I am obsessed with hair. Not how it looks, not other people's hair, not hair as a statement of identity or even a useful way to keep your head warm. I am compulsively drawn to touching my own hair. It’s a compulsion that has manifested itself in multiple ways throughout my life, somehow cleverly flying under even my own radar. But I have to face the facts. I can’t escape it. If I rid myself of one habit, I will acquire another. I don’t know where it came from, but it’s there. Must. Touch. Hair.
When I hit puberty with full force, something weird happened. I realized my eyebrows were curly. I’m talking wiry, trying-to-flee-from-my-forehead old man brows. As an avid horseback rider, I spent hours each week surrounded by all sorts of dust and grime that gathered itself in one place: on my eyebrows. I began to pay more attention to them, already the bane of my existence. They had split ends. How do eyebrows get split ends?
My solution was somewhat ill-conceived. I spent my time picking at them, pulling out broken hairs, smoothing out the curls, scraping off the dust. It became constant. I couldn’t stop. When my mind wandered, I would revert immediately to my default position, hand on eyebrow. Those split ends would be eradicated if it killed me. And yes, pulling out single hairs from my face was painful. For a while. And then it wasn’t. My thick eyebrows began receding, thinning in patches. My parents alternately worried and made fun of me. Stop picking at your eyebrows, they’re disappearing. My friends mostly didn’t say anything, but I knew I should be embarrassed about it regardless. If someone brought it up I would immediately blush and evade the question. Normal people have normal eyebrows and treat them accordingly. I hoped no one noticed, but it seems impossible that they didn’t.
I worried that the thin patches would become permanent, that I would end up tattooing my eyebrows onto my face because I had picked at the hair repeatedly enough to permanently destroy it. Sometimes that happens, I hear. I wanted eyebrows, I swear. I was paranoid about it. But I couldn’t stop. Hand to eyebrow, natural position.
Eventually I did stop. I can’t remember why. Sometime in my high school career it just stopped being a problem. The patches filled in.
It didn’t last long. I was 18 when I discovered another irregularity in the texture of my hair. It didn’t apply to every hair, just certain ones at the top of my head. They were thicker, rougher, uneven, had kinks interrupting the straight line between scalp and end. These were not normal curls. These were not the smooth fibers you see on the back of Pantene shampoo bottles. I kept looking for them, not understanding why they would be different than the normal, smooth sections of my hair. Pinching each one between my fingernails and pulling as if I could smooth out the kinks and curls with my bare hands.
I feel bad for the people that sit behind me in lectures, in movies, at plays. My elbow is probably always in your way, obstructing your view. My roommates probably hate the mass of hair I shed all over the apartment.
I measure the closeness of all my relationships by how much they call me on my shit. And this is my shit. The only people who think to mention it are my closest friends, my parents. Once, I realized a relationship was doomed because he had never once asked me why the hell I couldn’t stop pulling at my hair. If you don’t notice, you’re not paying attention.
I ran into an ex-boyfriend at a party over the summer. “So you’re still doing that thing with your hair, huh?” he asked me. Still. Constantly. It’s stress relief, a boredom queller, an absent-minded physical tick that’s impossible to eradicate — what would I do without it? Where would my hands go? As I’m driving? As I’m reading? What would I do? I think it gives me headaches, which in turn makes me paranoid that I’m doing permanent physical damage to myself. I don’t pull out the hair, not on purpose, so it can’t be that bad, I tell myself, or rather at least it could be worse. I’m afraid I’ll go bald anyway. A woman cannot be bald. I have a lot of hair, though. Maybe thinner would be better.
At the end of a particularly high-stress week, I find myself covered in fine blond hairs, my bed, my couch, my clothes, woven into my scarves — everywhere. I start to develop little cuts across my hands after spending hours constantly feeling the way a single strand pulls across my fingernails. The hair carves thin canyons into my skin like papercuts. Count them: one two three. My calloused fingertips begin to hurt. I don’t stop. I think to myself “this is self-destructive,” and I wonder if I should be hauled away for further examination. My mother once suggested I see a therapist. What do I say? My name is Shaunacy, and I can’t stop touching my hair. I’m doing it now.
I arrived at college thinking it a passing phase. I just had to condition the fuck out of my hair, and the roughness would go away. I would stop playing with it. You don’t understand, I wanted to tell people, this isn’t me. But this particular incarnation of my hair obsession has lasted two years. A little more. I can’t stop. For an hour, maybe, days perhaps. Not forever. I am a compulsive hair toucher. This is how people see me, because this is what I am. The next time you see me, I’ll probably have my hand in my hair. You can tell me to stop. I probably won’t. What’s worse, I won’t even really want to. If it wasn’t this, it would be something else. Hand in hair, natural position.