Ever since I was a young girl, I’ve always had thick, blonde hair. As both my hair and I grew, I began to identify with my lofty locks, requesting hairstylists, (or my mom), to trim it to match the trends around me.
Eventually, my hair styles began to physically represent the free, creative, warrior-esque woman I felt like on the inside. It broadcasted the inner “me” to the world, which made me feel whole.
As I grew older, my hair continued to grow, getting thicker and longer, which also meant that my hair began to get into everything.
When I was 20, my boyfriend at the time had shaved his 8” long blonde afro and was touting about the freedom his no-hair decision gave him.
“Sara, my buzzed hair is so much less hassle and just think about how much less we’ll spend on shampoo.”
After numerous hair-induced vacuum break-downs and one too many dinners with “Sara’s hair” as the secret ingredient, he began to nag me to cut my own hair.
“You’ll still look so beautiful with short hair.. and it will be easier…” And, and, and…
The reasons to cut it were many, but I loved my hair. Yet, his constant urging was annoying. Eventually, his insistent commenting convinced me to at least get a hair cut.
Being a 20 year old surfer with little cash to spare, and having a boyfriend who was an excellent surfboard shaper, it made sense to ask him to cut my hair. I mean, he crafted sweet surfboard designs. What could possibly go wrong?
It started with some kitchen shears and a trim here, then a trim there. Ok, looking good so far. Let’s keep it going. I had seen a movie star with a stunning hairdo and requested similar bangs. This is where things got bad.
Now, if you have ever watched Kingpin, that ridiculous bowling movie with Woody Harrelson and Randy Quaid, you’ll recall the haircut that Randy Quaid donned as the Amish man. So, when I grabbed the mirror, I saw how my desire for bangs had qualified me for a potential role as an Amish extra in Kingpin 2. I lost it.
I never realized someone could decide to cut bangs like that. Instead of a couple of inches of short hair framing my face, my hideous, sheared-off, 3” bangs now extended all the way from behind one ear to all the way past the other. Salty tears streamed down my cheeks as I realized that I looked ridiculous. Utterly ridiculous. And, as a woman who had been raised by popular culture and who forever identified herself with her hair, it broke my heart.
In between gasping sobs and uttering homemade expletives, I commanded my boyfriend to try to “fix” it. At this point, I really should have realized that my bangs were an indication of his hair-trimming skills, or lack thereof, because no matter how many more little snips and cuts he made, each “style” that came thereafter was progressively worse. Snip. My goodness. Snip. Are you kidding me? Snip. Holy mother of pearl! I thought I signed up for a hair cut, but, instead, I somehow became the star of my own personal hair horror show.
The memories of my long hair were quickly being replaced with the reality of a sheep dog hairstyle delivered by a blind drunk. My next glimpse into the mirror made the following decision easy: I would just have to shave my head.
My boyfriend grabbed the clippers as I wept next to the trash-bag full of hair’s Christmas past. Buzz, buzz, buzz. What a weird sound and feeling that was to have clippers run over my scalp! Buzz, buzz, buzz. My thick hair had always been such a warm insulator, so I instantly got goosebumps when the coolness of the sea air hit my scalp after each pass of the clippers. Buzz, buzz, mother-frickin’ buzz. Finally, it was done.
I raised the mirror, hoping that this glimpse wouldn’t be as horrific as the one 15 minutes ago, and I saw myself. For the love of all things holy!!! Here I was, thinking this mirror would reflect the new me: a beautiful woman, brandishing confidence with her stunning new do. Nope, and more nope. Instead, I looked like a Q-tip of a man with a 1” fur coat on his head. I was now just a “meh” woman with a crappy haircut… in fact, a terrible one. In knowing I couldn’t make things worse, I sent my boyfriend to the store so I could bleach it. The end result: a bleached fuzzy, out-of control shave job otherwise known as “My new hairdo.”
Now, let me clarify something: even though I was 20, I had long been aware of the coerciveness of how the media portrays women. I knew I didn’t need hair or anything else on the outside to tell me who I was. At that time, I was a woman who loved the ocean, the environment, surfing, art, friends, family, fairness, equality, and life in general. Yet, my hair had always been an external representation of who I felt like on the inside: a wild, artsy, mermaid Viking warrior. Though I identified with how the style of my hair made me really feel like “me,” chopping off my hair wasn’t as dramatic for me as I guess it could have been.
So, I curbed the tears and embraced my new do. The more I accepted it, the more I felt the confidence inside me billow up. Dang, girl. You went and shaved your head. That takes guts. You go, girl!
What also helped fuel my morale was the fact that my boyfriend loved it. My next move was to show the world.
To my surprise, my dad and brother had recently shaved their heads too, so the next family gathering had me fitting in perfectly, despite my mom’s initial gasps when I first arrived. Most friends congratulated me on my bold move, reiterating my courage. I was already feeling great about my mistake-induced cut, but the encouraging support made me feel like a glamorous Pixie.
Then reality settled in. When I had long hair, I used to quickly brush it and, at any time of day, and BAM!, it would be ready to go. With my new hairdo, I needed to tend to my hair before I went to sleep or else I would wake up with one side flat and the rest sticking up straight. If I wanted to avoid the chides at work, I’d have to groom myself before bed, add a ton of gel, and sleep with a beanie on. Wow. Super sexy.
As it grew out a couple of inches, I continued to educate myself in hair gel-ology, where I learned about every type of hair gel possible for all times of the day. I also tried hair clips and head bands, yet nothing could stand up to the impact of salt watery waves when I surfed. And, since I aimed to surf 1 to 3 times a day, that meant a lot of hair-gelling and hair clipping time that I needed to schedule in. Despite all efforts, no matter what I tried and no matter how it looked, I still didn’t feel like “me” with my new haircut. I soon began to loathe my fuzzy head.
That’s when things went downhill.
While wearing my thick black wetsuit on the way to a quick afternoon surf, a few people squeezed by me and said “Excuse me, Sir.”
Sir?!!! What? Can’t they see my boobs?
They were surprised to see a female turn around and apologetically said, “Oh, err… sorry,” as they quickly scurried off. Yet, those gender-confusing mix-ups just fed the growing doubt inside, making me feel more unlike me and increasingly uncomfortable.
That’s when I learned the real lesson.
One day, in an attempt to ignore my hair-invoked woes, I rode my bike along the cliffside to check out how big the summer waves were. There, above the relatively flat ocean, stood a friend who I hadn’t seen for a few months that I knew had been fighting cancer. She had just finished up with her chemo and was adorning a purple scarf to cover up her cold head. I said “hi” as she looked at me with giant eyes.
“What did you do with your hair? Did you make it into a wig? Can I have it?”
(Note: if you ever want to feel like a complete douchebag, cut off all your hair in teeny increments so none of your friends going through cancer can have it made into a wig. Then stare at them with their 1” long hair while you tell them that you willingly chose this hair style).
As I wallowed in my guilt, she looked at me with disheartened eyes and I embarrassingly explained what happened.
Right then and there, I realized that my attachment to my hair at any length was unimportant. Like, really unimportant. Hair is hair, but health is health.
I decided to stop worrying so much about my goofy do. With only a few inches of hair sun-salutating the sky, there was nothing I could really do about it other than add gobs of gel and have patience.
No, I didn’t like my short hair and no, it never felt like “me.” But, watching friends go through cancer showed me that spending time worrying about haircuts is not the best use of my time or energy.
I am still that wild, artsy, mermaid Viking inside and love how my long hair physically expresses that internal feeling. I don’t need it to be who I am; that mermaid warrior is me no matter what. Yet, without some magical potion or painfully-expensive weave, my journey to grow it out became a practice in hair-gel artistry and patience.
Successfully, after 2+ long years, I finally grew my hair out to the point where, when I looked into the mirror, I felt more like me. The warm, messy, crazy, easy-to-tie back hair that I missed was back to being in my face, in my teeth, and in my food. Though I learned that hairstyles don’t define me, my long, wavy hair makes me feel complete, allowing what I feel on the inside to be expressed externally.
And who knows? Maybe I’ll cut or shave my hair again sometime. But, for now, I’m going to enjoy where I’m at in all of my Viking-mermaid wonder, and revel in what I learned from that hairless time.
PS: What’s funny about this story is that I broke up with that boyfriend and met my husband-to-be in the midst of my grow-out mode, which further reiterated to me that it’s what is inside that matters most, and hair length really means nothing.
PPS: What’s even funnier is that my husband and I now cut each other’s hair. And I’m proud to state that, so far, no clippers have been involved in my hair-trimming process… yet.