A Queer Beauty Writer on the Sexual Politics of Hair
And the complexity of being other
Hi! Welcome to Hair Diaries, Man Repeller’s newest beauty series. We’ve always believed the weird stuff growing out of our skulls is an extension (pun intended!!!) of our identities, so we’re asking women we love to tell us everything about theirs. Next up is Arabelle Sicardi, a beauty writer for Elle, Teen Vogue, Paper, Nylon and elsewhere.
In middle school I had gorgeous, sun-streaked, Pantene-commercial hair, and I would brush it constantly. Hundreds of times a day, really. And then, one day, I was reading in bed when I looked down and saw two bugs fucking on a strand of hair in front of my very eyeballs. I remember feeling so disgusted and possessed, like my body wasn’t my own. My relationship with my hair went from vain to neurotic very rapidly.
My hair was such a sense of pride — I was on the cusp of puberty and desperate to be liked, not that I really knew what any of that meant — and to have that taken away by bugs brought on a new kind of shame. I remember squishing them between my fingers and them not cracking enough for my rage. I remember being hosed down in my friend’s bathtub down the block after getting a lice treatment from her abuela. I had to do those treatments over and over again. I felt trapped and gross.
Things changed for me after that. I started recognizing that I was into different things than my peers. I was thinking about Shakespeare, The Twilight Zone, religious mythology and the death of the universe and writing sickening short stories for class. My teachers would pull me aside and ask if I was okay, if I needed to talk to somebody. I didn’t.
I was just interested in beauty and ugliness and was so dissatisfied with the fact that I wasn’t growing up to look like the girl I thought I was going to look like. I was the only mixed-race person in school. I didn’t have a team, so to speak. I was a little chubbier in the face and shorter than I wanted to be. I looked more Asian than I wanted to. I thought the prettier version of me would be whiter. I wasn’t that, and my hair had betrayed me. I wanted to smash all evidence that I was who I was. My short stories had a lot of burning houses and broken mirrors.
I’m happy, now, with how I turned out. I have my dad’s very thick European hair — he has longer hair than I do and it’s usually in a french braid — and my mom’s nose and eyes. I see balance and history in that, but beauty has always been a source of terror for me. It’s strange to realize that this kind of thinking has always been part of who I am. I never left that place of rage that I couldn’t control the perception of who I was or who I wanted to be.
I didn’t start seriously messing with my hair until I was a sophomore in high school. I chopped it off and dyed it blue. My friend Tavi and I — we were teen fashion bloggers together — were obsessed with being outcast teen nerds. We really wanted to embrace our roles as Weird Girls.
If before I was operating under a more traditional version of beauty and femininity — long brunette hair that boys liked, because I was ruled by desire, if not precisely heterosexuality – the chop changed things. It was kind of unflattering and required a lot of attitude to pull off: a permanent frown, sunglasses, a fashion slouch. I grew that cut out immediately, and I’ve been experimenting with my hair ever since.
The first time I went really short, it made me feel queerer and more free. I wanted to be Tilda Swinton. I asked: “Can you make me look like Tilda Swinton? Like David Bowie?” The proto-queers.
I still have a quintessential “queer” haircut today. What can I say? It’s utterly low maintenance. I shave my own head, mostly, and for real cuts I go to my friend Topher Gross and have since he had a chair at Arrojo. Topher is also in the queer community and gives me what I want without me having to explain anything; the cultural lexicon is completely there. He does a sliding scale for the queer community and holds space for trans people and people of color specifically, which is so valuable. What salon can say that in New York?
Most queer kids I know, including myself, shave or trim each other. We have to take care of each other because many of us can’t actually afford the upkeep otherwise. There have been months of my life when, even as a full-time beauty writer, I couldn’t afford the hair services I was supposed to know about, so I’d have my friends shave me in their bathrooms. I still sometimes have weekends with my best friends where we all sit around naked and shave each other, dye each other’s hair, cook for each other and snuggle and watch bad movies. I keep hair dye and an entire 10-step skincare routine over at my best friend’s house.
The most common question I get about my hair is what I do to make it so big, but it’s naturally so voluminous I never need to do much. I have so much — all my hair is a circle and my undercut stretches from ear to ear, so when it’s up I look like a pineapple. For everyday care I just let my scalp’s natural oils run through it. I always use color-depositing shampoo and conditioners, but only wash my hair once a week or so. When I do, I also use hair masks. I’ve used the Kerastase ones for years.
The color right now is gray. It’s this magnetic ombre stripe thing, which was a happy accident. Most people do ombres down the shaft of their hair; mine is horizontal which should look awful but it looks like weird mystical radiation because my hair is always moving in the wind.
I go to Janelle Chapman at O&M Salon for color. I wanted to do a much different color at first, but going from a direct-dye blue to another part of the color wheel is so difficult. Too much, really, so we pulled the color out and did gray with washes of lilac and pastels in random places. It looks kind of like metal with a red sheen to it, which I love. It makes me feel like an angelic cyborg.
When I was a kid, I was upset that my lack of control of my beauty made me a monster, and that made me unworthy of love or something. But the very root of the word monster — monstrum in Latin — means divinity. It is an omen, a divine sign; monsters are bound up in revelation. I decided one day, if I was bound to be a monster for my queerness, my race, my gender, my body existing in the space it does, then I was going to be a monster not doomed or unloveable but a sign of something coming, something not yet here.
Otherwise is a big cool space, I think, and being there shields me from harm in some ways rather than subjects me to it. The otherwise that I specifically occupy, that is. I’m at my best when I’m committed to being weird. I feel most beautiful when I’m completely ignoring other people and saying, “Today I want to look like this picture of space, and like this beetle because it’s shiny and scary, and I also want to look how this song makes me feel.”
My hair is an idea I get to play around with. My body is a text I keep on rewriting. I don’t know where either will take me, other than to my death, but until then I’m going to keep hacking it, dying it, inking it, toning it, stretching it, bruising it and seeing how it makes me feel. And more of that, forever, until I’m a skeleton in the ground. Or dust in space, preferably.