Feminine Beauty Case Study #1:  Janessa, age 22, Starbucks Barista “You have very pretty hair,” I said.  Now, if I were a guy, this might be a pickup line.  But a compliment between two women, that is something rare and sacred.  She turned and smiled, and we began a conversation as she finished making my Tall Decaf Americano.

I had stopped in the coffee shop as a respite from my morning, a break before my afternoon activities.  A place where I can be anonymous, be an observer, retract into my non-verbal world of iTunes playlists, Facebook checking and occasional blogging.

“I’ve been growing out for a while now.  I haven’t gotten it cut in a long time.  I just trim it myself occasionally.”  she said.  Janessa was her name.

530295_380001105385680_2146162698_n - Version 2I was sharing with her my own hair-growing story.  My husband who rarely makes any kind of derogatory comment about my appearance, mentioned that he liked my hair long.  Doesn’t sound bad does it?  At the time, my hairstyle was what I call “the fitness bob.”

I had just made a big life change, going from event and wedding planner, to near breakdown, to finding my “gateway” fitness drug, Zumba(r).  As I grew to love the dance fitness format more, I  decided to teach it.  At the height of my teaching career, I was teaching 12 classes a week.  That is a lot of sweaty hair, and not a lot of time for primping or pretty hair.

So after years of long hair, I cut it short.  Really short.  Into a one-length bob about an inch below my ears.  Go big or go home, right?  Looking in the mirror as my stylist spun me around to show me the finished look, I drew in a long breath and looked at myself.  Same me, just different.

After settling into my vastly different hairstyle, I actually started to really, really love it.  It took minutes to style or re-style.  In fact, whenever I look at one of my favorite pictures from that time, I go right back to that feeling.  Wind blowing thru my hair getting, it is shiny, swing-y. It doesn’t get in my face, but it is still “down”.  I felt free and pretty.

But my husband’s comment unsettled me a bit.

“What do you mean, you like my hair long?  How long?” I asked.

“Like when we got married.  Your hair, you looked so beautiful.” He replied, completely unaware he had offered me a huge challenge.

Wedding hair is your very best hair.  You have grown it out, hired a special stylist, gotten it touched up, trimmed, coiffed, teased, back-combed, braided, curled and bedazzled with feathers, sparkles, or maybe just used some really good expensive hairspray.  Most of all, someone else made it look that way.

Wedding hair is the Holy Grail of Hair.  Very hard to find, hard to duplicate even under the best weather circumstances.

10676398_10204667278222532_1986889361792289274_n - Version 2But since I knew his comment came from a good place, I decided to let it go, let it grow, secretly hoping it would not become a daily styling hassle.  And eventually, it grew long and became manageable, versatile even.  And strangely, I felt the same things again: pretty, feminine and free to be me.

And like a woman in a coffee shop making a connection, I confessed all of this to Janessa.  She too had her own “why I keep it long” story.  Her son, age 8, commented to her as she was growing it out, how pretty it was, how he liked her hair long.  No hidden agenda, just sweet little boy innocence.

So it made me think about feminine beauty and how that translates to what we, as women, internalize.  There are so many sources of opinion from mother, father, family, friends, high school drill team instructor, first boyfriend, airbrushed fitness magazine, that combine to encourage us to create a certain “look.”  And then there is self, our own opinion of what is beautiful.  Does our opinion truly stand alone?  Or, is it the aggregate of what others have told us?  Or do they all merge together?

And how do you decide which parts of those “fit” you and what is most important to adopt and assimilate?  And how to decide when and if to throw off the “beauty guidelines” of your culture.

Or perhaps you would like to be so confident that you know that your true beauty does not come from your hair length, curve of your hips or length of your eyelashes?

Perhaps true beauty comes from the connection we have between our image of ourselves and the confidence we project.  Or maybe it is how those who really know us and love us, see us; loved ones always think we are beautiful.

Hair_Janessa“I hope this doesn’t make me sound like a stalker, Janessa, but can I take a picture of your hair?  I am writing about women’s beauty.”

And just like that, she shared a piece of herself with me.  Now that was beautiful.

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