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In a quest for beauty, I became my ugliest self

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JULY 10, 2023

For the majority of my time in elementary school, I hated wearing my hair down due to its volume and tendency to stick up all over my head. Because of this, all photos of me spanning from the second to fourth grade are of a little girl with hair pulled back into various ugly ponytails.

At first, a simple hair tie would do, but I grew to hate the little bumps that would then be scattered throughout my hair. I started waking up a little earlier in the morning to soak my hair in water, brush it so that my hair hugged my scalp and tie it with two hair ties instead of one. I’d then use a comb to push all the bumps back and grab a few tissues, flatten them on my head to soak up the water — letting it bleed through and transform the paper from an opaque white to a slightly transparent hue.  

Eventually, even the extreme dousing of water on my head became insufficient, and I resorted to purchasing a large, tall can of hairspray. Every morning, I would soak my hair, brush it back into a ponytail and then hairspray it down.

Although the use of a product in my hair was my choice, I was still self-conscious of the fact my hair was crisp to the touch. Whenever my friends pointed out how shiny my hair looked and reached out their fingers to touch it, I would yelp and quickly dodge them. 

It wasn’t a big deal. It never was. But to me, it felt like it. 

The obsession only grew and I continued to take my styling to the next level. I kept using more of everything I had been using, while also shoving eight clips into my skull just to clip back and flatten all the bumps in my hair. The back of my head now essentially consisted of metal pieces overlapping each other, like a series of cogs.

One day, we had to do lice checks at school, which meant I had to take my hair out of its ponytail. Somehow, in all of the years I had been doing this look, I had never had to take it out in public – something I dreaded having to do. 

When your hair is vacuumed into this tight and sleek look by hairspray, hair clips and three hair ties, taking the ponytail out results in the strands sitting in an awkward, stiff and dented position. I begged the school nurse to let me keep it up, but she insisted I take it down in order for her to facilitate a thorough checkup. Upon realizing that I would have to take out my perfectly groomed ponytail, I started yelling and crying.

I then tried to run out of the room. 

The nurse, stunned at my frenzy, managed to pull me back into her room and quickly shut the office door leaving me with nowhere to run. She sat me down in a little red chair and gently repeated that I had to take it off.

Bitter, ashamed and embarrassed, I pulled out all of the clips and all of the hair ties, feeling the tension in my neck and scalp release. 

The one in my heart, however, only tightened. 

The nurse stayed silent, rummaging her fingers through the rock-solid crisps that lay on my head, until she quietly told me I was free to return to class. As I was leaving, she offered me a hairbrush to brush the gunk out. 

I rushed to the bathroom to try and redo my ponytail as neatly as it had been before, but my arms grew sore from reaching up to scoop my hair back so many times. Staring bitterly at myself in the mirror, a tear rolled off my nose and into the corner of my mouth. I bit the inside of my cheek, remembering my attempted escape from the nurse, and a painful ache filled my stomach.

I realized that in a quest for beauty, I had become my ugliest self.

It’s difficult to convey how consuming beauty is. It nibbles away at time, joy and laughter — at everything. 

I spent at least 30 minutes every morning standing on a stool in my bathroom, desperately trying to whip up my hair into this “perfect ponytail.” I never let anyone touch my head in fear of their comments on the insane amount of hairspray that crisped up every strand. I was constantly anxious of extreme sweating and exercise in fear of my hair getting messed up or knocked out of place. 

This story isn’t the most severe case of an obsession with beauty. The point is, however, that being so engrossed with beauty can be a dangerous force when manifested within every corner of a person’s life. 

I wear my hair down now. 

I only use product for dance performances. Though I used to hate the way my hair poofed up and frizzed, in the last few years I’ve been finding a new sense of beauty in the way wisps fall on my face and tickle the shell of my ear, the way it sits comfortably and free on my shoulders.

Most of all, I’ve grown to love when I see familiar fingers reaching out to playfully touch my hair.

Contact Naomi Hsu at 


AUGUST 05, 2023