Just minutes before stylist Mark Townsend cut my hair short last month, an assistant marveled as he shampooed my long tresses for the last time. “Your hair is unreal,” he said. “Are you sure you want to get rid of it?” He was half-joking, but my stomach churned with last-minute doubt nonetheless. He didn’t know that he was the last in a long string of remarks asking why I would ever consider cutting off my thick, natural waves.
I’ve had long hair for years since I was a toddler. Through all the different experiences that have shaped the trajectory of my life; the countless ways I’ve grown and evolved, the length of my hair is the only thing that hasn’t really changed. But after the latest string of shake-ups—a new job, a move across the country, and a newfound optimism ushered in by this fresh start—suddenly what I saw in the mirror didn’t feel comforting but stagnant. My hair is the only thing that hasn’t changed.
The people in my life thought otherwise, and I quickly remembered why I should stop soliciting opinions about certain things from my very opinionated crew. "You have such beautiful long hair—why would you cut it off?" my mother asked, as mothers do. But I was more struck by the fact that many of my friends agreed with her. "I don't know—you're just like, a 'long-hair girl,'" one offered when I told her I was pondering going short.
As soon as she said it, I knew that the cut needed to happen. I didn't disagree with her, and that's what bothered me. As sick as I was of my hair, even as I began considering all the ways I could change it, it still felt like an extension of myself. It was part of who I was—how others saw me, and how I saw myself. And I kind of hated that of all things, my hair had become such a central part of my identity. I hated that I used it as a security blanket, something to hide behind because I was too afraid to wholly embrace who I was, mane or not. There were no guarantees that my personality was likable, but at least I had likable hair. Now, it had become enmeshed with the self-critical, inhibited energy I was trying so desperately to leave behind.
So it had to go.
To be clear, there were more practical, less abstract reasons to do it, too. My strands were dry, color-damaged, and unruly. And expensive, in spite of my low-maintenance approach: I was tired of going through an entire container of shampoo in just two weeks, not to mention jacking up my hot water bill just to maintain the mane. I can’t say I hate that my showering time has been reduced to five-or-so minutes or the fact that my hair has never been healthier. But the convenience is just a shadow of what I’ve gained—or rather, lost.
In spite of those last moments of uncertainty, when the strands started to fall around me, it all felt right. The weight on my shoulders lessened with every snip. Mark pressed a ponytail of my own hair into my hands, and I stared at it in awe; touched the dry, damaged ends. The metaphor was so obvious that I almost laughed out loud. I had left New York a damaged shell of a person, and just months later, here I was: laughing, healthy and whole. And I was literally holding everything I had been holding onto—the last tactile reminder of how far I’d come—in the palm of my hand.
I let it fall to the floor, and someone swept it away.
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