There are two movies that come to mind when I think of long hair. The first one is The Color Purple. Young Celie was just wed to the evil Mister and had to pick out his daughter’s matted hair because it hadn’t been combed since his first wife died. Mister told Celie not to cut the girls tangled mop, then slapped his bride for refusing to quiet the screaming child.
The second is Waiting to Exhale. Bernie (Angela Bassett) had just found out that her husband was leaving her for a white woman. After a week-long stint in bed, she walked into her friend’s salon and demanded the shortest haircut imaginable. “Are you crazy?” the friend yelled.
“If you don’t do it, I’ll cut it my damn self!” Bernadette grabbed the scissors and chopped off a plug of two-foot long hair.
Those movies scenes don’t appear to have anything in common, but for me, they clarified the relationship between hair and self-esteem. I can’t think of too many women who feel good about themselves while sporting a jacked up hairstyle. And I am no exception. When my hair isn’t to my liking, I don’t feel quite like myself. I’m a little grumpier in the mornings. Outfits don’t seem to look right.
The two women in those movies had an even deeper connection to hair. They allowed their characters to be defined by someone else, specifically men. The Exhale scene was hard for me to watch the first time because I was dating someone who believed that short hair was a practically a sin. That clown would check my hair every time I came from the salon to see if my stylist had trimmed it any.
When I decided to cut my hair seven years ago, my hairstylist’s reaction was similar to the one in the movie. “Are you sure?” she asked. After I answered the question several more times, she opened the drawer at her station and pulled out the scissors.
“Wait! You can’t cut your hair,” a customer cried. “Lisa, wait. Let me talk to her for a minute.” I can’t remember the customer’s face. I was too busy trying not to lose my nerve.
“No waiting,” I said. “Cut.”
“You’ll be sorry,” he said.
“I doubt it,” I replied. “Cut.”
The customer stared in disbelief as Lisa cut my hair down to two inches. By the time she pulled out the clippers to taper the hair at the nape of my neck, he decided that he couldn’t take anymore. He declared me a fool and left the salon.
When Lisa turned the styling chair around to show me my reflection that day, there were no regrets. I was introduced to the real me.
I’ve toyed with growing my hair out from time to time, but the result was always the same. I would cut it before it grew to my ears. This past year, however, my hair made it to my chin. Lisa styled it into smooth bob. It reminded me of Dorothy Hamill.
There were things about longer hair that I had forgotten. For one, it sheds. A lot. I had to clean the sink out every morning after combing my hair. And the bathroom floor was a mess. I later remembered that my college roommate and I had to sweep our dorm room every week because our hair shed so much.
Another thing that I had forgotten was how ridiculous long hair looks when it needs professional attention. Last week, my hair appointment was two weeks overdue. I felt like a wolf. No matter how much I brushed my hair or tried to tie it down with a scarf, it would look puffy. I felt as if I had stuck my hand on that static electricity ball at the Magic House.
The final straw was last Wednesday. A coworker came into my office to discuss a project. “Are you growing your hair out?” he asked. I nodded weakly. “It looks nice.”
I know that he was being kind, but I didn’t want compliments on something that I didn’t even like. As soon as he walked out of my office, I picked up the phone and made a hair appointment.
I walked into the salon Saturday morning. Lisa was a few minutes late. “How short do you want it?” she asked as she pulled out her supplies. “I want to lose at least half of this,” I said.
A few hours later, Lisa turned her chair around to show me my reflection. Two-thirds of my hair was on the floor, “Welcome back,” I said.
The past few days have been a lot easier. I haven’t had to clean the sink or sweep the bathroom floor. And I am still getting compliments.
“You cut your hair!” a co-worker said. “It’s awesome.”
“Thanks” I said.
“I know you were growing your hair out, but it really didn’t seem like you,” she said. “I like this a lot better.”
“Me, too,” I said.