- Edition 9, Chapter 5 -




by Alexander Brebner


Planning for the worst

Sonia, an emergency manager for the city of New York, describes herself as a planner and a pragmatic person, and says, “They call the fire department ‘New York’s Bravest’ and they call us ‘New York’s Anxious.’ We’re always planning for the worst but hoping it doesn’t happen.”


Growing up with an Indian father and a German mother put Sonia in a state of cultural limbo. “It’s very strange to grow up and look nothing like your mother,” she says. “She was fairly blonde and light-skinned, and I have my Dad’s coloring, but I don’t really look like him either. So people would ask, ‘What are you? Where are you from? Were you adopted?’ I felt a New Yorker first and foremost, then American, then European, and then Indian.”



The Indian side of Sonia’s family presented the most contradictory ideas about beauty, “Weird, post-colonial, self-hatred kind of stuff,” she calls it. The ideal is ‘fair skin,’ and long, untouched hair, as worn by eastern european models. Sonia remembers playing softball one season and her grandfather’s alarm at her deep suntan. “It’s so built in to that post-British occupation society. The darker you were, the lower caste you were.”

The Same old Story

Sonia describes her past hair story as, “Nothing super-special, always dark brown, below the shoulders, long-layered, sometimes with bangs, sometimes not.” She is not someone who spends a lot of time on her hair: “I’m a wash-and-go sort of person. Sometimes it ends up looking great – by accident – and sometimes… it doesn’t say much.” Sonia counts herself among women who haven’t changed their hair since eighth grade. “There’s nothing wrong with wash-and-go, but maybe I was as afraid of change as someone who does put a lot of effort into their hair.”

A shorter story

Sonia was anxious when Wes proposed a jaw-length bob. “Will I still be able to throw my hair up post-gym or something? If it’s short, is is it still feminine?” But she arrived ready to commit, and had worked through her “emotional attachment.” A shift in color was easier to embrace, as Roxie painted mauvish highlights in the same family as her natural, dark brown.

Now, however, Sonia says, “I have a hairstory. I still look like I don’t put too much time into my hair, but it’s effortlessly, hopefully, always going to look good. Cool, modern hair. I feel like I still look like me, but more grown-up, more sophisticated. My boyfriend liked it, I think he thinks short hair is ‘cute.’ But I told him ahead of time, so it wasn’t a shock. He was like, ‘There’s so much neck!’”

Letting Go

When Sonia saw her pictures, she said, “That doesn’t look like me.” Why? “Because I look like a modern, interesting person. I don’t feel like that on the inside.” The lesson: “I learned about letting go of control, and that putting yourself in the hands of talented people will make you look great, and push you beyond your boundaries and comfort zone.”


Looking Good, Doing Good

A big part of Sonia’s new hair story is adopting New Wash. “Putting industrial-strength detergent on your head, or anywhere on your body and down the drain is not the ecologically responsible thing to do,” she says. “There are alternatives, but it’s hard to find one that fits both the environmental side and that works, especially if you’re so used to being able to manipulate your natural hair. But this is a product that actually works, brings out your natural texture, and still cleans like anything else. And you eliminate the need for conditioner and other styling products.” Realizing she sounds scripted, she adds, “I’m not a big product person, but I actually follow your story, so it’s genuine.”

Anticipating wearing her new look to work, Sonia imagines her colleagues thinking, ‘Whoa! Who is that?’ Not that they’re super-focused on their looks, but I’ll bring good hair to government!”