Long, thick brown hair has been my signature trait for much of my life. It’s low maintenance, curls a bit, so I can pretend I’m not vain by spending little time and money on it.
During days and phases of insecurity I’ve hid behind my hair as my invisibility cloak. It has allowed me to go about my life duties, hiding my face and vulnerabilities from the world. It’s been my symbol of femininity and beauty when I’ve otherwise felt neither feminine nor attractive.
This defining physical feature has also given me troubling awareness of others’ preferences for women’s long hair. I owe it to “them” to be as feminine and pretty as possible, allow them the satisfaction of looking at a girl with acceptably lovely long hair. Don’t rock the boat of societal expectations.
So I’ve chopped it all off twice, in rebellion against “them” and forcing myself out of hiding behind presumed identity.
First was high school. I’d decided to break up with my long time love to pursue something less serious, less “me.” I was confused and disgusted, didn’t trust that my internal voice was serving me right rather than hijacking me. It was a dramatic act of flagellation, punishing, and removing my most beautiful attribute. I though maybe it would prevent further trouble with confusing boys.
It was pretty silly.
I blame the second time, partially, on fabulous Salma Hayek in Frida. Also a little silly, but a powerful expression of choice.
A year into marriage, I realized there were many ‘unfair’ and painful aspects which I would have no ability to fix or meaningfully impact. No reasoning or negotiation, no control, a burdensome revelation. I refused to succumb to a position of traditional, voiceless feminine weakness, so instead chopped off that symbol of pretty powerlessness.
I decided, from a position of grief and strength, to accept my life, comport myself with grace, but let go of the picture of love I’d cherished. (I’m not that girl anymore.) I chose to live and let live, enjoy all I could, but not be devastated by my inability to effect change under my own roof.
The public response was interesting: most were supportive, some shocked. The strength of reactions confirmed a depth of meaning. He was disconcerted, joked with friends that we’d just seen Frida, but didn’t comprehend me.
Two years later, friends are suddenly and lovingly remarking on how long my hair is growing. I think they’re commenting on my lighter countenance as much as anything, but they’re right. I’m starting to like my face in the mirror again, framed by my more comfortably familiar long locks.
As Cate Blanchett shaved her head to remake her virginity in Elizabeth and transform from a naive girl into a powerful icon, so I’m growing away from timid passivity. I’ll always toy with my views of myself and perceptions of society, but I also really like my hair long. I don’t need to accept the weight of previously presumed expectations.
I can just – like it. And feeling pretty is okay, too.