Cutting My Hair

“Today’s the day.” My mom, who has been wanting me to do this since I was eleven, is excited. My stylist, who has been cutting my family’s hair since I was in elementary school, who my mother and I followed from a snooty spa to a noisy salon in the far suburbs to, finally, her own trendy salon not too far from where the snooty spa had been, is excited. This is the sort of project a stylist can really enjoy, fun in a way “take an inch off” never is.

Me? I know that if I don’t do it today, I never will. “Get rid of it,” I say, shaking my head into the shaggy mess it’s always one step away from becoming. “I’m sick of the whole damn thing.”

I’ve been home and rocking the freshly-unemployed-new-college-grad life for a month and a half, inasmuch as anyone can “rock” such a lifestyle. It’s Halloween, which seems like as good a time as any for a big transition. In ancient times, when Halloween was Samhain, the dark-bright holiday, tonight meant offerings and masquing. Does this count as either? Or both?

“I finally talked her into it,” my mother says, with pride. This is only half-true. I was making noises for weeks about wanting to change my appearance in a big way, and it was either this or becoming a redhead. My skin, though pale, has olive undertones that make me nervous about trying any color besides my natural dark brown.

Getting your hair washed in a salon is always a treat. Laying back, feeling the flow of warm water and the gentle massaging of shampoo is enough to make the world melt away even if the shampoo chairs don’t have a massage feature, which these do.

When I see the thick dark dripping mat hanging past my shoulders, I don’t see anything I’ll miss. My hair, in and of itself, has never received a compliment from anyone. Not once that I can remember. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with it– it’s terribly thick and healthy, it’s never once been dyed; “virgin hair,” stylists call it. It’s a dark brown, almost black color that, while not sparkling red or sunny blonde, is not unpleasant. It certainly doesn’t lack for body or natural volume. It’s just not friendly. It is the Semitic hair of my forebears. It frizzes up in heat, falls into my face and gets in the way at inopportune moments, and escapes in wispy tendrils from even the strictest ponytail. The one time I can remember being truly delighted with it was the night of my senior prom. I’d had it done in something near enough to a French twist– I called it a “New Orleans twist” in honor of its crypto-French roots, and my prom’s Mardi Gras theme– with the help of roughly three pounds of bobby pins and half a can of hairspray. It may have been nearly as much metal as hairdo, but I looked downright regal.

As the first few cautious cuts begin, I wonder at how late in the game I realized that this would be considered a radical act by some. It was only after I’d more or less decided that my tresses’ days were numbered and began to do a little research into particular cuts that I became aware that short-haired girls were not just uncommon, but controversial.

It hadn’t been that way for me. In my family, short hair for a woman was more or less the norm– my mother, my grandmother, a handful of cousins. I’d seen Emma Watson cut off her hair, and I thought she looked beautiful, almost like Audrey Hepburn, my highest compliment. Friends of mine had donated their hair to charity and received nothing but praise for it–my hair could never get long enough without puffing up like a cotton ball. A gentleman caller, frustrated with my hair getting in the way when he was trying to kiss me, told me I’d look hot with it short, going so far as to joke about the profusion of barbers in the area, and how we could resume our business more comfortably once my hair was gone.

It was only after I’d dipped my toe into the internet that I saw anything else. “Why do straight women cut their hair when they know men don’t like it?” articles would ponder. Well, actually, no, I didn’t know that. All I know is that if I’d had the fashionable hairstyle in high school, waist-length and Japanese-straightened, I’d have looked like a honeydew in a novelty “Cousin It” wig.

Apparently, I’m making a political statement. It’s a good thing I’m already a feminist, because apparently only feminists would be so bold as to cut off their long hair. Apparently I’m telling the world that I don’t care about its opinions.

I’m far too weary to make such a statement. I’m so tired of seeing the same reflection day after day, year after year. I’ve had the same hairstyle, more or less, for a decade. Thick hair gets so heavy. I’m so tired, deep down in my bones, tired of feeling the same for so long. Maybe if I looked different, I’d feel different. Maybe it’s good I’m becoming an accidental radical; maybe if I have the hair of a brave person, it will make me brave.

Half my head has been shorn; there is clearly no going back. I rifle through every objection I’ve ever heard to short hair in my head: It’ll make you look older. Well in that case, bring it on! I’m short enough that I was mistaken for a middle schooler the other day. Anything to make the news that I’m a twenty-one-year-old college graduate a bit less shocking.

Guys won’t hit on you as much. That may be true, but you never know until you try, right? Then again, after the aforementioned age issue, at least I can be sure the ones who do aren’t pedophiles.

Your hair won’t look as healthy. We’ve been over this before; if my hair was any healthier or more vibrant it would be approaching near-prehensile levels of mobility, and it still isn’t doing me any favors.

You’ll look like a boy. Oh.

Uh oh.

“Francesca?” I ask the stylists’ daughter, a chic young woman who works at her mother’s salon. “You don’t think I’ll look like a boy when it’s done, do you?”

My mother and my stylist, who’ve been swapping travel stories this whole time, turn towards me and laugh, quick to reassure me. Francesca looks more confused than amused. “Are you afraid of looking like… a particular boy?”

“No, more like boys in general.”

She shrugs. “I’ve seen a lot of haircuts. Many on boys. You have nothing to worry about.”

I relax my shoulders and let them finish. I spend the remainder of the haircut half-zoned out, looking into my own eyes or glancing at the growing pile of hair on the floor, wondering out loud how much it will weigh when we’re done.

I hear the click of a blowdryer being shut off, feel a hand ruffling my new bangs. “Well, we’re done. What do you think?”

“Oh.” I look at myself, completely objectively, before anyone has a chance to say anything. My shoulders really do feel so much lighter. With my hair trimmed back to scale, my largest and most noticeable features are my eyes, which, with the new bangs, seem to take up half my face. I turn my head and am astonished not to feel anything rush toward my face, nothing getting in my way. The layers cut into my hair show the darkest parts of it, which have never been bleached by the sun and are a black that has hints of indigo. There are gentle curls brushing at the nape of my neck, and I think of all the earrings that will stand out so well now.

“What do you think?” I hear again.

I have no way of knowing how many “likes” my new hair picture will get on facebook. I do not know how many men will offer to buy me drinks the next weekend, when I take a trip to look at grad schools. I don’t know if I really do look like a radical revolutionary or Audrey Hepburn or anything. All I know is what I see.

“I look so different,” I whisper at my reflection. I turn my head slightly, touching my new hair as delicately as if it were a baby animal, and smile.

“I look so pretty.”

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