“You have great hair.”
I was putting down my yoga mat at the studio. I turned to the woman who had spoken to me, she was sitting on the floor, stretching. I had never met her before.
“Pardon me?” I asked.
“You have great hair.”
My hair had been up in a ponytail all morning because I had been writing – fighting, really – a troublesome section of my new book and so now that my hair was out long, it had that weird kink in the middle where I had secured the elastic too tight. As I was writing, I had thought maybe the words would come more easily if I could feel some air on the back of my neck. It hadn’t really worked.
My last haircut was seven months ago. I’ve recently started using this special shampoo in an attempt to combat my eternally oily scalp and it leaves the ends of my hair feeling dry. But I hadn’t even washed my hair in two days.
I considered telling her all that. I wanted to explain why she was wrong and list all the ways in which my hair was not at all “great.” I thought I’d tell her how I always wanted to have straight, blonde, angel-hair thin strands that hung passively to my shoulders, not the wild curls that make their own decisions about where they are going. I was about to tell her that my dark hair is increasingly streaked with grey and, while I don’t take issue with the color, I do not understand why those hairs are a different texture and they stand straight up in the air – as if they are waving in the landing of middle age, directly upon my head.
But then I looked at her, staring up at me, offering me a smile and this kindness.
What do you say? We ask little kids when they are given a gift.
Thank you. They recite.
When did we forget what to say? When did we get so full of self-doubt and self-hatred and whatever else this is that masquerades as humility? It’s not humility when we reject someone else’s gift of kindness. It’s not modesty when we shut down someone’s attempt at connection because we are unable to get over ourselves and our insecurities. It’s just rude.
Maybe it was something about being in a yoga studio that reminded me to be grateful. Yoga has a funny way of doing that. So instead of taking her complement and bashing it into the ground with all these bullshit issues about beauty and femininity, I said:
“Thank you. You made my day.”
As I was walking out of class, I said to the woman in front of me:
“I love your leggings.”
She shook her head, “Oh, no, they’re cheap. I just got them from that consignment place downtown.”
“I really don’t care – you look super cute.”
She grinned at me and laughed.
“Well, thank you.”
Maybe someday, we’ll all remember what to say.