By Deborah Blackwell
I knew the day would come. The only person wearing a mask was me. I thought I would be fine with it, because I’m strong, confident, unconcerned with the status quo. Wrong.
Everything’s become “a thing” since the start of the pandemic two horrible years ago. Working was a thing. Grocery shopping was a thing. Masks were a thing. Life was a thing. Hair was a big thing. And when the world tried to open up last year, I didn’t play along. The invisible killer was still on the loose. It was just wishful thinking that we were safe. So I stuck with the routine, and wore my mask everywhere I went. It didn’t seem so hard. I wasn’t alone, and felt fine wearing my face covering. I didn’t bat an eye.
But, then it happened.
I went for a hair appointment the other day, just like I had been doing—mask on, ready for the complicated, messy endeavor of getting my hair colored, washed, trimmed, and dried while wearing something strapped around my ears. But when I walked in, things were different. No one was wearing a mask.
I instantly reverted back to 6-year-old me: self-conscious, embarrassed, and unsure what to do. I didn’t fit in, and I didn’t have an invisibility cloak. So, do I take it off? Or do I balk at the new status quo? It’s only been a week, and unlike most of the world, I’m not quite ready to go bare. It feels “too soon.” I even made an excuse out loud for having it on. “I’m immunocompromised, so I’m being careful.”
I mean, is it really safe? How do we know? What if it’s not? And P.S., I’m used to my mask. As constricting as it is, I feel sort of ageless in it. There’s a mystery about people in a mask that leaves room for imagination. It somehow made me more confident. It kept me safe from harm, while also hiding my flaws. But I didn’t realize one of my flaws was lack of courage to be different…go solo on wearing a mask.
This isn’t the first time I’ve been cowardly in respect to hair. When salons were closed at the start of the pandemic, I decided to try going gray. I wasn’t alone, I saw lots of lengthy roots everywhere I turned. I’ll save the soul-squelching experience resulting from 18 months of gray for another post, but it has the same theme. I lost every speck of my confidence.
I looked around the familiar setting and that seemed newly unfamiliar. Who were these maskless faces? “Try not to overthink it,” my stylist said with a big smile. “It happened to me too.” So I sat there, shrunk down in the chair, hiding under my cape, avoiding the mirror. My once-pretty-to-me pink mask now looked like a giant swatch of papery pleats dotted in brown goop, taking up half my face. I didn’t feel like the others looked: free, confident…or beautiful.
I have a good friend from China, who although she has been here for 30 years, still struggles with English. In one of our long conversations recently, she used the word “beauty-tude.” At first, I tried to act like I knew what she meant, but I couldn’t quite figure it out. Then I realized she was referring to me. Apparently I had beauty-tude. I finally asked her what it meant. She said beautiful, confident, full of grace, no matter your challenges. Um…me? Not in the salon.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But confidence is a whole other deal. I used to project it, even if I didn’t feel it. An extroverted introvert, I could take over a room like I owned it, despite quivering inside. But when our world changed, and we stopped going “out there,” we came face-to-face with a reality we didn’t know. What once felt familiar now seemed disorienting. Every time we left the house we took our life in our hands. Anxiety became our MO, confidence melted away.
As I sat there in my messy mask, I realized I will need to map my way back to beauty-tude. I can’t just rip my mask off like a Band-Aid and run out into the world as if I had just won the lottery. I need to build a bridge from the last two years to the present awkward moment. Dip my toe in. Relearn how confidence feels. It’s so easy to recognize our limitations, even if others don’t. Confidence might come from hair color, or even following the status quo. But life is about living and I’ve got nothing to lose. Except, or course, my mask.