Did I Do Something With My Hair? Yes, I Washed It

Image: Benson Kua

Here is a bit of sample dialogue that happens to me more than I am really comfortable with, but whatever:

Person: Did you do something different with your hair (implying cut, color, or other imperceptible style shift, like perhaps a part change)?
Me: No?
Person: Oh, it looks ni—
Me: Haha, ohhh, I washed and blow-dried it.

This isn’t even necessarily about men per se, because variations on the above exchange have occurred with men and women pretty interchangeably, if not slightly more with women, who for whatever reasons (brains, eyes) seem to notice and comment on small changes in appearance in those around them.

The conversation has happened enough that I’m no longer even really embarrassed by the answer, which is an sort of semi-public admission of otherwise half-sloth: I walk around most days not trying very hard or caring about my appearance; as a result, when I do put effort into at least one or several parts of my “look,” it’s noticeable. It’s not usually an outrageous difference, like post-makeover or anything, but it’s enough that you can tell that the overall effect is, “hmm, better.” Like the magic-wand Instagram story face filter—a global improvement.

There are a couple of factors at work here. One is, as previously mentioned, the “effort” bar for me is not that high, so the answer to “what’s subtly different?” could be anything from “is wearing eyeliner” (happens thrice a year) to “heat styled my hair with brush and everything” (rare) to “is wearing hear down instead of up in a ponytail” (never lasts long, for reasons I have previously addressed). Another factor is that I always look slightly different at any given point in time. I’m honestly not sure what I look like in a permanent sense, but I feel that if you were to feed Google photos all the pictures of me ever taken over the age of 25, it would think they were 376 different people.

But the most common factor, and the most common answer to the most common iteration of the question, “Did you get a haircut?” is, “No, I just washed and blow-dried it.” That’s it! That’s the whole thing. Nothing special happened, I don’t have a glow about me, I’m not wearing more concealer than usual. I certainly didn’t sit in a chair for forty-five minutes while someone tried to pry my weekend plans out of me. I shampooed, conditioned, and blow-dried, and what you see is the smoother, sleeker version of me, with no flyaways or funny cowlicks or ponytail dents or crunchy ends.

I’m embarrassed that you’ve noticed, and ashamed to say, “You know what? Yes. I put five minutes of my morning into my look and it worked, and now I have to live with the ramifications of people around me being aware of my intent to look slightly better than usual.” I might as well have walked in with a sheet mask on my face. I wish we didn’t have to talk about it, so that’s why I wrote this: now you know.

When I was working in my first job in New York, I wore contacts to work every single day, unless I was maybe hungover and rushing out the door (because when you’re 23 you can go get shithammered at the Frying Pan on a Tuesday night and show up to work at 8:45am and be totally fine), so no one ever saw me in glasses, unless they did. Glasses were a signifier, you see—something is off. She’s tired, or unkempt, or in a rush, or still a bit drunk. More than once I got a few “knowing” looks from colleagues. WHAT!? Can’t a girl wear glasses without meaning?

I hated this. I hated this so much I started wearing my glasses more and more. It changed everything and over time, I became an all-the-time glasses person. Soon I worked at The New Yorker, where if you don’t have impaired vision then how did you even get in the door? I fit in great. Until I started exercising more, especially before work or right after work, when it made more sense to just have my contact lenses in from the get-go.

I realize that this is a weird thing to “complain” about, because ultimately it’s about people noticing me and even complimenting me on my appearance, which is why I’m trying not to sound like I’m complaining, but rather presenting you with my existential predicament: I like to look nice sometimes, but I also like not having to look nice all the time. Maybe it all goes back to high school, the final week of my senior year.

I walked into my dad’s office to say goodbye, and he remarked on what I was wearing, which never ever happened, because I was wearing a dress, which also never happened. “Well, what’s the occasion?” I was mortified. It wasn’t like “a thing”—like, “I’m not a girly girl so I don’t wear dresses”—I was a ballerina and I wore wrap skirts most days after school! But for whatever reason skirts and dresses weren’t really part of my “look” from 1999–2003. And then one day they were, because I felt like it. Why did I need a reason?

There was no occasion. I like to try different things. I like a nice beachy wave, but not too often, because it takes time and two different sprays and I always burn a wrist or an earlobe. Some days I wash my hair; some days I don’t. On some days, for no reason at all, even if I don’t have time, I will blow dry my hair. The end result is that my look is a little inconsistent. But more often than not, you can assume the simplest answer to the question, “Did you do something to your hair?” Yes: shampoo and hot air.