It’s been taking up space in my mind for weeks. Perhaps exacerbated by the proximity of subject and brain.
Pinterest has been looted of any and all inspiration. Celebrity emulations established, pitted against one another, and victors swapped on an hourly basis. Her: she’s the one whose head and shoulders I squint my eyes at and imagine in place of mine.
The potential spectrum of blonde-ish/brown-ish colors are established, but the landing point on the scale indeterminate. Fears of vision not matching reality creep in and, ultimately, analysis paralysis overshadows it all.
Who do I really want to be, starting from the highest hair follicle down?
The serious-seeming tone of this subject is meant to be satirical, and laced with a somewhat pitiful truth – I am talking about an entirely insignificant ordeal in the grand scheme of life:
A hair cut.
I fully acknowledge my laughable dissection of this topic. And the decision fueling this scenario is not one that’s been assigned to me by an outside source, or even necessary. I made the call, I planted this situation in my life, and I must assume ownership for the ridiculousness of it all. And I do. Risk is not even a factor here, other than by being formed into a mountain in my own mind.
Will I like the change? Will I still look pretty?
I have been here before, many times, and life undoubtedly went on. Hair grew back. A new, more favorable dye, was slathered on. So, what’s the problem?
Enter: my attempt to untangle this messy longterm relationship I have had with my hair, and get to the root of it all – puns fully intended.
A recurring theme throughout the last decade of my life has been: blonde or brunette? Long or short? Answered by an unheard chorus of what I can only assume is muttering: No one fucking cares.
But, alas, I persisted in my quest for ultimate hair happiness, often stuck in the web of possibilities, desperate for a direction that felt right.
When I was 15 or 16, I established my home base of hair confidence as long and blonde. It’s the space where I felt safe, conventionally beautiful, and causes me to wonder just how much Barbie influenced my vision of female beauty. Or was it Meg Ryan? Her character in Sleepless in Seattle struck a chord in me when I was quite young. Her beauty was one I wanted to echo, and before I knew what the adult version of myself would turn out to look like, I desperately hoped it would be something like her. As soon as I could exercise choice in the matter, I executed that mission.
Before choice, however, hair was far simpler, requiring no thought at all. Being one of three girls, I was relegated to the bowl-cut with bangs as a child, for years upon years. A designated “easy” style in terms of maintenance, I didn’t think about it, until I began to think about it.
After my first whiff of realizing I had an appearance that was malleable, I became instantly hooked. Sitting in a salon waiting room – flipping through magazines or those glossy, always gigantic, hardcovered books of hairstyles – I could finally manipulate the direction of my identity.
As a preteen, before dye was allowed, I tried a few funky haircuts that only exacerbated my coming of age awkwardness. But I had fun with it, and enjoyed seeing my face framed by a variety of wisps and layers of hair. Decisions were spontaneous, and the aftermath of regrowing out any personally deemed disasters was taken in stride. Ah, youth.
As a full blown teenager in high schooler, I subjected my scalp to bleach as soon as possible, and hardly let scissors touch it. Hair became a helmet I could exist under, offering the first impression of who I was. The hope: desirable, beautiful, and confident. As with many teenage hopes and dreams, the vision did not match reality as I lacked the skills to properly manicure my mane or have the personality to go along with it.
By the time I went to college I had my Barbie meets Meg Ryan-esque head, retrofitting the adult-sized version of myself I had impatiently daydreamed about as a kid. But becoming an adult woman, in the physical sense, and achieving the hair I had always lusted over, did nothing to cultivate my sense of identity on the inside. In fact, it may have created a counterproductive stagnation in that department.
Obvious lesson of the day: It’s what’s on the inside that counts.
College was a difficult time. Pinned under my own thumb by a long distance relationship, I kept my nose to the grindstone and took as many classes as possible in order to graduate a semester early. I spent hard earned money from undergraduate jobs on multi-hundred dollar hair appointments in Washington D.C. throughout my years in school, desperate to keep my most prized accessory intact. Hair was my security blanket, which I took better care of than my emotions and ambitions, which were quite muddled by the time I moved to Pittsburgh upon graduating.
When I married for the first time, at 24, my exterior was exactly what I had envisioned the bridal-cloaked me to be: a veil-topped head of cascading, beautiful blonde hair. But that major marital life shift kicked off a domino effect of figuring out who I was under all that bleach. Once I started looking I realized that I had absolutely no idea.
Shortly after becoming a Mrs, I ventured beyond the limits of my hair safety zone. First there was the lion’s mane of white-hot platinum blonde, which was soon traded in for gothically dark brunette, then ultimately chopped into a dark pixie cut of dangerously short proportions. That final leap out of the hair safety zone happened in tandem with cutting my ill-fated marriage off at the knees.
By the age of 25 I was in hair and life territory I’d never even flirted with before, but one drastic change had led to the next, in an unstoppable domino effect of transition. Marking my quarter life crisis, and ultimately my first divorce, I assigned that entire hair cycle outside my comfort zone with a never again sentiment of seriousness. I was embarrassed that I wore my crisis atop my head like a scarlet letter announcing, “I fucked up.” That was when I threw nevers, always, and forevers around like confetti.
Losing who I was as a long-haired blonde, and who I was without my high school sweetheart/resident life partner, sent me into an inner tailspin. I had assigned myself as a Samson-sort, with all vulnerability and strength encased in something as frivolous as hair, leaving nothing to indicate “Betsy” when it was gone. And I wasn’t quite sure who Betsy was at that point, anyways.
But life went on, as it always does. I fell newly in love right away, with one who dug my literal manic pixie dream girl exterior. That wasn’t an attempt to flatter myself, I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to self-mock my mid-20s craziness + pixie cut with a play on words. But, I digress.
Swept up in my new life, I began to execute the motions of a persona I desperately wanted, but there was no foundation to build those characteristics upon. My entire life had been reset and I scrambled to comprehend, mourn, and file away the deeply painful process of divorce as fast as possible. A near-decade’s worth of memories was plunged into a veritable graveyard of untouchable people and places. All I could do was continue on, try to emulate who I thought I could now be, and plead with my hair to grow back, dammit.
I remarried quickly, but my unresolved soul-searching efforts and hasty stifling of post-divorce wreckage soon caught up with me. Morphing from dream girl into more of a total nightmare, my second marriage hit the skids, nearly reaching full collapse at the time of my cancer diagnosis. At that point my hair was long and blonde, once again, but that wasn’t going to help me face this disease. The only mission became staying alive – becoming a fully functioning and accountable adult would have to wait.
Alas, ever the narcissist, even cancer treatments weren’t immune to my follicle follies. When chemotherapy was dumped into my lap, I panicked. Intentionally hacking my hair down to three inches in the great pixie caper of 2011 felt like losing a limb, and now, I may go bald without a say in the matter? I worried about that incomprehensible side effect before any other. How absurd.
Ultimately my hair only thinned throughout chemo, but I ended up cutting a majority of it off due to my weakened ability to properly manage my ample mane. Once fully recovered from treatments, the mission became growing it back out again, as fast as possible. This was the pinnacle of my superficiality trumping some very necessary interior reflection and growth.
Remember last week when I discussed breaking negative patterns?
Yeah. That shit took me a while to figure out.
About a year after my diagnosis came my second divorce, spiral towards rock bottom, and eventual pursuit of my most authentic self – just in time to face cancer again. 2015 was quite a year! But this story has a happy ending, I promise. Let’s end the diversion into divorce/cancer-land and remember: I’m alive, healthy, and happy.
Back to hair!
There aren’t any noteworthy anecdotes to fill the gap between my chemo-induced-chop and now. Nearly two years have passed, and my most recent hair transition (going a near-natural shade of brunette mid-summer) was inspired by the desire to amend my relationship with my hair.
Though far less bold than bleached out blonde or deep dark black, that shift back into the native realm of my pre-dye/preteen existence felt like flipping a switch. When I look in the mirror, with or without makeup, I see a sense of harmony that got lost in the shuffle many years ago.
“It just makes sense,” keeps popping into my mind.
By refocusing my efforts on unearthing my true inner self (thanks, yoga), polishing her off, and bringing my authenticity to the forefront – I was able to retire my hair from first line of emotional defense. How counterproductive that all was, but I must commend my strands for sticking it out.
Side note: Second-hand embarrassment for my former self continues to be a carousel of torture I find myself on. It’s not a fun ride, but I must admit it’s quite educational. Here’s to making better decisions and running that horror-go-round into the ground.
So what is this all getting at?
Well, today, I cut and colored my hair.
Less of a security blanket and more of a sidecar accessory on the ride of life, my latest foray into today’s self-inflicted haircut was approached with a sense of excitement. There is, after all, a million possibilities when it comes to hair, and my preteen self would have been elated, not encumbered by the options. Long gone are the shortstacks of magazines and beauty books, now overshadowed by the beautiful, black hole of Pinterest possibilities. It is thrilling.
In the iconic words of Coco Chanel, “A woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life.” Well, the time I will be spending grooming this chop will be significantly less than my longer manes, so that’s change enough for me.
In my past, a drastic hair change served as a warning signal that shit was about to boil over, get real, hit the fan, etc. It was a precursor to a life change that I wasn’t entirely sure would pan out positively. Hair was an approachable step that sometimes bolstered my confidence so I could take another, more literal step.
So, thank you hair, for manifesting all my issues of yore. You can take it easy now.