Musings of a cynical perfectionist, trapped inside a bubbly hairstylist.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Cut off all your hair.

Someday. Once in your life. Don't do it after a break up, don't do it on a dare. Do it when you're ready. But do it. You'll survive, I promise.

A few years ago I had a boyfriend who loved my long, shiny hair. He wasn't a particularly great boyfriend, and I had a sneaking suspicion that his attachment to my hair was stronger than his attachment to me, which was confirmed when we broke up a week after I chopped it to my chin (he immediately asked me to get extensions for his birthday!)... Of course now I realize that haircut saved me from wasting more time with him, but at the time I was devastated. How could I have so impulsively ruined the prettiest thing about me? Now I was single, sad, and didn't even have my long hair to cover up the extra 20 pounds I'd gained from drinking beer every weekend with Selfish and his friends...

This is what pretending to be happy looks like.

I'm not gonna lie, the next year was hard. I don't bounce back from breakups quickly, especially if I'm not feeling great about myself... I remember looking at long-haired pictures from college when I was thinner and browner (I still miss the days when I was unafraid of skin cancer and wrinkles) and lamenting my loss of self confidence. Where was the girl who used to pick out a guy across a bar and say, "You're mine", aloud, as my friends laughed at my bravado? How could I eyefuck with the same intensity without my mane to shake at him?

I may have been sad, but I was also observant, and the psychology student deep down started to notice a few changes in my life as a result of the haircut...

Women treated me remarkably differently
. Suddenly I had friends in the line at the grocery store, making small talk. In bathrooms at restaurants I was complimented without fail. I didn't have to be sugary-sweet with a first-time client for them to like me and listen to my suggestions. All of a sudden I had become either a cute little sister, or a ballsy girl who had cut her hair off the way many women wished they could, instead of the vixen they pictured flirting with their husband and gossiping behind their backs. I was never that mean girl when my hair was long, but I looked like her, and so I was subject to their suspicion. I have always been a girl's girl, and I loved this newfound sisterhood with strangers.
I've since talked to many friends and clients who've had similar experiences after cutting their hair, and I'm still amazed that we subconsciously assume so much based on appearances.

I got healthy. I decided I couldn't change the length of my hair (extensions were too much work for my lazyass, and I was still proud and stubborn enough I didn't want to admit I regretted the cut), but I could change my body. It was a matter of priorities, and I hated feeling insecure more than I loved eating Mexican food at 2am. I'm a firm believer in treating yourself well, especially after others have treated you poorly. That meant eating really healthy food, instead of just starving myself, and finding a workout that was maintainable and realistic. As my body changed, I didn't mind so much not having all that hair covering it up. Funny how that works. By the time I'd grown it out a bit, I was feeling so much more confident I was ready to cut it again. At some point along this road I became close friends with a model with super-short hair who possesses the kind of confidence that turns off women but makes men stop in their tracks, and I realized it’s all in how you rock it, anyway. I know you hear that all the time, but it never felt so true until I met her. She gets hit on way more with short hair than she ever did when it was long. When you feel hot, you look hotter. Simple.

The body doesn't hurt, either. Let's be real.

I stopped judging myself based solely on my appearance. I was a fairly plain, average-looking child, and I don't remember that bothering me. My family had always told me how smart I was, how funny I was, and I embraced the quirky side of my personality as what made me special. I'm not sure at what point being a "pretty" girl became so important to me. Cheerleading? Sorority life? I'm sure it was somewhat tied into my lifelong love of hair and makeup, but even that was always more about beautifying my surroundings than personal. Deep down I felt angry with myself. Why was I mourning my hair? When had I become so shallow? My self-pity and sarcasm slowly developed into a comedy routine for my clients and friends, usually involving my fear of dying alone with my cat and having her eat my face. As my heart healed, it actually became a joke and I began to look forward to dating someone who loved me for the things about me that were intrinsic and permanent, such as my warped sense of humor. I've since realized you attract totally different (better!) guys with short hair anyway, guys who like style and confidence in a woman. Guys who aren't looking for a toy who looks like everybody else or who feel ownership over your appearance/identity.  The guy who never wants your hair to change probably won't be so happy when your body changes down the road, either. I'm better off letting them weed themselves out.

Watching, waiting...

I realized it’s not healthy to be so attached to one thing about you. Nothing physical is permanent... Your body, your face, and especially your hair... I have clients every week dealing with hair loss, either from having a baby, or illnesses, or sadly, quite often from stress. Every client in law school has half her hair by the time she takes the bar. If you attach your identity or attractiveness to something so impermanent, what are you left with when it's gone, whether that's now or later? I volunteered for a cut-a-thon for Locks of Love that year, and a girl with waist-length hair sat in my chair and told me to shave her head and donate all of it. I thought I had misheard her, but she explained that she had been in remission for ten years and that she wanted to lose her hair by choice, to help others as she had been helped as a child, because it was only hair and she knew she could live without it. Talk about perspective. We both cried through that whole haircut, and I was a different person afterwards.

There are always moments in your life that define you, and change you. Cutting my hair was one of those for me... It was the impetus for me to really look inward and grow emotionally, it made me more focused on my health, my career, and my friendships, and it made me less afraid to experiment with my look and style, which has served me well as a hairstylist... I still like my hair long. I still feel more feminine, more "me", for some reason. But the next time I'm feeling stagnant or misguided in my life, I know my short-haired self is ready and waiting.

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