I learned at an early age that my hairstyle would affect how I felt about myself — and how others would perceive me.
When I was little, my mom kept my hair short. She a fan of the no-nonsense, low-maintenance lifestyle and she applied this to my hair. It was kept cropped in low-maintenance pixie haircuts. In kindergarten, I had a particularly nondescript short ’do, and it was this cut that led to my lifelong tendency to favor longer hair for myself.
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At age 5, I was zooming around Coachlight skating rink, getting funky under the spinning disco ball at our school skating party. The DJ announced a “girls only skate” and ordered all boys off the rink. I, being a girl and all, kept skating.
A big boy, hanging over the cinderblock wall, called to me.
“Hey! Hey you,” he sneered. “It’s GIRLS ONLY. You have to get OFF the rink.”
He said this with all the compassion and subtlety to be expected from a 9-year-old know-it-all self-appointed skating rink patrol.
I was wearing navy blue pants with a matching vest, and a green, flowered shirt with a white collar. It was sufficiently girly. My hair, evidently, was not. Humiliated, I stumbled to my mom, who pointed out that I could go back and skate because the boy was just being bossy — and he was wrong. But I didn’t want to.
I resolved then and there to grow my hair long. No matter how mousy brown and oily, how dandruffy, how tangly my hair might be, it was long after that. Aside from a stint through high school, I’ve had hair lengths varying from shoulder to waist and everything in between for the rest of my life. Until last week, when I went under the scissors.
“I know I’m not Meg Ryan,” I said, sheepishly pulling four photos of the illustrious Ms. Ryan from my bag. I’m sure poor Chris, the stylist to whom I was randomly assigned, could hear my silent plea. “But I’d like you to wave your magic flat iron and spritz on some transforming spray so that I’ll look just like her. Please and thank you.” He examined my hair with its wild, disorganized loopty-loops and unpredictable body. He probably felt like I’d placed a yarn mop in front of him with instructions to give it movie star glam.
I sat in the trendy Bijin salon while he chopped and razored and teased and curled. He was good — he examined the photos I’d brought in, all of the same woman but with different styles. He picked out the common thread between them. They made use of her natural curl and were chunky, mussed-up casual styles.
Lo and behold, having chopped nearly a foot of my hair off, he said, “I can show you how to get this disorganized look that you like,” and he did. My hair felt sassy and fun. It poofed and it curled and it bounced, and I didn’t regret that my long ponytail was now in a plastic bag, waiting to be donated.
A hairstyle is an emotional thing. A personal statement. Something you wear every single day. I guess I’ve gone back partly to my mom’s way — low maintenance. But it has a bit of flair. A bit of nonsense. By now, I don’t really care if the boy on the cinderblock wall likes it. I do. And that’s what matters.