Mom spent two weeks trying to talk me out of
it. My Baba was completely horrified when
I confided in her what I was planning to do. Other people in my life were
shocked and skeptical as well.
work out for you,” they warned, shaking their heads. “Think it through some
more.” No, I wasn’t plotting a murder or a jewellery store robbery. I wasn’t
going to kidnap a rich person’s kid and hold them for ransom. I wasn’t going to
start a revolution. I was going to get my hair cut short.
panic over something as inconsequential as hair? We all have hair. There’s no
shortage of hair in the world. It grows back when we cut it and when we leave
it alone we can use it as a makeshift ladder ala Rapunzel. We can dye it and braid it, shape it and sell it.
Hair is abundant and hair is malleable, so why all this uproar over mine? It
was my hair and I wanted to cut it. It was on my head so it was mine to dispose
of. What crime was I committing?
learned that everyone’s a lawyer when it comes to a woman’s body and any
changes she wants to make to it.
won’t look like a girl anymore!”
just sigh, like I did on the inside when I first heard those words? It’s a
laughable notion, that your gender identity is somehow connected to the length
of your hair. But for some, it’s sacred, the tradition that boys have neat,
trim, militaristic short hair and girls have long, flowing, romantic locks, end
uniform, basically. One that can get you persecuted if you rebel against it,
like that one time in boarding school when I got kicked out of the cafeteria
for wearing the wrong kind of stockings under my kilt. I had to race back to my
dormitory to change if I wanted to eat that day. A small journey into
individualism cost more than half of my lunch time, and it seemed that if I
dared repeat the offense there would be an even bigger price to pay.
to the older generation and the media, any girl with short hair was
automatically a butch lesbian. Or a workplace dragon lady. Or both. They were
stern rather than sweet, demanding rather than accommodating, and they just looked
too darn masculine, as if that were a
bad thing, a violation of the natural order.
drizzles down to that unshakeable fear among conservatively-minded people of
having somehow produced a generation of women who weren’t going to marry men
because they resembled men too much, through their ambitions, through their
accomplishments, and through their boyish haircuts. I can assure you, quite
happily, that men played no part in my decision to cut my hair short. What men would
think of my hair wasn’t even an afterthought. If anything, it was other girls
who influenced my decision. But it was my own desperation for freedom that had
the final say on the matter.
I used to
have hair that was more than ten inches long. It fell down my back when it was
loose. I could sweep it up into a long, bouncy ponytail or into a high or low
bun. It was a rippling mane of dark chocolate brown, thick and wavy ... and I
I hated brushing it. I hated shampooing it. I
hated having to spend an hour blow-drying it, just to get it from sopping wet
to tolerably damp. It was always tangled. It was always getting caught in coat zippers.
Straightening it with a flat iron could only tame it for a grand total of
twelve minutes before it started to curl again into something that resembled
Albert Einstein’s eyebrows.
I had a
battalion of clips, ties, and pins that fought the daily battle of keeping it
off my face just so I could function and get through the day. If they failed, I
would have to run to the bathroom to tuck some hair back into place or yank
some hair out of the iron grasp of a zipper or collar or earring. I don’t need
to tell anyone how much that hurt, because we’ve all been there, but me? I was
in hair hell, the tenth circle of purgatory that Dante forgot to mention. My
hair was my curse, the plague that sprung from my scalp. I was always asking
myself, “How did other girls do it?” By that I meant, how did other girls keep
their hair so straight, so shiny, so perfect, all day long?
I was in
high school in the 2000s. The hairstyle in vogue was long, flat-ironed hair
with blonde or red highlights. My classmates proudly flitted through the
hallways with hair ironed and dyed in exactly this way, while mine ... was
sloppily pulled back with a big, chunky plastic clip. That was me as a
teenager. I was a dork who couldn’t take care of her hair properly. It was all
wrong, and people noticed.
you mean you have no time to straighten your hair? Just wake up earlier to do
it! I get up at six!” I could barely motivate myself to get out of bed at seven
in the morning for a bowl of cereal, let alone fight a futile fight with my
hair. An hour of sleep lost for my hair to explode into a cloud of frizz on the
way to school? It wasn’t worth it.
to make up for it in other ways, because God help you if you were a girl and didn’t
make the slightest effort to be feminine in high school. I bought expensive MAC
lip glosses. I wore my nicest, most sparkly earrings to draw attention away
from my atrocious bun. I dusted my eyes with blue and purple eyeshadows. I
learned to make straight lines with a stick of eyeliner even when my
unconfident hand was shaking.
the end of the day, after wiping off the makeup, taking off the earrings, and
letting my hair loose from the prison designed for its own good, I knew that I
had failed. I was not a girl who had style. I was a girl who had ugly hair, and
I was certain that it was always going to be this way for me. I was always
going to be the least beautiful, the least successful, and the least admired
girl in the room, because of my stupid, stupid hair.
young, vulnerable, insecure teenager, this is the kind of realization that cuts
at least, to get my hair cut short was a breakthrough. A liberation. A choice
that dramatically changed my life for the better. I was in my first year of
university, and it was a year for changes and new freedoms. I was living away
from home for the first time. I was eating what I liked, reading what I liked,
going where I liked, and, most importantly, dressing
how I liked.
last from my stiff high school uniform, with its too-tight trousers, and starchy
see-through white shirts, I embraced delicious comfort in my wardrobe. I had
cozy sweaters and dark jeans for the autumn and winter, cotton dresses and
leggings for the spring and summer. Cute ballet flats on dry days and warm,
sturdy boots for wet ones.
comfortable was the defining feature of my look, and eventually that philosophy
crawled upwards to my head, where my hair, still pinned up and undealt with,
resided, and waited. Other girls at university had short hair and I couldn’t
stop thinking about it, couldn’t stop staring at them.
I want that, I
thought, watching them tuck their neat, sweeping bangs behind their ears and
slip on the knitted beanie hats that made them look so cool and hip and
bohemian and modern without a curl
out of place. Where had all these girls been in high school when I needed to
see them, when I needed to know there were other options besides the tyranny of
the flat iron? What had made them brave enough to just be done with it and chop
it all off? Were they, like me, victims, and recent escapees, of the
legislation for female beauty and conformity?
point I’d had enough and was sick to death with waking up in my dorm room with
a mouth full of drool-soaked hair. I’d spent my whole life ruled by its length
and its refusal to cooperate with me. I was done. I was tired. I was ready.
at the hair salon. I had to force myself not to look sideways at her as the
hairdresser braided my locks into two tight ropes that would be promptly sliced
off afterwards. I couldn’t blame her for crying. Her attachment to my hair was
pure nostalgic sentimentality, an attachment to the days of my childhood, when she
would wrestle with and yank at my stubborn tangles, trying to make something of
them, with the best of intentions and a maternal infatuation with the dark,
glossy shade of brown inherited from her Italian and Greek ancestors.
As a mother,
she’d enjoyed that sort of challenge, while I remember my scalp aching, my
tears leaking. I didn’t want to cry over my hair anymore, and I didn’t want her
to cry either.
Mom, it’s fine,” I kept reassuring her, unable to reach out and squeeze her
hand from my salon chair. I wanted it to be over so badly. It was like waiting
for a stubborn baby tooth to come out. Make
room, won’t you? You’re done here, kid. The adult tooth needs to grow in now. When
the moment finally came, down came the scissors to do their dirty work, and my
braids hung limp in the hairdresser’s hand, I was speechless and beaming,
transfixed by the sight of myself in the mirror.
It had a shape. My hair … had a style.
were sealed in an envelope and shipped off to make a wig for a cancer patient
whom I hoped would have a happier relationship with my hair than I did. The
reviews for my new haircut were raving. Mom’s tears dried up when she saw how
much short hair suited me. My Baba gushed about how pretty and grownup I
looked. Friends at university raced up to me to praise my new do.
Where had all the skepticism and prejudice gone?
Had it been packaged up and mailed away along with my braids? Did the courage
to go through with the cutting wave off any agency anyone else had over my
hair? I had proven myself, it seemed. I had claimed complete license to my own
hair. It was a beautiful feeling, to shed my fur, to be lighter and freer, in
more ways than one. I wish that every woman gets to experience this feeling at least
once in her lifetime.
course, a few critics lingered. I went on two dates with a boy at university.
By the third date he had the nerve to tell me that I would look sexier with
long hair. I didn’t text him back again. I don’t need that kind of extra
Emily Zarevich lives in
Burlington, Ontario. She attended Wilfrid Laurier University, where she studied
English literature, and went on to Humber College where she studied TESL/TEFL
(Teaching English as a Second Language). She used to write creative pieces for
her school’s arts magazine Blueprint
and now writes for fun.
See Brian Henry’s
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