Suddenly, I was awake. My eyes flew open, and I stared frantically at the off-white, newly remodeled ceiling of my recent love interest's swanky East Village apartment. I looked to the right. Thankfully, he was still asleep. Then I looked to the left and found pieces of tangled brunette hair lying on the discolored navy blue sheets next to me.
Shit, I thought to myself, that's my hair.
Then I panicked. I glanced over at the half-clothed man lying next to me and held my breath as I tried to conjure up an ingenious plan to conceal that my hair extensions that had fallen out the night before. Moving at full speed, I swung my right arm across my body, snatched the animal-like ball of hair that was lying next to me, and threw it in my bag that was resting on the nightstand.
Phew. I was safe...
"Rhyan?" I heard said love interest's quiet, yet perplexed voice next to me.
I rolled over, thinking I had successfully covered up the fact that I wore fake hair.
"I think your hair is falling out?" He pointed to the back of my scalp, which had another piece of hair dangling off the tips of my real hair.
Turning pale, I touched the back of my hair and pulled out the loose hair extension.
Completely defeated, I confessed, "My hair is fake."
Yes, I wear fake hair. Not because I want to, but because I feel I have to.
Let me start at the beginning.
During my sophomore year of college, I became obsessed with having long, pin-straight hair. After all, in a private, preppy, New England Catholic school, what girl didn't have straight hair?
Running with that obsession, I decided to dedicate two hours each morning to straightening my long, curly hair. From sophomore year to senior year, I became fixated on ironing out my curls to achieve the standard "straight-haired" look that every other girl was flaunting around campus.
I began freshman year with long, natural, curly hair that extended down to my hips for a total of 30 inches. I ended senior year with short, thinned out, burned-off hair that barely touched below my shoulders and was a mere 12 inches.
During those two years, I didn't cut my hair once. Not. Even. Once. So, where did it all go?
That was the question I got asked by family, friends, teachers, and everyone else I knew. In fact, it was the only question I got asked when people saw me. The answer?
I BURNED IT ALL OFF. Literally.
I had spent an astonishing amount of hours and a significant amount of effort to personally DESTROY my used-to-be-long, voluminous hair, winding up at graduation with a bob that barely fit up in a ponytail. It was all because, day after day, I operated under the false assumption that I only looked my best when my hair was straight. I was glued to my SHI hair straightener, constantly ironing out the bumps and waves of my natural hair in order to construe my curls into a straightened masterpiece.
After five months of butchering my own hair with a flat iron, I began to notice the ends were breaking off. It was a crisp February morning, and I had just returned to school after a holiday weekend. I had stayed over a friend's apartment on campus the night before, and I woke up ready to begin the school week.
I woke up two hours before class and proceeded to plug in my straightener in my friend's pristine bathroom. It wasn't until then that I noticed something wasn't right. After straightening out my hair, I noticed an enormous bundle of brunette hair lying against the bleach-white tiled floor. I was mortified.
My hair was falling off.
Anyone in their right mind would have stopped right there. They would have put down the hair straightener and they would have never picked up another hairstyling tool again, but not me.
My overbearing obsession to fit in with straight-haired society on campus engulfed any rational thinking I had and I CONTINUED to straighten my hair, even though I watched it gradually break off every time I straightened it. I simply didn't like the way my hair looked curly. I didn't like the way it felt curly, and I didn't like the way it made me feel as a person when it was curly. (Ridiculous, I know.) As my senior year began, I was completely dissatisfied with my appearance. Not only was my hair unhealthy, but it had become extremely short and incredibly thin.
In reaction to my frail and damaged hair, I decided to wear clip-in straight hair extensions, which wasn't a real solution because I still had to straighten (and burn off) the top of my real hair. In my mind, it was worth it because at least I didn't look like an unattractive 12-year-old with a poorly styled bob.
In addition to straightening my hair every morning, I now had to fashion four rows of clip-in fake hair extensions to my scalp, which added yet another step to my already elongated morning hair routine. Not only were the clip-in hair extensions a pain to attach, but they also smelled like the hair of an American Girl doll. This was my routine on the morning of Oktoberfest, one of Fairfield University's most anticipated events. The day consists of people making out on rooftops and funneling cheap beer off of front porches trashed with Solo cups and handles of vodka. It was also the first event that I would be wearing my new clip-in fake hair extensions to.
I woke up the morning of Oktoberfest, leaving myself three full hours to straighten my hair, brush my clip-in hair extensions, straighten my clip-in hair extensions, attach my clip-in hair extensions to my real hair, then blend my fake hair and my real hair together.
Woof. What a process.
After completing my first-class hair production, my friends and I proceeded to Fairfield Beach, where the Oktoberfest debauchery was taking place. Upon arrival, I felt one of my clip-in hair extensions slipping off the side of my scalp. Immediately, I reattached it and proceeded with business as usual — shots of vodka, shots of vodka, and more shots of vodka.
The next thing I knew, it was picture time. My girlfriends and I had filed into the lacrosse house and gathered with the athletes for pictures. Everyone was hugging, linking arms, and laughing. I went to pull away from the group after one of the pictures and immediately got caught on one of the lacrosse guys' watches. Ouch.
Almost instantly, I felt a portion of my hair unclip from my scalp and fall to the floor. I had no words. Everyone stared at me, completely confounded by what they had just witnessed. Immediately, I picked up my hair off the floor and ran out of the house, humiliated.
The clip-in hair extensions solution lasted a total of six months after the Oktoberfest catastrophe until I realized I couldn't continue burning off all of my hair, and I couldn't continue wearing clip-in hair extensions, especially with graduation a few weeks away.
At that moment, I realized something more permanent had to be done to fix my short, thinned out, and burned-off hair.
After looking into options such as wigs and surgical procedures, I decided to invest in getting real, bonded-in, human hair extensions that would last six months until I would have to get them redone. Luckily, one of my friends had bonded-in hair extensions and was able to recommend a stylist for me.
Without hesitation, I called up the stylist and set up a consultation appointment. I traveled the hour out to the eastern end of Long Island where, in her personal salon, she explained the hair extension installation procedure and the hard cost associated with it. She also suggested I get 100 pieces of hair installed in order to make up for the enormous amount of hair I had lost over the past three years.
Seven hundred dollars later, I found myself with 100 pieces of SoCap SHE curly human hair extensions bonded into my real hair.
I was ecstatic.
I no longer had to spend hours upon hours with heating tools, and my hair was back to its au naturel state — long and curly. I felt like myself again, and I fully embraced my curls.
Since college graduation, I've spent a total of $2,800 on hair extensions, which equates to roughly $1,400 per year. In order to afford my hair extensions, I've had to give up the casual post-work trip to Sephora to buy new bronzer and the unintended weekday trip to Zara to buy new shoes. I've had to give up eating out with friends at New York City restaurants and can no longer buy caramel macchiatos every morning before work.
Although I've had to monitor my personal expenses, and I've had to cut back on my everyday purchases, my curly hair extensions have been worth every penny. Not only have my new hair extensions eliminated my constant fear of my hair falling out on a daily basis, but they have also transformed me back into who I used to be, both externally and emotionally, before I became obsessed with a flat iron.
Ultimately, burning off all of my hair taught me to appreciate everything, because one day, it could be gone. Literally, gone. As a rule moving forward, I have learned to embrace my natural features instead of trying to alter them. My curly hair extensions have helped me celebrate my true self and have allowed me to appreciate my natural hair as well as my height, my eye color, my skin tone, and who I am as a person.
Although burning off all of my hair has cost me a few thousand dollars, it made me realize that I am only truly happy when I am myself. So, the next time you're about to pick up a hairstyling tool, do yourself a favor, save the $1,400 a year, and go on a vacation instead. Trust me, it's the smart thing to do.