My mom told me a story that when I was about three or four years old she found me standing on the sink in front of the mirror in our upstairs bathroom, where I was brushing my hair with great fury. She asked me, “Why are you brushing your hair like that?”
I said,”I want straight hair. Adam likes girls with straight hair!” (Adam was a boy in my preschool class).
As a child, I despised my curly hair. In the seventies, I wanted what I called “flippy hair” like Farrah Fawcett with perfectly coiffed wavy wings on the side that stayed in Barbie doll perfection place. Alas, that never happened. Usually my mom braided my hair, and despite multiple bands to keep it in place, as well as multiple doses of detangler, a halo of frizz always encircled my head.
When I was in seventh grade, I let my mom talk me into chopping off my locks, and went for much shorter hair. I cried for hours after a visit at the hairdresser, wailing over the loss of the hair I had hated so much. Needless to say, I had short hair from seventh grade through ninth grade. I looked like a blonde Chia pet no matter what I did.
The Age of Aqua Net
After my short hair stint, I gained appreciation for my curls, and I vowed never to have short hair again. It might have also helped that BIG Hair and perms were in during the 1980s. In high school, I blew my hair dry in the mornings, flipped the bangs with a brush, teased them with Aqua Net and mousse, and off I hopped to the school bus. When I was in ninth grade, I often carried around a can of Aqua Net in my bag, so I could readjust my big hair (which I was growing out) with enough hair spray to burn another gaping hole in the ozone layer.
Rhine Wines over Rhinoplasty
Although I started accepting my wild curls in high school, I really didn’t start to like my hair until adulthood. Yet I didn’t accept the rest of myself. When I was in my early twenties, I consulted with a plastic surgeon because I wanted my ethnic Polish nose (I call it the “Eastern European special”) sculpted into a cuter, teenier nose that didn’t pay homage to my heritage. Right before my surgery date, I got a job in Germany for a telecommunications company, and my sense of adventure overcame my desire for the perfect nose. I flew to Frankfurt, choosing Rhine wines over rhinoplasty.
Although I at last liked my curly hair, I still did not like myself. Most days a heavy rock burned in my stomach. I hung out in tanning beds a few times a week, started highlighting my hair, and made sure that my outsides looked put together. I cleaned and scrubbed my apartment, and made sure that it was always super organized.
I sought lower companionship, drank a lot, hung out in sordid places with people I didn’t really like who drank more than I did (then I didn’t need to look at myself). I enjoyed playing the role of the exotic young American expat in Europe.
The only thing I liked about myself was my golden locks and my looks—I got plenty of free drinks that way. But I was miserable, had superglued myself into a bad relationship with a charming, good-looking, German guy eight years my senior who drank harder than I did and had a daily hashish habit.
God was out to get me…
At that time, I thought God was out to get me, that He had it in for me, that He wanted to punish me, and make my life miserable. I knew He was there, but He didn’t want to be there for me. He felt foreign, far away, and reserved only for prissy, sinless folk. God only loved those perfect people who had matching Country Kitchens with geese and ducks- decorated in mauve- did scrapbooking and crafts, had quilting bees, and drove minivans. God was not for a wretched depressed damsel like me who had screwed up her life like a runt scud missile.
Fast forward seven years….
My husband Kevin (not the German guy), our preschool-aged daughter, and I lived in Irvine, California. I was no longer on a self-destructive mission. Kevin and I both had good-paying jobs, and we hung out with decent spritually minded people. I loved God, had done big chunk of personal development, no longer felt singled out for doom by Him, attended church, and sent my daughter to private Christian school. Yet I still struggled with feelings to conform, especially in the O.C.—-where botox and dermabrasion coupons came in the mail, and almost all the women there had straight shoulder-length blonde hair and got gussied up to go to Target.
Before entering this acceptance zone, I was sometimes insecure and other times felt dignified determination. The first thing I noticed was the realization that I don’t have to conform- God didn’t put me on Earth to fit in a cookie cutter and be like everybody else. Since then, I’ve gained clarity and confidence. And the best part is I live my life with a driven, zesty purpose and get to hang out with fun and smart people.
A few years ago I taught summer writing classes at a local private school. The director, who had an empowering, joyful leadership style that brought out everybody’s strengths made the theme of the summer “Just the Way You Are.” That summer helped me hone and grow into my best self, along with the other teachers. I can’t be you, you can’t be me, and you cannot be something you are not.
God has set you aside for a special purpose, not to punish you, but to help you succeed beyond your wildest dreams.
The theme “Just the Way You Are” doesn’t mean that you wallow in complacency or bathe in the mud of mediocrity. It also doesn’t mean that you do stupid stuff to self-sabotage your life. It means taking action to grow into your best way that you are, jumping into personal development so you can perform at peak levels, as Tony Robbins talks about.
Whether you’re in the acceptance zone, happy with just the way you are, struggling, or you’ve backslid into an awful life and you feel like there’s no way out—there is hope.
Don’t quit 5 minutes before the miracle.
P.S. Enjoy these two music videos–God loves you just the way you are. Remember that schmaltzy Billy Joel song?
Or the more recent Bruno Mars version of “Just the Way You Are” from 2010?