Sunday, February 28, 2016

For the Sake of Smart News

Today we're going to talk about something that's been on my mind for a few weeks now. I want to talk about the dumbing down of media for the sake of millennials and why I think that's dumb. If you're reading this and you happen to not be apart of arguably the most hated demographic on the planet right now, I hope this can shed some light. And if you are 18-34 (the generally accepted age range that can be classified as "millennials") I hope you get what I'm talking about.

For some backstory: I'm a media arts and design major with a journalism concentration, which is basically just a long and convoluted way of saying a large part of my schoolwork requires following the Associated Press on Twitter. I'm super attuned to all types of media, whether that be traditional print and TV, social networks, or online spaces that bridge the gap between the two. And while I love a good Keeping Up With the Kardashians marathon, (or, as my stepdad calls them, the "Kar-DAZZ-ians") I do my best to keep up with current events. But here's the thing about being a millennial: I have a little bit of an attention span issue. I'll admit it: it's very difficult to capture my focus for the duration of an entire New York Times article. So I get my news from outlets that better suit my needs: Twitter news updates, CNN push notifications on my phone, and daily rundowns from The Skimm, for example.

For those of you who may not know, The Skimm is a genius daily writeup of the most pressing news, sent to your email inbox every weekday morning. It's short, sweet, and to the point; I read it while I drink my morning coffee or catch the bus to campus. No news story is greater than 200 words, so I can get the big picture details without pouring over a three-page spread. And if I want more information on a particularly interesting story, there's often a hyperlink that takes me to a longer article to fill in the gaps. It's a really great solution to the attention span problem most people my age have, but it has something in common with a lot of other media outlets that rubs me the wrong way: it plays dumb in an attempt to get me on board.

If you're a Skimm subscriber, you know they love their kitschy headlines and cute analogies. And yes, sometimes those help. But there's a line you cross as a content creator when you overly sugar-coat news to get your audience on board. When I read things like "Donald Trump is, like, totally not your bestie right now!" I feel like I'm being patronized toward. I don't need someone to tell me a primary election is like "a pregame for the banger happening in November!!!" for me to understand the bare bones of politics. I may be a millennial, but I'm not stupid.

And it's not just The Skimm that does this! I'm not blaming them at all! I think it's part of a bigger problem I've been noticing since middle school. Remember begging your mom to buy you Tiger Beat magazine at the grocery store and then reading the articles on the way home and wanting to vomit? I do. Because even then I wasn't reading "that hottie in your Spanish class is totes amaze!" without rolling my eyes. Yeah, I might've been twelve, but even then I was smarter than that. Most people my age are, and to assume otherwise is to project these less-than-stellar expectations on us for no reason.

So here's what I'm proposing: keep the information on the shorter side. Acknowledge that we're attuned to faster information and more outlets to get our news, so say it quick and be smart about it. Yes, we have an amazing amount of technology and software at our fingertips now, which means media has to evolve. I'm sorry if that bothers you, but that's just how it is now. I wish content creators would spend more time reworking the way they're informing us, instead of writing thinkpieces about how we're vapid and shallow. When we're only given dumbed down information, don't blame us when that's what we become accustomed to.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

My Hair Story

Happy February, friends! Can you believe 2016 is already one-twelfth over? You'd rather not talk about it because the rapid passage of time freaks you out? Oh okay cool, me too. I'm glad we're on the same page. How about instead we talk about my hair. I can just hear your resounding yeses now.

On the surface, hair might seem vapid and dumb. However, we know that's not entirely true, because the market for hair products is expansive, competitive, and evolving. I work for Ulta, as you probably know, and our haircare section easily takes up half the store (and it's a pretty big place). Shampoo, conditioner, dry shampoo, serum, detangler, relaxer, curl definer, hairspray, hair dye, hair perfume (yes, that exists)...the list goes on and on, and I haven't even begun to mention tools that reach temperatures higher than our ovens. Millions of dollars ride on the proposition that women will pay buckets of money to use and abuse our tresses. Y'know why? Because hair is symbolic of everything. Hair informs, reflects, and contributes to our own sexuality, culture, age, health, religion, socioeconomic status, etc., and it offers a clue that allows us to make assumptions of others. Hair is a conversation piece. Hair can hold privilege. Hair is personal and hair is important. That's why I'm telling you my hair story.

Like you (I'm assuming), I didn't realize hair was such a big deal until I read Me, My Hair, and I: Twenty-seven Women Untangle an Obsession, edited by Elizabeth Benedict. This book was on my Christmas wish list based off of great reviews I read, and clearly was hugely informative and entertaining.

THIS BOOK! IT'S GREAT! READ IT!

As the title suggests, this book is an anthology of essays from women from all walks of life, talking about how hair has played a role in their individual proceedings. It was the type of book that I found myself more and more immersed in the more I read, and when I finished it about two weeks ago, thoughts and anecdotes about my own hair have been swirling around in my head, which leads me to this blog post. My hair story, while brief and relatively uneventful, must be divided up into two sections: The Hair on my Head and The Hair...Everywhere Else.

1) The Hair on my Head

In toddlerhood, I had golden-brown curls that I now revere fondly in childhood photos. When I turned five, my hair straightened out completely and were accompanied by straight-across bangs (because what five-year-old girl didn't have straight-across bangs at the turn of the century?) that always managed to lay flat on my head. I'm assuming my mom took great care in brushing my hair and making sure it laid correctly, because I can't really remember ever taking an interest in my aesthetic as a very little girl. I just liked wearing dresses and tights with little Mary Jane shoes (I was so cute, but that's another story.)

I think I was 6 here, but here's some prime bangs action

My hair hung pretty similarly for the next two years or so, never growing past the snap closures on the front of my overalls (as evidenced in the above photo). But then I was seven and my mom was getting remarried. Her marriage to my stepdad isn't really a relevant part of this story, other than to offer a reason as to why I was getting a haircut: I was the flower girl, and obviously you can't have a flower girl with homely tresses. For some backstory, my mom has short hair and has for practically her whole life. She's rocked a pixie cut (if you have to call it that, although I'm not sure that's the best descriptor) my whole life. At the time of her getting married, I think I was sucking dry our last few days of single-mother-and-daughter time. Not that the addition of a stepdad was going to drastically change my world in any horrible way, but I think I just wanted to make the most of our short-lived two-person household with a tangible bond. You know where this is going.

I still remember it now: Mom and I were walking through the parking lot of the mall, picking up some last-minute wedding necessity I imagine. We were speaking of my impending haircut--which was supposed to be just a trim--when I told my mom I wanted my hair cut just like her's. She was excited and totally up for the drastic change, and from there the era of the boy cut began! The pictures I have from this time in my life are few and far between, and they're super cringe-worthy, but I was able to dig up this one from my mom's wedding, when the cut was fresh:


As expected, I was ready for the boy cut to be done with pretty soon after its creation. This was the time I got my ears pierced and liked to wear barrettes in my hair, just so everyone knew I was--in fact--a girl. It took over 2 years for my hair to grow out to even shoulder-length, and part of that process involved growing out the bangs I was starting to become sick of. This was an awkward period of tucking hair behind my ears and my grandma keeping tabs on my mop of hair as she peddled sparkly clips and headbands as her bait.

Finally, after what felt like years and years of impatiently waiting, my hair was an appropriate length for me once again! And this time, I had no more bangs to get in the way and I was able to style it to my liking. This was also the mid-2000s, during which time Disney Channel shows like Lizzie McGuire and That's So Raven featured casts full of questionable hairdos I would attempt to emulate. I'm talking bright pink clip-in streaks, chopsticks, and those weird scrunchies that came with hair already glued on. Ah, those were the days. Unfortunately, my 10-year-old budget of approximately $0 didn't give me the capital to buy out my local Claire's, so I was pretty limited to my boring old hairbrush and elasticated hair ties.

Also, because I was ten, I wasn't the smartest cookie, and I thought I knew everything. One of my many naiveties was my belief that the hair I saw in the mirror was exactly the same as the hair everyone else saw from all angles. According to me, this meant that as long as the face-framing bits of my hair looked presentable, I could let the rest of it go to shit. So that's what I did. I didn't brush the back of my head for a considerable amount of time. And for a while I was getting away with it! But then the tangles started to form. And then the tangles became knots. And then the knots became the knot which became one gigantic rat's nest on the back of my head for the whole world to see. And it's not like I wasn't unaware of the nest's existence, but I just figured no one else noticed. I could reach around to the back of my head and feel that the massive knot was there, but I didn't do anything about it. Somehow my parents didn't notice the knot and just assumed I was brushing my hair normally, as it was one of the only things I was in charge of doing at my tender double-digits.

It wasn't until a girl at my after-school day care center made a loud comment to her friend about the back of my head that I realized the nest wasn't just my dirty little secret. When my dad picked me up that day for his twice-weekly evening visits, I asked him to help me brush out the back of my hair. I was finally ready to tame the beast, but it hurt too much to do it myself; I needed someone else to do the hard work for me so I could sit on my hands and promise never to do it again. He was glad to help, but he was also a man with thin, manageable hair, which made him a pretty lousy candidate to wrangle my ferocious locks. He ripped through my ends with vigor, appalled at the mess I had made as he berated me for my lack of attention. I'll never forget how he told me my hair made me look like I was "some poor little girl who didn't have parents who loved her." Turns out, you can't get by in life only worrying about what the front of your head looks like.

From there, my hair grew as normal. It was, and remains to be, a dark brown with a little bit of red in it when the sun shines, and thick enough to put plenty of ponytails to shame. As I got older, many a hairdresser would ooh and ahh at the volume of hair they had in their hands and would blow it dry with great pleasure as I watched the clock impatiently. From ages ten to nineteen, my hair didn't change much, (other than the "rebellious" pink streak I dyed behind my ear with the help of my friend Claire) though I began to acquire heated styling tools and product to beat it into blind submission.

Then I found myself to be nineteen and utterly bored with my appearance. I had a mass of brown hair that was straight enough and frizz-less enough, but at that point I had enough. I was over the long strands that just hung at one length over my shoulders; I was ready for a change. However, I still loved the length and wasn't deranged enough to consider bangs or intricate choppy layers. Enter the hair dye. I decided I was going to dye my hair red. The key was I didn't want my hair to be too orange or too purple; I wanted a true burgundy that I knew I wouldn't be able to achieve on my own, at least at first. Because my hair was previously untreated, ("virgin hair," as stylists call it) getting the red to stick was a job for a professional. So after very little thought, I booked an appointment at one of the more prestigious salons in Harrisonburg.

The day of the appointment, I took a bus to the hair studio (or at least as close to the studio as the bus would get me, leaving me no choice but to walk the remaining half a mile on the side of the road). It took hours, with three stylists attacking my tresses from all angles. Finally it was done, and I loooooved it. I still had to swallow the pain of the $200 charge, (yes, gentlemen, dying your hair in a salon costs an entire two-weeks' paycheck) but I spent the rest of the day walking on air and taking photos for Instagram.



I loved this new, edgy me, and I continued to dye my hair for the ten months that followed. Once I had a stylist do the dirty work of lifting the color and pigmenting my "virgin hair," I was able to maintain the red with $8 box dye from Garnier, touching it up every month or so (or when the color would begin to fade to an unfortunate orange color). For the first time in my life, random strangers would compliment me for my hair, and I was super into it. But eventually the red dye became my new normal, and I found myself craving a change from the change. So it was back to dark brown, by way of an ashy brown box dye (again, by Garnier). Adding the dark wash of color over top wasn't a cure-all, but until my roots grew out it was an adequate temporary fix. Eventually the brown faded and the red hung on for dear life, leaving me with an accidental brown-to-burgundy ombre situation that kind of looks like something I might've paid to have done in the salon.

For the last few months, that's where the story left off: my hair had returned to its natural long, brown-reddish state. My hair was long enough to reach my second or third rib, and I didn't really mind. That is until a few weeks ago, when I was grabbing coffee with a friend. In the process of taking off my jacket, my hair had gotten tucked into my collar, making it look like I had cut my hair into a long bob. Pleasantly surprised, my friend ogled my new "haircut," only to find it was just an optical allusion. But as soon as she said that, a lightbulb went off in my head. Maybe I need another change, I thought. Maybe this is the universe's way of telling me to cut off some dead weight. 

So now here we are. I'm still getting used to having about 8 fewer inches of hair, but I'm living for it. I feel lighter and more free, with a new spring in my step that comes with a major hair transformation. Getting this haircut truly feels symbolic of letting go, as the massive mound of hair left on the salon floor represents harbored feelings, thoughts, and grudges that were hanging around way past their expiration date.

Here's the obligatory "new hair, new me" selfie.

2) The Hair...Everywhere Else

Talking about the hair on my head was the fun part. The hair on my head, though it's seen its fair share of awkward cuts and bad hair days, is perfectly normal. The hair everywhere else isn't. If I think back as far as I can remember, I've always been insecure about my hair in some form or another. As my mom would constantly remind me as a little girl, everyone has hair on their body, but because I was given dark hair and light skin, mine is more visible. And I know that's part of the equation, but let's be real: I also just have more hair than the average girl. Thanks for your kind words, Momma, but let's just be honest here.

I became aware of the dark hair on my arms and legs pretty early on, because I have working eyes, but I didn't see that as a problem until first grade. I was on the playground at school, just living my life, when a little boy in another class found it necessary to point out the little hairs sprouting from my limbs. Being the creative genius he was, he came up with the nickname "Hairy Girl," a moniker that stuck for years whenever we would cross paths by the swing set. I'm sure I probably cried that day, because I've always been sensitive. I became infinitely jealous of all my pretty blonde friends, whose prepubescent arm and leg hair blended in with their almond skin. As I grappled with this new insecurity, the mean boys at school and at daycare pointed out to me that it wasn't just the hair on my body that I should be worried about. There was hair on my face, too.

Seven or eight was around the age that the mustache came in. Kids at school, unable to filter themselves, would lean in and rudely point out the peach fuzz growing above my lip, sneering and snickering as I willed the ground to swallow me up. As a kid, I tried to explain to them what my mom had told me, but no bully cares that "everyone has hair there, but mine is dark and my skin is light!!!", especially because I couldn't really stand up for myself effectively while simultaneously trying not to cry. I absolutely loathed the hairs about my lip, although in hindsight it really was no big deal. But when you're a little girl, everything is a big deal. My mom, bless her heart, helped me cope with the unfortunate expanse of hair, buying and applying Sally Hansen bleaching cream for me so I wouldn't have to face the mean words at school. The bleach was a smelly, thick formula that we applied to my upper lip once a month or so, leaving it to sit for ten minutes while I watched TV in a futile attempt to distract myself from the burn. 

Eventually the bleach lost its potency on the mustache, (after seven or eight years of bleaching, those little bastards became immune to Sally Hansen and her magical healing powers) which led my mom to the decision that we would try laser hair removal. At $75 a session, getting my hair laser removed is just another example of my mom being a selfless and wonderful parent. I probably sat for five or six sessions, which required wearing those teeny tiny eye coverings you wear when you get in a tanning bed (or so I've heard, I've never gone tanning) and enduring 8-10 blasts of laser to the face. For a reference, laser hair removal feels like getting a rubber band snapped on your skin, if that rubber band was heated up in the microwave for 30 seconds. Not unbearable by any means, but surely not a walk in the park. And after all that time and money (sorry, Mom) the laser ended up barely making a difference. I eventually stopped lasering and decided to switch to at-home waxing strips, a whole new kind of pain I endure every so often, because the 7-year-old inside me is still afraid of what the bullies at school will say.

Now let's jump forward into middle school. If I thought I was hairy and awkward before puberty, you can imagine my surprise as hair continued to sprout, even darker and thicker than before. In middle school, I was over my insecurities surrounding the mustache (the bleach was still, for the most part, working its magic) and shifted the focus to my legs and my eyebrows. Middle school was the age girls started to wear makeup and shave, leaving me hyperaware of any stray hairs. I distinctly remember sitting cross-legged on the floor in gym class, trying to tuck my calves under my mesh shorts. All the others girls had glistening, smooth gams, but I was still too young to shave as far as my mom was concerned. I finally convinced her to let me use Nair (y'know that awful smelling cream you rub all over your legs to make the hairs fall out?) until she finally broke down and bought me my first razor the summer after eighth grade. That was the magical time when shaving was novel and fun, when I looked forward to meticulously gliding my Venus Embrace up my legs, pretending I was in a commercial. That was also the time when I had to promise my mom I wouldn't shave above my knee. Those were the days.

As for my eyebrows...back in the day, I had eyebrows that today's beauty industry would lose their minds over. Thick and a little bit bushy, my brows were unruly and had a mind of their own. I think a makeup artist would say they were "on fleek," but at the time you couldn't convince me there was anything becoming going on there. Of course, back then the trend was to have teeny tiny eyebrows resembling the shape of a sperm, so I hated this genetic gift. I was allowed to tweeze my eyebrows under my mom's watchful eye, and I was even treated to fancy eyebrow waxes at expensive spas every few months to keep them in check, but they still retained their volume for the most part. Now I thank God that I never went overboard in the brow department, as their current shape still has some lasting integrity. If you learn anything from this long-winded story, bear this in mind: if there's a young girl in your life, tell her to leave her eyebrows alone. She'll be thankfully for them when she's 20, trust me. 

So that's my hair story, guys. I could go into more detail about the hair I've yet to account for, but I think we can both agree that this post has pretty much exhausted that topic. I hope you enjoyed this post, and I hope it's inspired you to think about your own hair history. We'll talk soon!