“It’s just — M’s hair was the only pretty thing about her. Why’d she cut it off?” my (ex-)friend P scoffed. I didn’t know M well (and of course she was not present); we’d hung out maybe twice before I left for my new school? Something like that. She had had gorgeous hair when I’d last seen her, though — long, loosely curled, creamy blonde, Victoria’s Secret kind of hair — but … so? It was her hair, after all. Why shouldn’t she cut it if she wanted?
It was a few years after P’s and my elementary school falling out — after I transferred schools largely because P and her new, improved friends were so (inexplicably, to my fourth-grade mind) painful to be around, and impossible to avoid, that I couldn’t do my schoolwork.
Which my parents were not having. Trouble with school kids was one thing; trouble with schoolwork was something else entirely.
After I found my feet elsewhere, P’d gotten back in touch and invited me to her birthday party. Sixteenth? Eighteenth? Disappointingly nondramatic, from a storytelling point of view. She and her newest crop of everyday friends — P & Co. — listened to the same Goo Goo Dolls song on repeat the entire night. There was probably cake. I chatted with her mom and younger siblings, whom I’d missed quite a lot more than P.
Of all the words — poisoned and not — that we traded over our friendship, the only ones I clearly remember were those she said about M’s hair at the birthday party.
It goes through my mind every time I change my own hair.
Because — I’m sure this comes as no surprise — M was, according to the infallible metrics of Seventeen-magazine-model-comparison, fat. Even more than I was. Not obese, not unhealthy, just outside of the ubiquitous silhouette of “normal” skinny prettiness with which we’re all inescapably familiar. Which was also interesting, in a more analytical way, because P’s mother was (according to the adult version of the Seventeen-metric) overweight, too. I’m sure there’s lots to delve into about reactionary body-shaming and familial patterns of self-hatred and whatever else, but that’s not my point right now. My point is that, for a disappointing number of people, having long, labor-intensive hair is often seen as a sort of recompense for one’s visual deviance from cultural norms of beauty.
And, anticlimactically, that’s just crap.
And the trouble is, even knowing it’s crap, it’s very difficult crap to escape.
After my son was born and I found new depths of corporeal self-loathing amid my vivid new stretch marks and aching, swollen milk machines, I decided to grow it out. And took up running for a while, and ate a lot (a lot) of salad, and put some more effort into what I wore, and figured out how to do my makeup at long, long last, and could finally — for the first time, and at enough of a distance — pass for one of the pretty girls. The P & Co’s.
Then had my daughter, and am having to do it all again, but I kept my hair long that time. (Learning? Or more successfully assimilated?) I do look nice with long hair. With my compensatory long, labor-intensive hair. And even there, I’m luckier than many — it’s quite obliging, as hair goes. When I straighten it, it stays straight; if I do waves or curls, even no-heat ones, it holds its shape. It takes color well. It’s not particularly damaged. It’s … it’s inoffensive.
But I’ve always loved short styles better. On other people, and even (most of the time) on myself. The visual drama, the distinctness. The practicality. The constant changes as it grows and you adjust (and adjust and adjust) the shape. I’ve had long hair for three years, and I want to change it now. That, of course is the main reason — because I want to.
But there are a few other reasons, too, or perhaps reasons behind that reason. And I thought I’d share them, or at least record them, so that when I’m looking at myself in the mirror next week and missing my long, beautiful hair, I’ll remember why I did this. Reasons such as:
- The Acrobat has a habit of yanking my hair out, sometimes by the handful, when he’s stressed. He’d stopped for a while, but it’s coming back. He’s making some astounding progress in other areas, trying new foods, using the potty, enjoying messy-sensory activities like play-doh and slime … but he’s also seizing my hair whenever he’s upset and I’m in reach. And wrapping his hands in it, and twisting it as tightly as he can, and … it hurts. I know that short of buzzing it off (no) there’s no getting around all of that, but a little bit of relief sounds pretty nice.
- My hair’s really heavy and hot, especially when I sleep. Long, straight, thick, dark — I go out in the sun and suddenly have an electric blanket on my head. Not fun come August, it turns out.
- It clogs sink drains, shower drains, vacuums, etc. Perhaps I should sell it as a housekeeping sabotage kit. People buy stranger things.
- It takes upwards of 45 min. to style (more with washing time) when I wear it straight. And then on days I wear it wavy, I have to think ahead the previous morning and wash, braid, pin, keep from playing too rough all that day, sleep in it, and then take out the next morning — and then it will PROBABLY look okay. The waves might be well-placed, could be reasonably-sized, and probably won’t look too dry and unkempt. And then if not, into a messy bun it goes, never to be seen again.
- Speaking of which, messy buns are just getting kind of old. As are pinned-up braids. Not on other people, of course — Other People’s Updos are usually adorable. It’s just that I’m not enjoying my own much anymore. I wear my hair up more often than not, even when it’s cold out, mostly to keep it out of my way and safe from the Acrobat. And it’s just … boring. (And finicky. It’s a fine line between beautifully mussed and no, really, what is that on her head? About as thin a line as the one between sleekly smooth and Frau Blücher.)
- When I do wear it down, it looks dry, dull, & frizzy — straight or wavy — without a truly daunting number and quantity of products. All of which are heavily scented, of course, so I waft around all day craving mangoes or on constant guard against bees trying to pollinate me.
- Speaking of products, I blow through more expensive shampoo and conditioner than you can shake a stick at — I’ve tried cheap shampoos, and they invariably turn my hair into mouse-brown shag carpet. Which is weird, because my hair actually isn’t mouse brown. (I’ve tried the No Shampoo thing, too. In a word, no.)
- I don’t wear my many beloved hats because they’d ruin tomorrow’s hair. In fact, my hair schedule is influencing, to some degree, virtually all of my clothing and accessory choices, and even some activity choices. Boo to that. Boo.
- I hate going swimming because it messes it up, no matter how I’m wearing it, and then my hair reeks of chlorine and I feel ill the rest of the day.
- That’s also why I hate going to smoky bars, greasy-spoon diners, or onion burger joints. (Though health-and-wellness-wise that’s probably not a bad thing.) My hair catches the scent and then I have to wash it three times just to come up for air. Both drat and bother. Again, I know this will still be the case as long as I have any hair … but surely it’ll be less of a problem when it’s shorter. Surely?
- And finally — related to the above — because washing my hair easily triples my time in the shower.
So yeah, there you go. My appointment’s set for tomorrow. Wish me luck. (If you want, that is. I’m sure you have lots of other excellent things to wish for, and I probably don’t need that much luck for a haircut. Unless my stylist moves to Fleet Street and starts singing all the time. But that’s hardly likely.)