A Journey Through My Psyche, As Illustrated By My Hair
You know that old saying, "There’s naught so changeable as a woman's mind, save her hairstyle?" Probably not, because I just made it up, but it sounds super legit and old-timey. Anyway my point is, it's a rare woman who finds her signature coif and remains unwaveringly loyal to it, impervious to the passage of time or trends. Anna Wintour's bob comes to mind, or Marilyn Monroe's blond waves, or Jane Birkin's fringe. These ladies’ hairstyles have become synonymous with their image and it's hard to separate them from their iconic manes, but they are the exceptions. Most women go through several - if not many - hair evolutions throughout the years, informed not only by whatever's de rigueur but also out of boredom, or in response to major life changes, or in a brazen act of spontaneity. The results are almost always met with either (A) a burst of confidence and self-love and a sense that all is right with the world, or (B) deep and immediate remorse.
I would wager that most of us have been on both ends of that spectrum. We’ve all had that glorious cut & style that made us walk out of the salon feeling like a million bitcoins, the kind where you refuse to shampoo because you know it’ll never look that good ever again but then finally succumb on day 5 because your head starts smelling like a clove of garlic. And then we’ve all had the pendulum swing the other way…when you walk out of the salon bravely fighting back hot tears and googling “hair growth fast vitamins” from your car in the parking lot.
Goodness knows I’ve had my fair share of the latter scenario. I’m notoriously fickle when it comes to my hair and have let my whims lead to rash decisions. As you can imagine, sometimes this fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pantsness has ended badly. And by “badly” I mean disasters of epic proportions. I’ve suffered through entire bad hair years. There was the time I cut my hair into a choppy pixie with fringe that ended a full 2 inches above my eyebrows. I was going for waifish, but as I lack the prerequisite delicate features & bone structure, the resulting look was less “Winona Ryder in Girl, Interrupted” and more “Jim Carrey in Dumb & Dumber.” Then there was 1997, otherwise known as The Year of Regret, when I decided it would be a good idea to have what can only be described as a bouffant hair helmet. I looked like the respectable wife of an aging Congressman.
I think part of the problem is that I’ve rarely been able to embrace my natural hair texture. I have a lot of fine, curly hair that frizzes up like a cloud of electrified cotton wool without proper handling. I’ve tried air-drying it, diffusing it, scrunching it, coaxing it with a myriad of products in the hopes that it would magically look like Carrie Bradshaw’s. I’m seldom happy with the results. Here’s my last attempt at this au naturel approach, from about 10 months ago:
Why do I look like D’Artagnan? What am I doing wrong that I can’t achieve Sarah Jessica Parker’s Raphaelite curls, and instead appear to be a member of British Parliament? Needless to say, I’ve largely abandoned the natural route and have spent the better part of my life blowing my hair dry, then straightening it, then curling it. It’s a royal pain but it’s the only method that achieves consistently satisfying results for me.
So my never-ending quest for hair nirvana continues but thankfully I have a secret weapon to aid me, the holy grail of beauty-seekers everywhere: a great hairdresser. Back in 2003 my cousin/bff/partner-in-crime, Jeannie, made the bold decision to quit a stable corporate job to pursue her dream of doing hair. Fast forward 15 years and she now has her own salon, Snipcut, and has in turn become my cut & color guru. She’s indulged my caprices by taking me through every hair permutation under the sun, and her skill as a stylist allows me the freedom to try on different coifs as easily as pairs of shoes. And while these changes have at times been prompted by a mere itch for something new, at others they’ve been borne of a deeper and more complicated impulse.
After the birth of Luna, I struggled with the unfamiliar feeling that my body was not my own. The physical changes were jarring, the weight gain disheartening, and between breastfeeding & diaper changes I felt smelly and heinous 100% of the time. I had a hard time finding the old me buried in my new role as a mother. So when the baby was old enough for me to leave for a couple of hours, the first solo excursion I made was to Jeannie, who gave me fresh layers and highlights and made me recognize myself for the first time in months. It was a similar story 4 years later after I had Gioia, only this time I asked for bangs to camouflage the charming, patchy postpartum bald spots that set up camp right along my forehead. But it was the cut in between these two that had the biggest emotional & spiritual impetus.
I had gotten pregnant on the first try with Luna, so Mike and I naively assumed that I’d be knocked up again in no time when we tried for baby #2. But month after month went by and it didn’t happen. After over a year of peeing on sticks with disappointing results, I finally got pregnant. We were ecstatic, we told family & friends, and we began eagerly anticipating the little life we would meet in less than a year’s time. Then I had my 3-month check-up and they couldn’t find a heartbeat. I miscarried the next day. The sorrow was paralyzing, and I spent a long time feeling like I was struggling to come up for air. When I finally did I felt an overwhelming urge to shed my skin, to go into whatever came next as a different version of myself. I discussed it with no one, not even my husband, but I went to Jeannie armed with a photo of Sienna Miller’s earlobe-grazing crop and the determination of a woman intent on her own rebirth. Jeannie took off 12 inches of hair that had taken me 7 years to grow, and with every snip I was able to release a little bit of the heavy burden of my grief.
When I got home my mom met me at the door, stared at my newly cropped hair in open-mouthed shock, and then began to cry. She understood that this wasn’t just a change motivated by vanity; it was my declaration to the world at large that I was making room for something good. I was lightening up, literally and figuratively, and my long locks were being consigned to a chapter I was bringing to an end, the one with the lost baby and the broken heart.
I don’t fully understand why we can have such strong sentiments in regards to our hair, or why it’s the thing that seems to always play a role during some significant, transformational stage in a woman’s life. But I think about my girlfriend who went short & sassy after her divorce, and the feeling of defiance and liberation it gave her; or the triumph my aunt felt getting her first haircut after her hair grew back from losing it to chemotherapy; or how apprehensive and vulnerable my mom was when she finally stopped dyeing her hair and let it go white; or the sense of intimacy and mystery I experienced when I saw a woman adjusting her hijab in a restroom, knowing her hair was not available for public consumption the way mine is. And what I do understand is that our hair is undeniably personal and inextricably linked to our identity. It can be our calling card or our closely-guarded secret, but in either case it holds power. And if you’re lucky like me, you find someone who can help you wield it.