“She cut her hair.”
“Yes! Chopped it all off! What was she thinking?”
“She was such a pretty, elegant young lady.” The woman’s companion shook her head. Her own hair, I noticed, was plaited in a long braid draped across her bosom. “All the young girls are cutting their hair off now.”
In disbelief, I had paused typing and a memory tugged at me from when my own mother and her friends felt my hair fodder for their debate and discussion. Until now, the chatter of the two middle-aged women sitting next to me had faded in and out of my awareness. I was at a café revising my current manuscript and the ambient conversations were never too distracting, unless I encountered a loud telephone conversation. Nothing was more annoying than only hearing one side of the story.
“She had so much potential.”
“Yeah, I had high hopes for her.”
“A truly bright young lady.”
Then, I am to presume, she cut her hair. From where I sat, it sounded like this bright young lady no longer had potential, hope or … brightness.
Are women still berating and judging other women because of hair? Why does a woman’s hair define her at all? Our intelligence is not diminished or determined by the length of our hair. Neither is our strength or character or beauty. If anything it is merely a reflection of our personality, but mostly hair is genetics, nutrition and environment. I wore my hair in a messy bun for ten years while I raised small children, worked full-time and went to college. I simply did not have time to care about my hair.
I tried to go back to my revisions, but I was hooked now and my characters would have to wait. I listened for the coup de grâce: the evidence that this young woman had truly lost her wits. Maybe I missed an important part of the conversation. Perhaps the now-sheared girl has become an addict. Perhaps she left her husband and young children to live in a semi-permanent commune dedicated to Burning Man in the Nevada desert.
But, no; she only cut her hair.
It is a sad truth that we women can be both our greatest supporters and our most vicious detractors. If a woman in our company rivals us in any way, it is with a somewhat gleeful feeling we may observe their poor decision to whack off their hair. Or, vice versa, if the new haircut enhances their beauty we become envious or maybe even resentful. We may find ourselves saying things like, “Oh, but her long hair was so elegant.”
I have never put much value in hair, though I’ve certainly admired or judged others for their own hair. It is impossible to go through life completely non-subjective. I’ve changed my own hair many times over the course of my life, depending on my mood or present state of mind. Sometimes, my hair was received favorably, sometimes not. I like to think of hair as an extension of my personality, which is also constantly changing. Once, I felt the urge to chop my hair so bad I hacked my bangs off myself (my family refers to this time as The Great Bang Crisis of 2012).
During my last visit to the salon, my stylist had buzzed her hair like boys get their first day in boot camp. I asked her if it was premeditated or impulsive and she confessed that it was definitely an impulse decision. I thought she looked beautiful and I envied her freedom. I felt like doing the same sometimes.
Wouldn’t it be nice to roll out of bed, shower and not have to take a comb through the tangles or blow dry it so the ends aren’t flipping every which way? Sometimes we make these choices when we feel like we need to know we are in control of something. Maybe life has become uncontrollable in other areas. Sometimes, we’re bored in life and need a change. Sometimes we want to break preconceived notions or we do it for the shock value.
Why is hair attached to a person’s character? Why is it “unfortunate” if a woman cuts her hair? As I wrote this, my daughter, who recently turned eighteen, decided to cut her hair to chin length. She’d let it grow really long for her senior pictures and then afterward she had not hesitated to chop it. It was her decision to grow it long and her decision to cut it. I understood. But my mother said to her in a sad tone, “I like it longer, but you look beautiful this way, too.” These are nearly the same words she said to me when I was a senior and decided to cut my hair (though, much shorter). Of course, mine was for shock value and my mother could barely contain her anger.
In some ways, this urge to cut our hair may seem like a rite of passage. Short hair on a woman is often seen as bold, sporty, rebellious or nonconforming. In a sense, we are saying, “It’s my hair. My body. My choice.”
I would have thought during this day in age that these notions are no longer attached to a woman’s hair, but maybe this will never be the case. Women have cut their hair for thousands of years in order to grieve, protest, and imbue power toward an act or wish. Maybe there really is power in cutting off our hair. We are symbolically letting go of who we were and embracing or invoking a new version of ourselves.
When my daughter was thirteen, she experienced a bit of an identity crisis and dyed one side of her hair blonde and the other smurf blue. I got a lot of flack for letting her do that from both family and friends, but, considering the other battles we were fighting, her hair was small potatoes. Besides, it is just hair. If she––or I, for that matter––want to express ourselves in a moment of confusion, frustration, or self-proclamation, then we have the right to do that (some women in this day and age do NOT have that right, but that is a topic for a different day).
The best part of hair is that it grows back in your natural color and you are not stuck with a permanent look. To cut your hair or try a new look is not an earth shattering decision to regret twenty years from now. Unlike, say, a tatoo or those gauge earrings my daughter requested that would stretch giant holes in her ear lobes. As far as I know, you can’t shrink your ear lobes. That was a definite no and she has thanked me for it.