“Why did you cut your hair?”
Tell me, how do I reply to this age old question? How do I reply when there is so much to say? They look at me, wide and innocent eyed, expecting such a simple answer. I give them what they expect.
“Because I wanted to.”
But they don’t get the explanation they deserve. My hair remains a mystery to everyone.
The sound of scissors on my hair has become one of comfort to me over the past many years. There have been times when I have watched my hair tumble to the ground in heaps with a smile on my face, and times where every inch made the tears fall harder. My hair has become such an important part of me in my life, and sometimes I wish it wasn’t.
The struggle with my hair began when I was very very young. As a kid, my hair was platinum blonde, practically white in the sun. I let it hang from my head without a care, really because I was like four years old and appearance didn’t bother me. I often had my hair up though, because I played outside a lot with my cousins. It was a simple convenience, and nothing more.
But then, then something was different. On the first day of first grade, I spent an hour before school crying because my parents wouldn’t put my hair in pigtails. On that day, my parents wanted me to ‘look nice’ for the first day, as if my hair being up in pigtails wasn’t ‘nice’. I couldn’t comprehend as a five year old what was so wrong with what I wanted. I had come to realize that I hated my hair being down, and so I threw a fit for it to be up.
I still have a picture of me from that day that I remember well. Me, and my matching pink backpack and lunchbox, my best outfit, and my smile beaming between two blonde pigtails.
After that first day of first grade the idea that wearing my hair up didn’t ‘look nice’ became ingrained in my mind. I detested what I looked like with my hair up. All the ‘pretty’ girls had their hair down.
All through third grade, my hair stayed down. Down and turning browner. I disliked the color of it, I disliked how it got in my face. But, still young, I hardly let it bother me much. It was growing out nicely, and I was almost proud of how my hair just brushed the bottom of my back if I stood up straight.
Then came that dreaded day.
Every girl knows that day, because I am nearly 100% sure that this very same thing has happened to every girl in her life. The day when your parents drag you, kicking and screaming, for a ‘trim’; by the end of that visit, my once long hair was hugging my face at my chin.
The shower that day was one filled with tears. I had been working hard (or so I thought at the time) to grow my hair out long and proud. I had been working hard to ‘look nice’, because so far in my life no one gave me that compliment unless my hair hung in my face. My fingers washed through my hair and into empty space below the blunt ends, now a not-flattering bob. My hands longed for the longer locks that had hung there loosely just hours before.
The cycle of hair-hate began inside of my mind once again. I wanted the ugly strands I hated so much to be out of my sight. It began with tucking it behind my ears, then when the horrifying haircut grew out a little bit I caged it inside of a hair tie.
Take a moment and imagine this. I hated my hair so intensely, that even a few strands out of place on my head caused anxiety to well in my chest. In sixth grade I broke my wrist, but my parents left me for two days insisting I was fine before they brought me to the emergency room. On that day, I tried so very stubbornly to put my hair in its usual ponytail. But with my dominant wrist hurt and screaming in agony at the process, I succumbed to the help of my father, who had little to no practice in hair styling. The result was a messy, bumpy ponytail, one that I could not accept being seen in public with. Though I love my dad, I ran upstairs in near tears at the sight with his shout of “It looks fine! No one you care about is going to see you anyway!” following me all the way.
It did not matter. I would see me. And that was enough for me.
Angrily, I ripped the hair tie out of my hair and cried tears of frustration. Then, for five minutes in sheer agony, I gritted my teeth through the pain of my broken wrist and put my hair up in the tightest ponytail I could. Just so that I would be ok with leaving my house.
I refused to cut my hair for all of middle school. Puberty was just starting to rear its ugly head, and suddenly ‘looking nice’ had become important again. This time, however, the pressure did not come from my parents. Oh no. Now the gorgon lived in the teenage angst of budding young adults. Uncomfortable with all the changes, I grew out my hair to appease the pressures of this new environment. It was okay to wear my hair in a ponytail all the time, as long as I grew my hair out nice and long.
It grew longer and longer, and my hatred for it got deeper and deeper. I wanted to cut it off with a vengeance, to get a pixie cut or something, anything, but I lacked the confidence to stand up to my parents at all. They raised me as the “perfect Catholic girl”, enforcing most stereotypical gender roles and condemning people who didn’t follow them. Instead, I insisted on growing out my hair, trying to summon inside of myself some semblance of femininity that I just did not possess.
I almost felt like there was something wrong with myself. How could I not want the long and beautiful hair that everyone claimed ‘looked nice’? My envy of all the other girl's love for their hair burned like acid in my stomach. Why couldn’t I like my hair just like them?
On picture day in eighth grade, I wore my hair down, searching for validation in the femininity I strived for but did not want.
“Oh my god! You wore your hair down! You look so pretty! Why don’t you wear your hair down every day?”
The compliments echoed in my mind all day. I felt like I should have been more grateful. I should have been more happy with all of the attention. Why wasn’t I? I had done it! I had finally achieved the status of ‘looking nice,’ just like everyone else had always said!
All that picture day did was reaffirm in my mind how much I wanted my hair off of my head. While I had finally achieved my goal, I realized that it was not something I wanted. The word pretty was like acid in my veins, and to this day I hate when people say that about me. The long hair, the ‘look nice’ hair that I had spent so long being stubborn over- it was not at all the authentic me.
The authentic me liked my hair out of sight and out of mind. The authentic me liked wearing jeans and t-shirts, liked dressing up in a button up and khakis, liked everything that detested the color pink. The real me was not this ‘pretty’ young woman that everyone else told me I should strive to become.
The day I finally cut my hair, I knew in my heart and my mind that it was what I truly wanted, no, needed. Every time I thought of myself with short hair, my mind was at ease, and my heart was happy. It had taken me a long time to come to accept that in myself. No amount of “I love your long hair!” from my friends would deter me, and no amount of “I thought you didn’t want to draw attention to yourself?” from my mom would stop me. Even my hairdresser hesitated, compromised with me on the haircut. And compromise I did, just to make other people happy. Even though the haircut wasn’t what I really wanted it to turn out to be, I still beamed at myself in the mirror when it was over.
I did not care anymore. I was free of the ponytail, free of the heavy weight on my head and my heart and my mind. I looked in the mirror and saw someone who looked more like myself. My smile was more genuine, more flowing, more free. I was finally starting my journey to looking the way that felt right to me.
My hair still doesn’t look the way I want it to. I have good days and bad days with it, days where I hate it and days I still love it, but I always try to remember a time when it was so much worse. My hair no longer chains me, nor do I have to chain it. I look in the mirror today and see someone who looks more like myself; more like someone who I really want to strive to love. And I have a feeling that with every inch off my shoulders, I will learn a little bit more about what it’s like to really love myself.