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I cut my hair. I took nearly 6 inches off. Could you tell? Most people can’t, and now that I see these photos of myself I am realizing that my hair doesn’t look much different at all! Even if there isn’t a dramatic change in how I look, there is a very real change in how I’m feeling.
I have had thick, wavy (at times curly), bunches of hair for as long as I can remember. I see photos of myself as a heavy haired kiddo and wish I had known back then that 30 year old me would be spending large amounts of money to get those perfect sun kissed highlights and messy waves. Back then, I was just pissed that I had to brush it and that it didn’t look like other girls. I hated it, I didn’t know what to do with it. So I chopped it off. I was free! I could shower without realizing I still had suds in my hair after getting out, I could comb through the tangles with ease, and though it may have looked a bit mushroom-esque I thought short hair really suited me. Until I got to school.
I was feeling so fly with my short hairdo, playing on the playground thinking I was unstoppable. Look! My hair was down like all the other kids! I didn’t have to wear it in a pony tail anymore! I fit in! When one of the popular girls came up to me and asked “Where’d you get your hair done?” I felt my heart jump and knew this was my chance. I was going to be cool. I had finally done it, they wanted to know how to be more like me because my hair was obviously the most awesome thing they had ever seen. I smiled and said “JC Penneys!”. There’s something about being a twelve year old that makes kids evil. It’s like they’ve heard all the things that their parents say, they know how to repeat those things back in social situations, but have not quite learned what manners are. It’s the perfect storm, and it turns sweet little babies into heartless semi-adults. The popular girl said “Thanks! I’ll make sure I never get my hair done there!” and ran off laughing with her friends.
Through my teenage years I alternated between trying to maintain some kind of hairstyle, and giving up and chopping it all off. Stylists would talk about how it’s slimming for women to have long hair. I read in magazines that if you were tall or fat you should have long hair. If you were short and thin you should have short hair. If you were thin, it was best to expose your face. You don’t want to hide your beautiful thin neck and fabulous jawline. If you are chubby having long hair would create the illusion that your face is longer, drawing less attention to your roundness. When I would talk about cutting off my hair I would hear loud sighs of disappointment from adults telling me that my hair was so beautiful, it was one of my best features. For awhile I rebelled. I chopped it off, poured hydrogen peroxide on it, turned bathtubs bright red with hair dye. That lasted through my teen years, and in my twenties I assimilated.
I cared a lot about dating, and one thing I knew about boys was that they did not like girls with short hair. I learned how to do my hair to make it look show-stopping. I had piles of beautiful hair that I would flip around and show off any chance I got. People would tell me it was amazing, that I could never chop it off because it was too gorgeous. I listened. I went through a lot in my 20’s. I lost and gained 100+ pounds every couple years due to disordered eating. I had some rough relationships. Friends were rotated out depending on the current weeks drama. I started having panic attacks. I hated my body. A lot.
When I started therapy around age 26, we would do these exercises where we would say something we loved about ourselves. For the entire first year I had the same answer every time. “My hair is amazing”, I would say assuredly. On the days when it was up I would smile and tell the group and the therapist “you can’t tell right now, but there’s magic in this pony tail”. Through all the self-hatred, my hair was the one steady source of confidence.
If you’re reading this and thinking “Good God Corissa, it’s just hair!” I totally understand. It is just hair. It is just hair, that I have a lifetime’s worth of feelings about. Just like the rest of my body. It’s just hair, that has been commented on, talked about, used to hurt me, by others. It is just hair, that I have felt immense amounts of validation from. And it’s just a god damn hair cut. But it’s a hair cut that holds so much emotional weight (and physical weight because hello this mop was heavy!). I have been taught so many things about the “goodness” of my long hair, and the presumed “badness” or getting rid of it. I’ve come pretty far since the last time I had short hair. I’ve got a greater sense of who I am, and what my values are, but here I am still tugging on the ends of my short hair trying to pull it forward like some invisible security blanket.
I feel a bit older with short hair, which brings up it’s own set of insecurities. I also feel much more like myself, whoever that ever changing person is. We place such an incredible amount of power in our appearance and how we feel about it. Each change to my physical body comes with a new set of hang-ups to work through. These days, I welcome the hang-ups. I know that challenging those scary feelings of what others may think, or what society has collectively decided about my appearance, is effective for my soul. I know that my worth does not lie in my body, or my hair, and that it’s also ok to forget that some times and need a minute to get back on track. I feel strong and resilient knowing that I can do what I want with myself and the only person who has to say it’s ok is me. And I take pleasure in learning how to see myself through fresh eyes.
I do what I want with my body, and I learn through the feelings that arise when change occurs. I’m pretty proud of myself. And I mean, come on it’s not that big of a deal… it’s just hair.