A reflection of a girl with white and green hair stares back at me in the mirror. Her hair has been over-processed by chemicals that would make anyone wonder if she has any self-restraint. As I touch my hair, clumps fall out. My shock starts to turn into laughter. How many times was I told it was going to happen? I pick up my phone to call my mother and send her pictures.
New York reported its first COVID case on March 1st of 2020 and declared the State of Emergency only six days later. This caused a chain reaction in my life, starting with being evacuated from the dorms I was living in with a couple short days notice. After receiving emails from the school, informing its students that all classes would resume online and we had to evacuate the dorms, I made the decision to fly home to be with family. I flew home to Nevada; the day after purchasing a ticket, only takings valuables and essential belongings. The plan was to return in 3 weeks when we were scheduled to resume in-person classes but that hope lasted a whole moment as cases only continued to grow at a rapid rate. Suddenly, I was living at home with my parents and seemed to regress instead of growing as an individual.
This had a huge impact on my mental health and self-image. Instead of remaining stationary and feeling like my life was on pause, I decided to take on an essential worker job at the luxurious Taco Bell. Hired on as a shift lead, I started saving money and kept in touch with two friends that were still in the city looking for an apartment and a third roommate. By the time they found an apartment, I had saved enough to cover my rent for the next semester, so I returned to the city at the end of June with my determination intact.
Like many, I was plagued with the boredom of quarantine and going stir-crazy at home. Jobs were unavailable. I was sending out dozens of applications a day for weeks. This caused me to deep-dive into my brain and critique every part of myself. The days started to grow darker as my self-esteem dropped day by day. As a distraction, I turned to the option I always have when I’m feeling down and started dying my hair. From June to October, my hair changed many times in both color and style. I grabbed scissors and cut bangs often. My hair was always a part of my identity and what I turned to when I needed to express myself. In high school, I never arrived anywhere without having my hair styled. Whether it was through a new color or styling it in a new way. This coping mechanism I developed was doomed to end tragically when I had nothing but free time.
I’m not the only one who has turned to hair amid the pandemic. From TikToks of hair fails to finding a deal on hair dye, it's a distraction. “For some, it’s become a time of experimentation and fun.” Mara Altman says in her New York Times article What Is Beauty Now?
Disaster struck when I had the brilliant idea of bleaching my hair from black to platinum in one week. Anyone who does hair knows this is a terrible idea and should never be done in one week as attempted by yourself without help from a professional. By the end of the process, I had successfully chemically burnt my hair to the point of disintegration. It was falling out to the
touch. My shock had me laughing hysterically at how absolutely ridiculous I looked. This led to me asking a salon for help.
These two women brushed through my hair, shaking their heads in disappointment as strands breaking in their fingertips. They were determined to help me find my confidence through a new hairstyle. After two hours of chopping and coloring, I emerged with a new haircut that brought with it a new sense of confidence. I’d never been able to picture myself with short hair but here I was with the shortest hair I’d ever had, feeling more confident than ever.
From there, I started making decisions that were healthier for me. I stopped turning to chemicals to pour on my hair every time I was sad and instead started cooking, making content, and throwing myself into my creative projects. Soon after, I got a job at a bakery and started doing freelance photography. The distractions have successfully helped me stop messing with my hair by myself.
COVID started a downhill spiral but I found my way out and am climbing back up to the happiness I always knew I’d find in New York City. My self-esteem has slowly grown and built up. I lived through a pandemic, juggling 5 college courses, and working to pay rent all while maintaining my creative endeavors and hobbies. This journey started rough but has been worth it looking back. I have proved that I am tenacious and much more capable than I had thought back in January of 2020. My hair journey shows the highlights and lowlights of those difficult years.