A week ago*, I cut just over twelve inches of my long, curly locks off.
It wasn’t the first time I’d cut off a drastic amount of hair. The first time I parted with more than a foot of my curls was four years prior–four years almost to the day.
I sported a lighter shade of brunette back then, and decided cutting my hair was only the proper way to celebrate two huge life changes: changing my major from physics to English and dumping my boyfriend of half a decade. The idea to cut my hair was partially vindictive, as the now-ex-boyfriend loved it dearly, and I was sick of the length, the heat, and the frizziness.
When I told one of my roommates about my plan to chop my hair off, she simply pressed her lips together and let her shoulder sag. “Don’t punish yourself like that,” she said.
“Don’t punish yourself.”
Was I punishing myself by cutting my hair?
My roommate’s hair was long and golden, like spun wheat on a yellow, sunny day. As a natural strawberry blonde, her hip-length hair was a source of pride for her. To cut it all off would certainly be punishment. For her.
But for me? My hair was like an accessory. Something to style, to dye, to fluff, to get bored of, to cut, to grow out. Rinse, wash, repeat.
The ex-boyfriend said he’d liked it long, so I’d kept it long. But long felt confining. I tried to mask the feeling. I tried dying my hair–red, brown, black, copper, blonde-and-right-back-to-brown-because-I-definitely-don’t-look-good-blonde. Highlights, lowlights. I tried straightening my hair. I tried leaving it curly. I tried blowdrying it. I tried accessories. Headbands. Ponytails. Clips. Hats. Anything to spice it up. Anything to keep it interesting. But nothing did the trick. I felt antsy.
What I needed was a haircut. Not just a trim. But a cut.
And cut I did.
It felt glorious.
A weight lifted off my shoulders–literally. (Hair, especially when it stretches past your shoulder blades, is heavy.) I found myself lifting the back of my head more out of habit–my head was used to holding up several extra pounds of hair. Since my upper back was exposed, I paid closer attention to my posture. I couldn’t hide my hunched keyboard shoulders underneath a froth of curls anymore.
I felt transformed. I couldn’t stop smiling.
As I was running errands after my haircut, I an older man flagged me down in the parking lot of a Cracker Barrel.
“Miss?” he said.
I slowed down, not wanting to stop because he looked a little sketchy with his dusty overalls and scraggly beard. “Yes?” I said.
“I just want to say thank you,” he said.
“For what?” I stopped walking.
“I hope you don’t mind me saying this,” he said, twiddling with something in his finger tips, “but you look mighty fine today. And I’m glad we crossed paths because just seeing you smiling and walking here brightened my day.”
Well, shucks. If that’s not the universe telling me to keep my hair short and cute, I don’t know what is.
Fast forward a few years and I find myself in a similar boat–I’ve grown my hair out again for a boy that likes my hair long, and quite frankly, I’m sick of it. But this time, I still like the boy and I like my job. So after a few months of indecision, I finally decided to chop it off.
After all that, how do I look now*?
When the picture above went live on Facebook, I immediately got reactions. Good ones. Before the end of the day the post garnered over 100 “likes”–more than three times as many likes as when I announced I earned my MFA or that I landed my dream job. I could get upset about that or question what that says about our society as a whole–but I’m not going to. That’s a post for another day. Instead, I’ll be glad that my friends and family–my online support group–are so supportive of the change I decided to make regarding my appearance.
The support has not just been digital. I’ve never gotten more compliments on my hair or my appearance in general. Friends and colleagues tell me they never noticed how pretty my eyes are (they’re right in the middle of my face?) or how amazed they are at how different I look, because the cut accentuates my facial features in a new way. They look at me in a new way.
It doesn’t matter that I still don’t fit into the jeans that I regularly wore the first time I made the cut. My self-esteem has never been higher. This time when I chopped those locks off, I didn’t really feel like I was punishing myself or being vindictive about a failed relationship. And yet, the cleansing feeling was still the same. I feel refreshed. And as my friends and colleagues view me in a new light, I view myself that way too. I am more forgiving, more open to change, more daring and bold.
I’m at a transition point in my life, and a drastic new haircut is the perfect way to help cement that change.
I’m ready for whatever comes next.
And what of those long, long ponytails? What of their fate? Donated to Locks of Love, where they’ll live again, as wigs for children suffering from medical hair loss.
* This post was originally published on April 5th, 2014. In the two-and-a-half years that followed, there have been more transitions and changes, including growing my hair back out, marriage, and motherhood–but those are posts for another time. For now, as we get ready to bid 2016 adeiu and say hello to 2017, I hope you’ll join me in cautious optimism for the future and all the changes it will bring.
Categories: Leslie's Voice