I have had legitimate hair disasters. There was my boy cut in fifth grade–never trust an $8 pixie cut, is all I can say about that–and there were my perms in seventh grade. These perms were not only perms but layered perms, so when the curl fell out, I was left with a mop of choppy hair. (Knowing what I know now about using a razor to add texture to hair, I’m fairly horrified by the way stylists used to send me out of the salon. And I paid for my ignorance–hair is a middle school girl’s crowning glory, and mine was less than glorious, to say the least.)
But as I have gotten older, I’ve gotten more experimental. I went from very long, very straight hair, which I always wore in a pony tail, to very short hair–my current modified pixie (cut WITH a razor, thank you very much). The funny thing is, the more confident I got, and the more I cut my hair, the more I found that I had to think about cutting my hair.
The first pixie cut is a bold statement. “Look at me, world! I don’t need to buy into your idea of what hair needs to look like! I have short hair and I don’t care who looks at it or what they think!”
Well, that’s totally what you think for the first three weeks. Then you look in the mirror one day and realize you look like a Fraggle. Or some evolutionarily-advanced creature that grows its own bike helmet.
Short hair, like so many things we undertake in an effort to prove our freedom and free-spiritedness, requires vigilant upkeep. With long hair, you can wake up in the morning, pull your hair into a pony tail, and go to breakfast. With short hair, you can wake up in the morning and go straight to the Grace Jones impersonator conference.
I guess the strangest thing to me is that every time I try to exert my independence, it winds up catching me back in the same butterfly net. I cut my hair short to be free of “the hair” and found myself a slave to lipstick, mascara, and some magical yet-to-be-totally-discovered combo of styling product. All those times I felt like I was walking into a room and being noticed as “the girl with the long blonde hair”; I didn’t realize that having short hair is just an alternative version of that. Now I’m “the girl with the short hair and the red lipstick.”
But maybe that’s just how life works. When we’re teens, we long for the freedom of adulthood, only to grow up and learn that the freedom of adulthood is really its own yoke. Now I’m an adult, free to pay my property taxes and worry about termites and free to keep my hair cut in the most free-spirited, heavy-maintenance style I could have possibly stumbled upon.
Kathleen Norris, one of my favorite authors (the kind whose book I will pick up and buy without even reading the jacket flap), wrote in her book “The Cloister Walk” about getting haircuts from Benedictine nuns. These were bowl cuts, functional to the nth degree, not pretty or exotic or even ironic. They were just designed to get your hair out of your face and out of your way.
I keep thinking that all my life, I’ve been working toward that kind of haircut. But every cut I get brings with it a new kind of angst. Maybe it’s time to put away the product and the makeup and the demi-permanent dye.
Or… maybe it’s just time I stopped putting so much pressure on myself and blaming it on my hair.