Self-Acceptance as a Woman Meant Starting with My Hair

(Graphic: Helen Jane Hearn/TueNight)

I have been running away from my body for my entire life.

For as long as I can remember, I was never very happy with the body I was born into. Even before my gender issues began to emerge, I was always the chubby kid — husky-sized suits and all. Yes, I was teased. Relentlessly so, for quite a while when I was young. The mocking jokes from my so-called friends cut like a knife. But I persevered, or so I thought.

Unless you have walked a mile in my heels, it’s very difficult to explain what it is like to wake up every morning of your life knowing — really knowing — on a very visceral level that something’s just not aligned correctly. Something’s a little off – askance, as it were. It became quite apparent to me as I reached my teenage years that this was most definitely NOT the body that I signed up for.

The realization scared me to death. It was like out of nowhere, I awoke to find myself hopelessly lost in a jungle of puberty, not knowing if I could ever find a way out.

“I must be some sort of freak, a mistake, an aberration,” I thought to myself. “There is something really, really wrong with me. All this body hair? Where the hell did THAT come from? I am so screwed…”

So I did the only thing I could think of: I hid from it all. I stuffed it all away in a tiny little box and put it back into the darkest corner of my closeted mind, left alone to wither away and die – or so I hoped.

My therapist explained to me that this wig fit the image that I had created in my mind of what the perfect woman is supposed to look like. That made sense to me, of course, but my obsession continued unabated.

Blessed with a modicum of athletic ability, I used that to gain acceptance among my peers and it set me on a 15-year treadmill of weightlifting and workouts designed to help me reach new heights of athletic achievement. I changed my body to conform to what I thought society would deem acceptable and to keep my secret world at bay.

The person that stands before you now at one time weighed 245 pounds, could bench press 375 pounds and could run a 4.5-second 40-yard dash. That person was good enough to land a football scholarship to the University of Delaware – as an offensive lineman. Needless to say, a lot has changed since then. But one thing never has: I am as hard on that image that looks back at me in my mirror today as much, if not more so, than I was “back in the day.”

From the very beginning of my transition, some 11 years ago now, that emphasis shifted. Sure, staying fit has always been very important to me, but something else emerged to grab all of my attention. It was my hair. And not at all in a good way. This monumental struggle of searching for my authentic self manifested itself in a very real and physical way – with my hair. My therapist and I spent many a session talking about it. You see, I had a very close, dare I say, strangely intimate relationship with my wig. The so-called “crowning glory” of one’s “look” – whatever that means. For all intents and purposes, my wig and I had a very co-dependent relationship.

Permit me to explain its “roots.”

When I first began to reveal my true self to the world around me, it was important that I “pass” as a cisgender woman. It’s a little strange, the whole notion of passing, but trust me on this: It is alive and well in many quarters of the transgender community. What’s hard to explain is the inescapable fact that I spent my whole life hiding in a closet, and now that I am out, I wanted to blend. I’ll cop to that being just a tad counter-intuitive.

As a result, there was absolutely no way I was going to be seen in public without a wig. I chose one that was dark auburn color, straight and shoulder-length with a little bit of a flip at the end. And it was a really good one too. My hair stylist, Michael, made sure of that! My therapist explained to me that this wig fit the image that I had created in my mind of what the perfect woman is supposed to look like. That made sense to me, of course, but my obsession continued unabated. Although my real hair was beginning to grow out, the wig remained firmly entrenched on my head.

Truth be told, I never felt as if my real hair was ever long enough. Every time I’d have an appointment and Michael would trim the ends of my real hair, he would assure me that it was actually growing and filling in a bit more too, thanks to the estrogen I was taking. But it was never quick enough for my tastes. As far as I was concerned, my hair grew at a rate that was slower than molasses on a cold winter’s day. Only now, 10 years later, do I actually look at my hair and think that it’s long enough (sort of). I finally feel that it conforms to that womanly image of perfection I have conjured up in my mind and perpetuated over all these years.

Now, mind you, I have been blessed – thanks to mom and dad’s gene pool – with a headful of thick curls. Women in my office come up to me all the time and compliment me on my curly locks – and then usually ask me if they’re “really mine.” At that point, I somewhat sheepishly reply “yes,” and more than one woman has politely replied, “You know, there are many women out there who pay really good money for curls like that.” I get it – really I do. It’s kind of cool to have weatherproof hair.

But as I reflect more deeply on this seemingly endless search for the perfect coif, it all seems so silly in a way. It’s just my hair, nothing more, nothing less. As I continue to live into myself each and every day, I’ve found that one’s true beauty comes from the inside out. It is anchored in the realization that you cannot expect others to accept you without first accepting yourself. This ignites a flame that emanates outward from deep inside of your being. It is your divine light that shines on those around you and shapes your everyday reality. The real magic happens when you succeed in coming home to yourself and embracing your own inner beauty. It is then and only then that you are blessed with a real compassion for who you really are, in all your vulnerability.

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One Response

  1. diane

    this is beautifully written but even more moving when read aloud. nicely done, stephanie!


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