I have kept my hair in a relatively short pixie cut since the age of fourteen; it suited my facial structure and gave me confidence. However, as I began high school, my confidence waned. During my freshman and sophomore years, I experimented with various hair colors, trying to find something that would boost my self-esteem. Though it never worked in the long run, dying my hair became therapeutic for me. I whipped out a box of drugstore hair dye whenever I faced a transitional point in my life until it became something I relied on.
As I pushed further into my sophomore year, this self-therapy was treading the thin line of addiction. The more often I changed my hair color the less of an effect it had on my mood, so I began searching for other means to express myself. I felt ugly. No matter how much I have tried to deny it, something inside me was always hoping that when I washed the dye out my hair I would look like the model on the box. These feelings of dissatisfaction and restlessness persisted until it all came to a head in August of 2015.
Reeling from a rather nasty break-up and exhausted from nightly panic attacks and manic-depressive episodes, I needed to strip myself down and begin again. The one thing that had consistently been my source self-expression and emotions was my hair, and if I wanted to start over that was the first thing that needed to go. I grabbed a pair of scissors in one hand, a hunk of hair in the other, and, at the risk of changing my mind, I started chopping chunks off right away. I finished the job with my father’s electric razor and ran my hand over the pale skin of my bare scalp.
Looking at myself in that exposed state, I could accept that I was beautiful. Ridding myself of my defining feature was the most liberating thing I had ever experienced, and I had no trouble leaving my house with confidence. I received an insurmountable number of odd looks and an even greater number of eye-contact avoidances. I understood in that moment the power, beyond cultural and religious sanctity, that is behind hijabs and habits and tichels. Hair goes hand in hand with an inescapable form of female sexuality. If a woman hides or rids herself of this feature, she is automatically seen differently by the outside world. Yet, she can reserve a private power when she is freed from the standards of conventional beauty and her confidence and worth have the opportunity to come solely from herself.
This choice caused me to rethink the fragility and superficiality of societal beauty. I am still on the road to self-acceptance, but it is much less daunting after allowing myself to live in such a pure, uncovered state. My hair has grown back since, but I have not forgotten that feeling of humble liberation that permanently altered my perception of beauty.