I Am Not My Hair. Or Am I?
As a little girl I had long hair that fell to the middle of my back. My mom and I spent countless hours in a tug of war-her trying to hold me down to comb it and me trying to get away while screaming as loudly as possible about the injustice of her brutality. We struggled together for year after year and many a childhood memory includes a tangle of long, matted hair. From lice scares to mopping vomit from its ends, my hair was always there, resting over my shoulders as a part of me. I never thought much about it, it was just always there.
Until middle school when I had a sleep over with a few friends. It was then that I realized the power that hair has as a part of our identity. It took only a few minutes and a pair of semi-sharp shears and I went from having those long locks that brushed over my shoulder blades to an un-even, shoulder-length bob; that changed my life forever. I went from being a nerdy middle school girl who wanted nothing more than to be a wall flower to a teenager who hoped to be seen and recognized for the creative, smart, unique person that I was becoming. I remember how excited I was to go to school the next Monday. I was sure that my new 'do was just what I needed to shine.
So, I still had big plastic glasses, and chapped lips, and nobody (besides my three besties) even noticed my hair, or how unique and wonderful I was. Yet, it was still a turning point for me and since then I've turned to my locks in times of need, looking to various stylists as therapists and life coaches. With a clip of the shears, and maybe a little dye, I have often entered a salon feeling lost and helpless and left feeling empowered.
In my teens, as I got older, my hair got shorter. While very few noticed the change from long to shoulder-length, many noticed my first pixie cut. My mom was adamant that I not cut my hair that short. She told me, "It will make your nose look big." I told her that, whether with long, short, curly, long, or no hair, my nose was my nose and would always look big on my petite face. Despite mom's advice (of course!) I hacked it off. It was amazing! The power of all power! The freedom! Good bye combs and brushes! Hello lots of looks and lots of comments. I enjoyed the attention. It was a time in my life that I needed reassurance that I was unique, and courageous, and "different". Other women said, "I wish I was as brave as you! I could never do that!" Of course, there was the negative attention as well. People questioned my sexuality and my gender. People referred to me with the pronoun he many times. I was called a man-hater. I was told it was not attractive or feminine.
Since I was learning about the patriarchy and "herstory" and questioning things like where I fell on the continuum of sexuality and gender, I suppose I didn't think much about the comments. I could have cared less if my hair made people feel uncomfortable or if my hair, for some reason, made me less attractive in someone else's eyes. I felt my short cut fit my edgy personality and, when I looked in the mirror, I liked what I saw. I felt feminine as it fit my definition of femininity. I identified as a woman, very strongly, and my short hair- hair that resembled a masculine hairstyle, seemed to align with what I wanted people to think about me as a woman. I was just as good, worked just as hard, and was just as smart as any man around me.
Fast forward four or five years. A combination of boredom and life altering events in my life, and, if one is to look at my photo album from my mid-twenties, she would see that the pixie went away and my hair grew. It grew and it grew and it grew. When I got married, my hair was, once again, shoulder length (yet red because I still needed to make a statement) and then, when pregnant with Caroline, it was long like it was when I was a child. It wasn't a conscious decision, however, reflecting back to that time, I know that my self perception had changed and my hairstyle was a reflection of that change in attitude. I no longer felt I needed to be edgy. I married the patriarchy. I had conformed to a traditional female role of bride-wife then of mother. I lost my hardness and had softened.
I've never felt more feminine than when I was pregnant. All almost 200 pounds of me was round and soft and in my life-giving body I felt like the goddess of fertility. My long, shiny, healthy hair seemed to fit with the new dimension of my personality, a side that was more understanding, more patient, more caring. My hair didn't need to demonstrate my power. My big belly of baby was all I needed to make a statement that this woman totally kicked ass.
After Caroline was born I lost a lot of that thick, healthy hair and a fluctuation in hormones equaled some pretty horrible bald spots. I no longer felt strong and fertile. I felt ugly and lumpy and leaky. I'd had enough of the soft body. I wasn't sure this mom thing was my kind of femininity. I missed my edge. Off came the hair. From shoulder blades, to shoulders, to chin to pixie, over the next five years, I ditched the hair and the weight. When the comments of earlier days returned, this time, they bothered me more. I didn't want to be mistaken for a he. I didn't think it was funny when one of Caro's classmates asked me if I was her Daddy. I thought women were annoying when they said they could, "never cut my hair like that, " or, "My husband would be soo mad! He just loves my hair long!" Gross! Come on! I birthed two babies. Just because I had short hair, it didn't make me less feminine or sexy. I no longer needed my hair to make me feel strong or secure. I had two lovely girls who made me feel that way every day. I cut my hair short because it was easy and convenient. When I was little, I puked in my own hair. As an adult, I didn't need my girls to puke in my hair.
Over time, the pixie, once again, was my unique identifier. It was the feature that set me apart. Where I live, there's a lot of white ladies with brown hair. So, I was the white lady with short brown hair. Me and the pixie. The pixie and me. No matter how you roll the dice, it had to be.
Then, I got bored and sick of spending money on a hair cut every four weeks. (It's not like I could go to the barber for a $10 trim.) So, to amuse myself I decided to let it grow. I'd tell my stylist I'd be sure to hack it off in a month, yet another month would go by. Thanks again to hormones, after kids, it became wavy. Now it is shoulder length. I curl it almost daily. I had to watch YouTube videos to learn this foreign art form and yes, it was hard to do and made me cry in frustration at first. For many months, when I looked in the mirror, I didn't recognize myself. I felt totally weird. I felt like an imposter. Yet, I got lots and lots of compliments. Many more than I ever did with my pixie cut. Andy thinks it's "pretty". It makes me seem softer. It aligns with everyone's preconceived notion of femininity. Nobody has called me he in a long time. I have to confess: the compliments used to piss me off. I'd think I only got them because I have conformed. I wondered why people can't have thought my shorter, more masculine hair was just as "pretty".
Then, I figured, maybe I'm over thinking it. A guy friend asked me about my new style and, after I went off on a tirade about gender stereotypes, he said, "Why not just say thank you when someone pays you a compliment?" Yes, it's probably true. My new look is not as unique. It's not as edgy. It's not as gender non-conforming. But, I like it. It is pretty because it is healthy and there are a few colors in there and that amuses me. I enjoy curling it every day and now, when I look in the mirror, I see me. I'm the same me as before. I'm just as strong, hard working, and kick ass. Now, though, I use hair spray and I own a flat iron and a brush and I pin ombre colors to my Pinterest boards.
I am not my hair. It does not define me. But, my hair is part of me. Short, long, and anywhere in between, it always has, and always will, be a way to express myself- a way to express how I am uniquely, and femininely- me.