Life Lessons in Self Care, Love and the Art of Loving Your Natural Hair

I started straightening  my hair as soon as my mother would allow me to buy a hair straightener (a GHD, I still hold it dear). I hated the natural bounces and curls that sprouted from my head from as early as I can remember. “People with curled hair aren’t satisfied until it’s straight.” my mother crooned at me on an almost daily basis. “And people with straight hair just want their’s to be curly!”

It’s taken my over 10 years of destroying my poor hair with ultra heat and every goddamned hair straightening product known to man (and then some) to realize the big thing  I’ve missed my entire life; I actually have really great hair.  Although I’d love to continue talking about how the waves currently bolted to the top of my head have changed my life for the better, this piece isn’t solely about hair. It’s about something much deeper (and much more difficult to maintain….); Self-appreciation and learning to be okay with yourself as you are.

My hair isn’t the only trait of mine I’ve learned to hate as I moved from being a kid on the playground to being a bigger kid in the world of graduate life. I’ve always been too tall, too thin, too tubby, too lanky. My legs go on for days, my feet are on par with those of American basketballers and I just can’t seem to shift that left over weight that hugs itself to my hips. The list is never-ending, unorthodox and sometimes purely hypothetical; there’s always another imperfection I’ll find to outweigh the others and nothing anyone can say to me will ever make me see myself in any other light. “Ohh I’d love to be thin like you” I avoided eating as a kid; it’s definitely stunted my growth in places. “You have model’s legs!” and a face like the back of a country bus. “How can you eat so much and never put on weight” Hint; it’s genetics paired perfectly with the ability to stop eating for extended periods of time when my nagging brain tells me to get a grip. My view of myself is tainted by my own bias mind that will never see myself as anything above a walking mess. I envy those with self confidence, those who don’t avoid mirrors nor refrain from being able to enjoy taking pictures with friends and those who see themselves as their own kind of perfect.

orla wiht big hair

Me, proving my karate skills and big-haired status circa the early 2000s

Why am I so fixated with something as minimal as physical appearance?  An ideal created by the 1000s of fashion magazines, tv shows, celebrity infatuations and egotistical jealous thoughts I’ve consumed over my 22 years? It seems like I’ve destroyed my own mind from a very young age by consuming (both figuratively and narratively) and filling each crevice of my little, awe-filled brain with faux-ideals of what the human body should look like. I wasn’t always born with this self-hatred, unconfidence or nagging sense of self-awareness; I’ve always been shy, apprehensive and nervous but I certainly didn’t skip into pre-school thinking “wow, what big lats I have”. Am I blaming society? Most certainly but my blame doesn’t solely lie on my own consumption habits; there’s something inside me that propelled me to think the way I do and that needs to be address to; I need to learn some self-love!

You can’t tell an addict to stop being addicted to their drug of choice just like you can’t coerce someone into loving or even liking themselves; it’s a self learning process that starts with accepting flaws (believe me, I’ve tried…. ). Self-learning seems like something your hippy aunt would tell you to do while she drinks herbal tea and moons over the waning astrological patterns but it’s also an ideal people my age don’t really seem to consider. We fawn over our appearances, pile on the make up and beat ourselves into that too small dress or jeans because that’s what “Everyone does”. Beauty is pain, being a women is a chore; blah di blah di blah. The true art and enjoyment of dressing up, of putting on your makeup and of feeling a million dollars in yourself is lost in the want to take the best selfie and look like all the other guys and gals on instagram – I’m fed up of this constant competition and pressure and more so annoyed at myself for losing the game against the world of the material whims.

Sometimes something flickers and I get bursts of feeling okay. I remove the mirror in my room from its hiding place, retrieve my straightener from it’s box and grab my favourite shade of lippy. Sometimes I see myself for who I am; just me. I am tall and lanky. I’m not a beanpole anymore and perhaps I’m not toned and buff in all the right places but you know what? That’s okay with me because I now understand and see that I can’t be someone I am not, no matter what expectations tell me.  Today I am the heaviest I have ever been but I am also the healthiest and the most content in my own skin. I’ve reached a point in my life where I’m trying to stop comparing myself to people’s expectations of who I should be. I’m slowly learning to be content being me and not conform to some unrealistic picture I’ve gotten from girls with much more self-confidence than me who are happy to flaunt themselves on Instagram. I wish I had their beauty, their confidence (And the time it takes to fill their eyebrows like a boss because damn, that’s so much effort!) but I can only be me; keeping my efforts to match my own over-exertion and trying my best to feel okay in my own skin.

smiling

Me, make up-free and lanky limbs loving Amsterdam

Hell, it’s difficult learning to be okay with being me. I think the first step was realising that I didn’t actually have to look a certain way, wear my make-up like everyone else or keep my hair looking salon fresh 25/7; I don’t have to conform with other people my age and their expectations of beauty. I’ve stopped the unnecessary torture of my poor locks and am trying to embrace the natural kinks that leap and bound from my head. I haven’t worn makeup all week and when I do decide to get the “face” out, it’s for me and not for anyone else.

Secondly I’m learning all about self-care. I’m used to working 30+ hours a day, studying full time and trying to balance my personal life with my mental health…. failing; spare time has never been a “thing for me” and the effects of this over exerted lifestyle have ended up damaging my physical and mental health. A recent health scare has taught me that learning to take care of myself is a huge part of learning to accept myself. I am worth so much more than a life of being an overtired, zombie; petrified by life and waiting for the next panic attack to rock my world. Today I value my spare time as me time; I turn off the laptop, read the books I’ve been ignoring and take the time to just be distraction-free me.

It’s a journey to correct my years of self-dislike, hell sometimes I pass a reflection of myself, spy an old photo on facebook or accidently open the inner camera and get a fright; I’m not a supermodel or instagram’s next star, I’m just me and that’s all I have to be.

Embrace being you,

Órla

 

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