In 2009, I was at the height of my terror as a closeted bisexual with an undiagnosed personality disorder, and I became a bat mitzvah. Becoming a bat mitzvah is a crowning moment in Jewish adolescence that takes eight months of prep, resulting in a morning reading the Torah in front of your nearest and dearest. It ends with dancing the night away at the JCC ballroom in a new dress you picked for the occasion.
It was the party I was looking forward to more than anything, and I spent months leading up to the big day planning my hairstyle. I chose a long, straightened style for the ceremony and a sleek bob for the party. When I arrived at my party, guests were shocked at my hair transformation, and I was thrilled. Fast forward 13 years, and I was in a similar position as I planned my wedding. I wanted to do something with my hair on this significant day but for a different reason.
My Wedding Hair Ritual
Throughout history, hair (and the shedding of it) has been used ceremoniously in different ways from birth to death. "From the moment we are born, our hair becomes both an expression of our cultural heritage, and at the same time, part of the story of humanity and what it means to live and die," esteemed hairstylist Rudi Lewis wrote in collaboration with photographer Julia Hetta.
In many cultures, hair cutting is symbolic of releasing trauma, commemorating a meaningful occasion, and releasing the past. For me, it was the latter. The years before I met my now-husband were chaotic. I lived in New York, hustled myself to exhaustion, and struggled with inner biphobia and undiagnosed mental illness. I was far from the best version of myself. After leaving an abusive relationship and moving across the country on a healing journey, I began to unfurl parts of me that I had buried due to trauma. At the same time, I began to grow out my hair for no reason other than a lack of access to a talented curly stylist.
With a similar mindset to the one I had at 13-years-old, I decided that getting married was the perfect time to symbolically close the last chapter of my life and start a new one. What better way to do so than a ceremonial snip during my outfit change before the reception?
My then-fiancé was nervous about my idea, worried about what would happen if I didn't like the cut. "The rest of the wedding would be ruined if you hated it," he told me as we sorted through all the potential outcomes. His concerns were valid.
I consulted my bridal stylist Elissa Ruminer, and we decided that the best option would be a dress and hair change after the first dance while the guests ate dinner. Due to timing and my curls, a big chop wouldn't work, so we decided on bangs instead.
Sitting in the yoga studio that doubled as our getting-ready space, I closed my eyes and focused on my breath. Getting married was a huge deal, and even if my nerves were soothed from the tequila shots we served with appetizers, I wanted a moment to connect with myself consciously.
It was a moment to celebrate my commitment to my future husband and myself. With a few snips, I was mentally and physically shedding my past insecurities, partners, and traumas while setting an intention of peace, curiosity, and compassion for my new marriage.
The Spiritual Nature of Hair
According to Mimi Young, a Taiwanese Canadian spirit medium and the founder of Ceremonie, hair is spiritual. "Although the hair on our heads is technically dead, the follicles under our scalp are very much alive," Young says. "Because of this, hair is intuitive, and what we see indicates what is alive underneath." So, by that ideology, everything in our landscape returns to the hair.
Cutting my hair mid-wedding is just one example of ritualizing hair to connect to something more profound, a higher power of sorts. This is because when you engage in hair rituals or any hair change (coloring, cutting, altering the style,) part of you on the inside that experienced a transformation is now reflected on the outside.
"Our bodies and hair are beautiful, reliable ways to develop a deep connection with yourself," Young explains. "Having that relationship with our hair and knowing it is an eternal part of who we give us the ability to connect us to a perspective that is deeper than who we are as people."
Creating a Hair Ritual
Whitney Willison, a holistic hair stylist based in Los Angeles and Bali, told me that "hair is not only an expression of the self but also an extension of ourselves. For many, hair changes can prompt you to look inside yourself. Moreso than other body parts, it is a special part connected to our intuition, emotions, and longing."
As a holistic hair stylist, it's Willison's job to guide clients back to their relationship with their hair so they can listen to it. "There is a true art in listening and asking your intuition what your hair needs," she says. "At the start of every appointment, I invite my client to close their eyes and feel their hair and ask each strand, 'Does this need to be released?'" The results are usually an emotional process for many people.
For those looking for new ways to connect to your higher self, Young recommends starting with the hair on your head since it requires nothing more than what you already have on your body. There's no singular way to approach hair rituals; it can be as minor as changing how you part your hair. "What matters most is creating the space for the ritual. Your hands are kneading the most ancient part of your temple," Young adds.
Take washing your hair, for example. While in the shower, Willison recommends asking yourself what one thing you can let go of and then visualize it going down the drain. "It is such a beautiful and intentional way to care for ourselves," she says. Whether it's a timely haircut or brushing your hair at the end of the day, with intention, any routine can turn into a meaningful ritual—take it from me.