I like to say I have "big hair energy." You know, the confidence that lets you strut down the street, tousle your locks, and playfully whip your hair back and forth. When I do it, though, I end up feeling silly for even trying, sweeping some 12 strands over my shoulder instead of a thick and luxurious mane. My life isn’t a Pantene ad, it turns out, and despite my forays into supplements, conditioners, and hair-centric diets, my hair remains thin as ever.
Growing up, I had big hair to match my confidence. It was light blonde and wavy and appeared to be thick. As I got older and moved to New York, though, my hair thinned out and turned a dark, dirty blonde. I realized I have a cowlick that runs down the back of my head from the north east corner to the middle of the back of my scalp, and instead of blowing in the wind, my hair would just fall flat. Cute.
I’ve become increasingly obsessed with hair extensions, seeing them as an escape from my thin haired purgatory. So I dyed my hair to my desired color, back to the bright blonde I see in my mind’s eye, and typed in hair extensions into Google. The results were overwhelming. Clip ins, tape ins, fusion, micro-link, sew ins, hair pieces, real hair, synthetic hair, wigs. The key to happiness is limited choice (watch this Ted Talk, you’ll thank me) and I was seeing buyers remorse in my future.
So, when I heard Chris Appleton (a.k.a. Kim Kardashian's stylist and Color Wow ambassador) was in town, I jumped at the chance to have him style my hair. I’m a huge Kardashian fan, so when he agreed to try extensions I’m pretty sure I let out a tiny yelp. Our plan: Clip in extensions. The goal: A whole new me, without any major commitments.
The Big Day
When the big day arrived I arrived on set with freshly washed but untouched hair. The first thing I noticed about Chris was he has amazing teeth — I need everyone to know this. The second is that he's truly wonderful.
We started by him blowing out my hair into a center part, something I’ve always deemed impossible. Then, he started sectioning my hair, teasing it, and placing extensions in, weaving it all seamlessly into my natural hair so you could barely tell what was mine and what was not. I was in awe of how he was able to hide the clips so well; one set was less than an inch from my part, but didn't look fake at all. How?!
In less than 15 minutes, I was that super-cool girl with super long, thick, and shiny hair. I couldn’t keep my cool — my new hair was fueling my new persona, and I was feeling it.
Incidentally, I was also feeling the extensions, which felt tight and secure on my scalp but did leave me tender-headed. Still, the pain was worth it. As we filmed the "after" transformation, I got to flip my hair down and up, like the true hair goddess within me.
Initially, I was obsessed. I got my old hair back and it was better than ever. My hair was heavy, thick, and had significant weight, enough to swing around my shoulders or pull off a Boomerang-worthy hair toss.
But when I stepped out on the street, I realized how self-conscious I was. I wanted to keep all the hair behind my shoulders. I assumed once I left the office and entered the real world I would want to wear it proud on my chest, but I wanted to hide them. I got an amazing side eye from a woman on the train to confirm my uneasiness. I wasn't ready for that kind of judgment.
Still, I was going to do it for more than one day. Given how quickly Chris put them in, I figured self-assembly would be a breeze. I was wrong, of course. My second foray into the world of extensions happened during the hottest, most humid parts of the summer in NYC — and I don't have AC in my tiny Manhattan apartment. Since my roommate was out of town, I was on my own, and the weather had other plans for my hair. I started the whole process just like Chris taught me, but the hair between my neck and the first layer of extensions curled and curled and curled like it had never before. I curled it close and tight to my new hair multiple times but there was nothing I could do, it sprung back up like a poodle. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t horrible. I then went to investigate the back of my head with another mirror and I saw two clips. And then I could not hide them. I struggled and sweated for far too long before I gave up and left them on my bed ready to haunt me when I returned home later that day.
Good news: I eventually learned to put them in myself. I apply them the same way Chris taught me with a rat tail comb and texturizing spray (Color Wow's Style On Steroids texturizing spray is truly amazing and I am not being paid to say that). Never underestimate how much of a difference the right tools can make. I used the tail of the comb to carefully divide my hair and lightly back combed the spot where the weft would stay. I use one less track on the back of my head, I'm still struggling to space them out correctly. The key is to put them in with confidence and once they're all in use, use another mirror to look at the back to troubleshoot exposed wefts. My initial approach was spot on however the humidity and the creeping sense of failure made it impossible. Practice makes perfect.
And on those occasions, I've felt like a million bucks. It’s so much fun to be the center of attention amongst friends, having them run their fingers through my hair and ask questions. This is what I’ve been missing my whole life! I loved it, but I also felt like an imposter. I know it's not my hair, and there’s a persistent part of me that refuses to accept a compliment about something that isn’t me.
Still, I'm wearing them more and more, and getting used to the attention and the weight. I’m starting to love them like I do with a new lipstick. My natural lips aren’t a bright Ruby Woo red, but I’ve been playing with makeup since middle school so I know how to operate in the world wearing it. I know when I swipe it on, it's an extra layer of confidence to my smile. Extensions are starting to feel like the same thing; I’m still learning to be me, but just with the hair I love.
So yes, you will find me at the next two weddings I'm going to, wearing my hair extensions down. I'll be confidently tossing, twirling and whipping my hair back and forth on the dance floor, like the hair model my inner self longs to be.