Two years ago, a very reputable hairdresser used faulty straighteners and burnt my hair.
The next day, in the shower, when I was trying to identify the strange odour, I remembered the last time I had smelt it: I was 12 years old, trying to ignite a gas hob, leaning over to check that the gas was coming through. The gas came through in a flaming rush, and the front few pieces of my hair drifted down like tiny black leaves.
Same smell: burnt hair.
My hair had shrivelled up into a wiry gorse bush. I cut off the worst damage, and finagled some expensive conditioner from the offending hairdressers. I thought if I covered it in expensive hair products, it would fix it. But it didn’t.
After that, whenever I looked in the mirror at my hair, I saw my life.
Six years ago, my world shrivelled and shrank. Giving birth had exacerbated my autoimmune illness, and I was left housebound, needing to be in bed 21 hours a day.
I questioned my identity, my life, my faith. At some point, emotionally and spiritually, something snapped in me. I looked around at others’ lives, and they all looked shiny and whole, but I was weak and broken.
Most shampoos work by using harsh sulphates to strip the hair of all its natural oils. This leaves the hair clean, but frazzled. So we coat it in plastic to make it look healthy and shiny. (Look for the “silicones” on your conditioner bottle.) Over time, however, it can take its toll, and underneath the plastic the hair gets damaged.
We damage our hair and conceal it in plastic. We do this to our lives, as well.
We strip ourselves of what is naturally us in order to belong. Even in church circles, there is so much pressure to look like everyone else: to be always smiling and positive, always a happy and loving parent or wife, always in control and successful, articulate, beautiful, just like all the other photos we see on Facebook. We fear what people would think of us if we showed the whole truth, so we strip back what is naturally us.
We smother our hair and our lives in plastic so we look shiny and happy like everyone else. Then we instagram it.
We are not all bouncy and shiny. We cannot be. Some of us have had real damage, and that takes time to heal.
God speaks in many and various ways. Tara Owens, in her book, Embracing the Body, emphasises how vital it is to listen to the message our bodies send us. So often, our bodies prophesy to us before our mind registers their truth. Perhaps the ache in our shoulders tells us to take a rest, the migraines tell us we need to accept God’s love, the stomach pains are linked to a grudge we still bear.
Sometimes God can speak through hair.
I had grown quieter in my writing, though only those who knew me well would have noticed. I couldn’t even have explained to anyone else that I was feeling the pressure to hide the harder aspects of my life. All I knew was that every time I saw my hair in the mirror, I felt sad. I kept on covering my hair with increasing amounts of serum to control it, but it felt like my hair was a lie.
My hair was prophesying to me, whispering to me to not keep stripping myself of my personality and character; to be honest about who I was. God is truth, and my soul was feeling that pull towards truth-telling.
Eventually, I threw away my very expensive shampoo and conditioner, and bought a product with only organic ingredients, no sulphates, no silicones. I thought I was just healing my hair, but for the first time in weeks, I opened my laptop and wrote unrestrained, unashamed.
The pursuit of authenticity can mean you need to change your hair, or clothes, or posture. It’s counter-intuitive: we think if we express who we are verbally, it will release us to express ourselves physically, through our clothes and hair.
Sometimes you need to work with the body first, and the mind and words will follow. You wear the comfortable jeans, and for the first time in months, you feel free to tell your friends how you really feel.
Friends have asked me, “So with all the organic ingredients, does your hair smell so much nicer now? It doesn’t. Aloe vera perfume smells much more desirable than real aloe vera. Reality is rarely as sweet as artifice. But I am happy, because my hair is healing. It is me, and it is real.
Now I look in the mirror, and my hair prophesies to me: of how God created us as truth-tellers, and how that brings freedom. My hair is naturally wavy, and with the natural shampoo the curls have sprung up, unfettered. Sometimes it looks a little wild and messy. Other times it is subdued and flat. Occasionally, I think it looks beautiful. The point is that I am enjoying it all, because when I look in the mirror, I know it is a true portrait.
So if you are feeling quiet, or lost, or broken, and you don’t know why, listen to your body. Sometimes our bodies are more honest than we dare to be.
QUESTION: Lovelys, how has your body prophesied to you? We’d love to hear.