I have a rather dysfunctional relationship with my hair. I love it. I hate it. I want to cut it all off. I am fiercely protective of it. It binds me. It shields me. It defines me.
Iíve had long hair for almost as long as I can remember, but when I was very little it was shoulder length with bangs. I never planned to have long hair, but I always hated having it cut and at some point I simply stopped letting my mother cut it. Then, in my usual, change-phobic way, I became attached to it and it stayed long.
I used to wear it in pigtails, which my mother would braid and leave in for days. I wore little colored barrettes to control the wisps that escaped. When I wanted my braids out of the way, I would tie them in a square knot behind my head and clip the ends into my barrettes where they would stick up like fuzzy little horns. Since I was about 12 I have worn my hair down or back in a ponytail, only bothering to braid it for gym or fencing and other activities.
I must admit it is beautiful, hanging straight and dark to my waist. I love the feeling of it, freshly brushed cascading down my naked back. The brush running soothingly through it. My loverís finger stroking it. Yet I yearn for the short-cropped styles I admire on other women. I admire the sleek, slightly androgynous beauty of it, the spare, sparse, no fluff look. At the same time I envy those who do long hair better than I; women whose hair grows long and thick and makes my scrawny braid look like a pathetic wannabe.
There seems to be a law somewhere that every teenage lesbian must shave her head at some point. It is part of the ritual, somewhere between taking a womenís studies class and becoming a vegetarian. It is a symbol of independence, of rebellion, a rejection of the oppressive hetero-patriarchal standards of femininity and beauty. Or something like that. But I never worried much about those standards one way or the other. Why should I start now? Maybe, instead I should rebel against the lesbian feminist cultureís images of perfect androgyny? Or, better yet, ignore them all, like I claim I do, and just be myself. Whatever the hell that is.
What would it be like, I wonder, to have hair that didnít need to be brushed several times a day? What would it be like to go swimming without having to deal with the consequence of a sodden, tangled braid pulling on my scalp afterward? Not to have to keep a hair clip and/or a collection of hair ties with me at all times? Long hair is a liability. It falls into my face and obscures my vision. In Aikido it would get stepped on when I was pinned. In gym I sometimes manage to step on it, with a foot or a hand, while doing backbends. I fear getting it tangled in machinery, or being caught and held by it if I should ever have to fight for my life. It takes time to care for it, wash it daily, brush it, braid it.
And yet, I have had long hair since I was a little girl with pigtails. It is a part of me, a symbol of me. It is the feature I am recognized and described by. I prize its unusual, anachronistic beauty.
There are very few of us with waist-length hair or longer and so it always catches attentions, draws compliments and questions: ďHow long did it take to get that long?Ē I donno. Itís been this length for years. ďDoesnít it take a lot of time to wash?Ē Not as much as I spend sitting on the shower floor trying to wake up and get warm every morning. ďIíd never have the patients to grow my hair!Ē I donít have the patients to keep it cut.
I keep wondering: if long hair is so feminine, why is it that none of the women I know with very long hair are terribly femmey? Myself, constantly casual in jeans and my favorite demean shirt, feminine only in my emotion driven approach to life and my taste in reading material. My friend, Teresa, whose thick braid reaches to her bottom is less femme than I. She has gone from an energetic, athletic child to an academically driven math major at MIT but still only color coonrdenates her clothing if she is wearing all black. Ann is a fencing champion, assistant coach and provost at arms. When not wearing fencing gear she dresses in shorts or sweats and t-shirts with wildlife on them.
Then there are the people who look at me with nostalgia in their eyes and say ďI used to have hair like that, but I cut it all off.Ē Spoken or unspoken in these conversations always seems to be ďDonít cut it off. Youíll regret it.Ē
I think the urge to hack off my hair comes from an unhealthy desire to change something very basic about myself that I resent. My hair is the external representation of all my softness. Like my writing, like so much about me, it sometimes feels like a weakness. It is fluff, pretty, dramatic and pointless. Heavy and distracting, it makes me inefficient. But without this, what is there? What am I without my mane, without mush, melodrama and the desire to write for a show like Xena: Warrior Princess? I may love that softness or hate it, or both at once, but it is me. The desire to cut my hair is often paired with the desire to change my name and move to another state with no forwarding address. To ditch my past, my self and the people who know me and run far and fast until I collapse from exhaustion and die. To stop writing because, letís face it, Iím not that good and itís a waste of time.
Or maybe, Iím just too afraid to change? Iíve looked the same since I was 12 years old. Iíve lived in the same state, same town and same house all my life. As a little girl I was deeply distressed when my father tore up and replaced the hideous orange linoleum in the kitchen. I hate change and I fear making irreversible decisions. That cannot be healthy either. So, do I want to cut my hair off just to prove that I can?