Does My Hair Look Okay?
Sarah Haidar is a recent graduate of the University of Alabama in Huntsville where she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in English Literature and Marketing. She has a passion for writing, promoting gender equality and other social issues, and traveling. She hopes to write and publish her own book in the future.
I stand in line for a bathroom stall in between my 3rd grade classmates while fighting back tears. It feels like I’m crying all the time these days—at least twice a week. I wipe away tears with my crinkly blue raincoat sleeve. I study the frays feathering from the lining of my white and purple tennis shoes.
“You should join the circus,” one of the boys in my class said to me earlier that day in front of my classroom. He was getting revenge on me for laughing with my friends about a video game he likes. So, he decided to pick on me from five seats down, making everyone around us stick their noses in their workbooks or eye him and the open door. “You could be the lady with a moustache,” he said.
The girls in line ignore me while I cry. Their sparkly headbands and Limited Too necklaces bring attention to their bright faces. I pull my collar over my necklace hoping it will make me blend into the wall more.
When I finally emerge from my stall, I try to avoid the mirror and wash my hands. I don’t want to look at my black whiskers and tiny exclamation points on the bridge of my nose. But, it doesn’t matter if I don’t look at my face because the same dark hair hugs my forearms too. When is winter coming already?
In 5th grade, I am having my first surgery. I lie on the carpeted floor of my playroom, wriggling every time a hand gets near me. My mother tells me to take the worm out of my ass and just hold still. According to her, it is about time, hygienically speaking, for me to start shaving my armpits. I’ve never done so before, but I agree that I want the hair gone too. There is too much to just start immediately shaving, so my mom decides to get her waxing kit out. I am mortified, laying on the carpet with my shirt off in the orange fluorescent light at night. I wish to die for a moment so I can pretend I don’t have to do this.
“This is just for the first time, since there’s so much,” my mom says while pressing the wax paper to the nest under my arm, my soft skin tingling with anticipation. She swipes it off and I yelp. The fluorescent light starts to break up into fractures from the tears welling up in my eyes. We have to do it one more time on that same arm. I look over and see blood starting to bloom in starry dots in my armpit.
My mother’s eyes fill with guilt, “We should have cut some off first.”
The next day at school, classmates whisper in our American history class. I feel the wave of suspicious energy move from the center of the room next to the projector all the way to the boy next to me. He’s never spoken to me before except when he drops his pencil or when he needs me to pass a note for him. Someone nudges him, and he asks me, “Did you…” he points to his forehead right in between his eyebrows.
My mother had waxed my unibrow for the first time after doing my armpits, and they are noticing.
My heart threatens to jump out of my chest at the question. Like a rabbit hopping at the first sound of danger, I blurt out “No.” I just want to avoid any more teasing. I don’t want him to think any of their cruel mouths had pulled the follicles out of my skin. I stick my head back into my work before he can ask me again.
In 6th grade, I make friends. I even have their numbers in my Trac flip phone my parents got me for my birthday for emergencies. Sure, some of them used to make fun of me, but we’re cool now.
Today in science class, the teacher has stepped out of the classroom as teachers do when they give busy work. I work on my assignment unlike some of the other kids. Two of the loudest mouths in class are having a war of words across the classroom trying to cut each other. Who knows why they’re angry at each other. I ignore them until I hear my name.
“Oh my god, Hannah likes Brandon?” loud-mouth John projects over the students’ heads. Brandon’s a nerdy, stubby kid in our math and English class. He could be annoying sometimes, but he has his own group of friends and doesn’t seem to be bothered by the bullies. Who knows why he’s hated—there usually is no explanation at this age. Hannah’s jaw sets at the insult. She’s my number one bully who only acts as my friend when I hang out with people she wants attention from. And she doesn’t do well when insults are shot back at her.
“Ewwww! John likes Sarah?” she retorts.
My heart drops in my 11-year-old chest. Why would they say that while I’m in the room? Am I really that ugly? Was that what my whole grade thought of me? I am, for certain now, all the ugly words they had called me through the years. More than the hurt, there is anger at myself for being surprised.
The two kids’ argument goes on a bit longer before the doorknob starts to turn. I keep working ignoring the droplets that are mixing with the pencil on my paper. My friend, Kayla, next to me says nothing.
I’m in my last year of middle school and am finally allowed to go to sleep-overs. I’m sitting with my friends Emily and Cassidy in Emily’s kitchen early in the morning laughing, eating breakfast, and watching a bad-lip-reading of a Twilight scene on YouTube. I forgot to pluck my eyebrows for two weeks now, but I don’t notice until I leave the table to go wash my hands in the bathroom. Emily just told us a joke that made Cassidy and I laugh to tears. I notice the black strays above and below my eyebrow’s arch in the bathroom mirror, and forget about them as soon as I rejoin my friends. My cheeks hurt from smiling until my mother comes to pick me up.
I’m the only one dressed; my friends are still in their pajamas. Soon enough the doorbell rings, and I pick up my backpack next to my chair. Their stuff is still sprawled everywhere upstairs. I wish I could drive already. Maybe then I can avoid this appointment. I disagreed and argued, but in the end, I still am going quietly… I put my dishes in the sink, hug my friends, and reluctantly get into the car with my mother. We go to my first laser hair removal appointment.
“You’ll thank me when you’re older,” my mother reminds me while we get out of the car. I lay on a plastic bed similar to my pediatrician’s office. Cold, clear goop is slathered over my calves, and then the lady puts the laser to my skin. I feel a deep bite over and over like the gun was dispensing bee after bee to sting me from the inside of my own leg. Just like a tattoo, it’s worse whenever she goes over the bone.
I feel cool sitting on the bus as a freshman in high school. I tried something new last night: bleaching my arm hair. I’ve been bleaching my upper lip for years. I have memories of seeing my mother bleach her arms and whole face while I was a kid. She would mix the clear, smooth cream with the white activating powder, and then paint it on her body like an artist. She used to see me stare at her when she was like that, and then she would bend her fingers into claws and chase me around the room while I screamed with laughter.
My friend Lakshmi joins me on the bus at the next stop, “Hey!” she says energetically. Her eyes linger on my arms for a second, and then, she keeps talking. This makes my heart feel heavy.
I look at my arms again and see how the sunlight makes the blonde hair pop since there’s more hair on my arms than my lip. It’s so obvious. I let my arm drop from where it hangs on the seat in front of me, and let it rest in the shade away from any spotlights, as I usually do.
Lakshmi eventually starts complaining how her mother keeps telling her to lose weight. I listen and feel guilty that her words make me feel more at ease. I shouldn’t feel relieved that she’s also feeling pressure to change her body too.
With me going off to college in a couple years, my parents thought I should see my family overseas before I got even more busy with ACT prep and college applications. I sit on the edge of the taxi’s backseat looking through the dust painted car window. This is the third time I am visiting Lebanon, but probably it’s the first time I’ll remember it well. Tall buildings, traffic coughing honks and smoke, plastic lawn chairs with people smoking cigarettes, groups of preteens walking on sidewalks together—I love this place.
Dirt billows into the air as the car turns into a larger lot of dirt which I assume is the parking lot. My mother, aunt, and cousin get out first and then finally myself. I can already hear yelling from the front door of the apartment building. I turn the corner to see my mother hugging a shorter girl.
If someone didn’t know we’re here to reunite with family, then they might think someone died. The girl she’s hugging is my teenage cousin, Yara. She’s grown so much since I last saw her. Her hair is now to her existing chest and her eyebrows have grown into beautiful wings. She’s wearing a tank top and leggings. She runs and hugs me and my cousin. Yara leads us all upstairs to greet everyone else. When her mother sees me, she cups my face with her warm hands and a great big smile. She points out the features in my face that my ancestors have passed down to me, kissing every single one of them.
Our whole family gathers around the dinner table. I watch white arms sprinkled with black move over the table, passing bread, holding hands. I look at my aunt who is now a hijabi. The new look makes me focus on her face more, and I notice the small hairs growing back on her lip as she’s laughing. She sounds like a breezy summer day in the shade.
I walk out to the balcony after helping clean up and Yara follows, sitting on the swing next to me. The sun is setting, blanketing the city of Beirut in orange and gold. The rays make Yara’s black arm hair glow. She is telling me about her school after I ask. I watch the shade and sun flip over her eyebrows as she moves her head while talking. She looks so free. I roll up my sleeves from the heat.
I am snug between my cousin and aunt in the back seat of our car as our family drives home from seeing Mama Mia: Here We Go Again.
My aunt smiles at me and then her eyesight narrows in on my mouth. “You need to wax your lip, habibti.”
I can barely feel my peach fuzz tickle my upper lip these days, because it’s always there now. “I don’t wax, khalto.”
“Then bleach it like you usually do,” she corrects herself, my cousin eyeing us.
I throw my chin in the air over-dramatically, “I don’t need to, I’m already gorgeous.”
My aunt throws her head back this time but from laughter. Her hand rests on my knee, “You’re right, you are. Did you hear her, Roudayna?” she asks my mom recounting the past three seconds. She turns back to me, “But, seriously, you should bleach them.”
I let out a small exhale of laughter, nodding my head to signal I heard her. Of course, I was going to do that sooner or later as I always do every month. But her comment makes me want to wait until every hair follicle on my face is pitch black, and I can smile at her before I change a thing.
As I sit on my couch with a spoon of peanut butter in my mouth and my senior writing portfolio in front of me on my laptop, I hear a Venus Razor commercial come on my TV. They close out their razor commercial with “Reveal the goddess in you.” My thick eyebrows furrow while taking the spoon out of my mouth. Aren’t I—and all women—already goddesses? We have the power to create life and the badassery to go to work with bleeding vaginas, but I’m not a goddess unless my legs are smooth, my eyebrows waxed, and my curly hair frizz free?
I mute the TV.