and there is no end. Only a solitary proclamation “You are Here.” Here. In this moment. Right now. And the contentment that you crave can be found here, where you are. It is not reliant on a single achievement or life event…our contentment is determined by our willingness to accept where we are, even if where we are is unpleasant.

I have friends who make more money than I do, and friends who make much less. I have friends who still live at home, and friends who’s apartments could swallow mine whole. I have friends who have 2k Instagram followers, and friends who have 100. For the first time in my adult life, I’m beginning to experience the freedom of letting go of the bitterness that comes with not having reached the highest possible level of achievement just yet, and embracing the ground that I find my feet planted on. Right now, that ground contains a broken car in the shop, a weak savings account, fatigue, relational strains, depression, and anxiety. 

However, my ground ALSO contains coworkers who are willing to drive me to and from work until my car gets fixed, a savings account that EXISTS, bills and rent that are always paid early, good friends to catch up with over coffee, a body that is strong and capable of exercise, and a life partner that goes above and beyond to make me feel worthy and valued. 

I am young, and life is a series of trial and error. Dreams and goals are healthy and lovely and good and have their place on the map. But for right now, I am choosing to embrace where I am.

Whether it’s with a flat tire, an empty fridge, a good friend or a good beer, I am here, and that’s okay. 

You are there, and that’s okay.

-B.