I hit a bit of a milestone today. Was it a big, life-changing moment in all of history? Well… no. But it marked a major moment in a personal hair journey that so few people have even known I was on. I want to tell an open and honest story, which seems a little silly to even me since it’s just about hair. Before you shrug off my experiences, hear me out for a spell: I promise I’m about to take you on an unexpected ride.
So, this morning, I was styling my hair into a festive Halloween look when I realized that you can no longer see the short, formerly-shaved side of my hair. It’s something my friends have been pointing out a lot recently, because they’re seeing it in pictures, but today was the first time I saw it for myself.
For some back story, I first shaved the side of my head back in 2011, when I started NYU, got my first writing job in the big city, and thought I was a bigshot for those two reasons.
I’d seen other girls rock the look, and after I briefly tried out a long fringed style out in pursue of my own potential signature look, I decided that shaving a section of my long locks was something I really wanted to do. It actually kind of shocked me that I didn’t think twice about doing it. I didn’t care what anyone had to say about it, I booked a hair appointment at the salon, giving over-the-phone instructions to “book me 10 minutes with any stylist willing to do it.” The first cut ended up being a disaster (the inexperienced stylist didn’t part my hair correctly before buzzing it off, a mistake that would take a few months to fix) but I didn’t even mind. I felt so fabulous with my new style, and for the first time that I looked like who I was supposed to be.
Anyone who knew me in high school knows I was always on the hunt for a creative new hairstyle. Twiggy-like short styles and razor-cut, elaborately teased looks were among my repertoire, because, for as much as I love expressing myself through my hair, I’ve always thought that my natural (basic) blonde hair is forgettable and gives people the wrong impression of me. So for once, I felt like I had a memorable style.
I was right. As I started my career and made new contacts, attended events, and generally made public impressions on people, I noticed that my subtle style change was resonating. I looked different enough that people remembered me and associated my look with my fashion and beauty jobs, but I wasn’t so crazy or scary looking that I felt uncomfortable. It was just a haircut, but it felt like me: pretty traditional, but with a little something unexpected for whoever was paying attention. It was my long sought-after “Thing.”
Whenever I would have a big event coming up, I’d get so excited to head back to the barber to get a fresh buzz, or even have a design etched into the side. I kept the high-maintenance style going for years, beyond the length of any other fashion trend or spur-of-the-moment decision.
Of course, in the several years I had my shaved style, I heard the complete wheelhouse of Unsolicited Critiques and Questions, from strangers and friends alike. Everyone from random strangers on the bus to my actual friends would ask me why I did it (felt like it.), ask why I don’t like my “beautiful” long hair (I do.), condescendingly tell me “only I” could pull it off (either directly or by insinuating that only a crazy person would lob off perfectly good hair in favor of a lopsided ‘do), ask what my boyfriend thought of it (who cares?), express to me that they’d love to try the look but would never catch a man that way (good for you.) and more.
The only comment that really ever bothered me over the years was the question I got the most: how could I hide it? Well-meaning, genuinely interested listeners, friends, and family would ask if I could just flop my hair over to the other side to conceal it? Yes, but why would I want to do that? I didn’t spend years of my life touching up the short style to be embarrassed over it, try to blend in, or be ashamed of being different than others around me. Yes, I was fortunate to have a job that suited the look and an office environment that was pretty liberal on dress code, but the only time it ever occurred to me that others potentially wouldn’t like it was when people overtly reminded me that it didn’t fit the status quo. So for years, I tried my best to be nice when others asked, trying to realize that no one meant to be mean, even though all I was hearing was, “Could you look normal if you tried? Also, show me, can you try?”
I wish it didn’t bother me. It’s not important enough of a thing for me to stay salty about it for years. But I realized it wasn’t about the hair. For me, it just speaks to a larger issue: people (especially women) like to police others, to keep them in line, and make sure they follow the same cultural norms, societal expectations, and beauty standards that they themselves feel restrained by.
One day earlier this year, I woke up and realized I should probably book a hair appointment to get my buzz touched up. My side pieces were starting to curl, that tell-tale sign it was time for a trim, and I had a work event coming up that I wanted to look good for. Then I realized, I didn’t want to cut it. That same determined spirit I had in grad school when I was like, “I don’t care, just cut it!”? Well, now, I heard “I don’t care, I don’t want to cut it.” I started reflecting on all of the events I had in the coming months. This year, I’m turning 25 and I don’t need the haircut I had in school. I’m attending some of my best friends’ weddings. I’m in one of those wedding parties. Maybe I want to wear chic updos. I’m not the kid who’s just trying to get her big break, and if I am, I have a rich work history now — and that’s all the background I needs when meeting new people. I didn’t even figure out if these are good enough reasons when I started growing out my hair.
As the months passed, my grown-in hair has looked all kinds of funky ways. From slightly overgrown to downright terrible, it’s stuck out and been pinned down and wrestled with. Obviously, people noticed. Bus strangers would poke at my head and ask, “what happened here?” (yes, really). Friends asked why I was growing it out. (I didn’t really have a good answer. Did I need one? All of the above things I considered? No matter what I said felt like a lie.) I realized very quickly that having buzzed hair wasn’t really the weird thing people would point out, it was just I was doing something others hadn’t experienced before, and they were curious to get involved with it. Again, it’s not about the hair, it’s just my own personal version of Weird Thing, and I’m sure every other human on the planet has their unique trait that everyone brings up as a conversation starter.
So I don’t feel like I gave in to people’s pressures and changed my style to look more “normal.” Oh, so many people are happy that I’m back to a standard long, blonde, nondescript, and kind of mousey thing that everyone’s familiar with, believe me. I have literally been told in as many words. But I have come to realize that the real reason I changed my hair (or let it change itself, really) was because it wasn’t making me happy anymore. In any sense. I wanted to find the next thing that made me feel special, represented who I am, and was actually fun to style.
And this morning, when I was combing down my ear-length hair, I realized those locks blended in perfectly with the rest. As I colored in my eyebrows with fun colored eyeshadows for Halloween, I stared at my reflection in the mirror and realized that I’m kind of obsessed with fun “rainbrows,” and I don’t need to use the holiday to wear a look I love as a costume. I’m going to do it in real life, and time will tell if it becomes my new “Thing.”