We’ve all been there before. Post bad haircut, second-guessing our decision to be brave, and waiting for it to grow out with painstaking regret..and a new hat.
It’s only hair, right?
It will grow back, right?
I get that, I really do. But in order to understand why it’s so much more than that, you have to also understand what it represents, what it symbolizes, and why losing it and letting it go are two totally different things.
Long hair in literature is well documented as a sign of importance for various reasons. Samson’s hair was the root of his virility and strength. Lady Godiva would not have been half as memorable without her trademark long tresses. And of course there was Rapunzel.
But what about Rapunzel?
How would she have ever been rescued from the tower without her long flowing locks to aid in her liberation? She probably could have freed herself by chopping off her braid and using it mount a daring escape… but that’s not how the story goes. Actually, that’s not how any of the stories went when I was growing up.
Barbie had her Ken, Sleeping Beauty needed the Prince’s kiss to awaken her, Cinderella waited for Prince Charming to scoop her up out of abject servitude, and Snow White relied on the Seven Dwarves to protect her from the wrath of the jealous evil Queen.
But I always felt a little bit more like “Snow Off-White” in my early 20’s. I was the designated good natured chubby friend that was relegated to entertaining the awkward third wheel friend of the cute guy that was flirting with my gorgeous Malibu Barbie roommate. Making tedious conversation to pass the time, sipping wine coolers until she was ready for me to drive her home. Sadly, back then, the only (real life) Seven Dwarves that I ever encountered were Itchy, Scratchy, Burpie, Sleazy, Humpy, Gropey, and Prick.
I grew up envying Farrah Fawcett’s long feathery locks, the perfect coiffes of Charlie’s Angels, and Christie Brinkley’s flowing mane. Not to mention every Whitesnake video featuring a wild haired token beauty with her lustrous tendrils blowing in the wind in hair band slo-mo. Even Daryl Hannah in Splash, with her shock of blonde Mermaid hair adornment bewitched and beguiled me.
I wanted Mermaid hair.
I wanted what I never had.
When I was young, I hated my hair. It was very frizzy, and fluffy, and hard to manage. And although my hair is super fine, I do have a lot of it, so I often felt like one of those troll dolls with the cotton candy textured tresses that never conformed to any of the current and trendy hairstyles.
The closest I ever came to being a princess was when I was 7 or 8, and pretended to be Princess Tiger Lily from Peter Pan. My mom would wrestle my wispy hair into a couple of short braids, and I wore a headband with a feather in it everywhere I went. After a while, my dad started calling me Princess Running Mouth, but I didn’t care…I was a Princess! I never really remember ever being very girly or having long hair, because it would never get past that awkward stage with all of my random waves and cowlicks. The dreaded 9th grade “hair helmet” photo of 1984 (with braces even) still haunts me to this day.
But let’s be honest, the 80’s hairstyles were less than kind to all of us. It was all about big hair and shoulder pads. Most of it was nothing more than camouflage for a whole lot of bad bangs and unfortunate decisions. With one too many spiral perms, and innumerable cases of Aqua Net- it’s a miracle that my hair was even still speaking to me by the mid 1990’s.
I did a lot of things to my hair in the name of fashion.
I crimped it, pulled it, pinched it, ratted it, wrapped it, colored it, braided it, bleached it, yanked it, twisted it, frosted it, teased it, curled it and straightened it. Its gone from jet black to platinum blonde, and every shade of red in between. But I eventually stopped cutting it around 1994 thanks to a few VERY tragic haircuts in the late 80’s in conjunction with an array of equally regrettable dye jobs, and hair extensions the early 90’s .
Bad highlights happen to good people.
And once I finally managed to grow it out long, it became a part of who I was. I finally liked it. It began to actually feel like me and my hair were finally on the same page.
Then, after my first pregnancy, my hair went from sort of wavy to a little curly, and after my second son was born it got thicker, grew like a weed, and developed a lot more OOMPH. At its longest, I could almost to sit on it as it lingered down past my waist. I finally got my coveted Mermaid hair.
For me, my hair was attached to my identity, my femininity, and my self esteem. It was all I had. For me, it was my crowning glory. It was my thing. My thing that mattered to me. I always thought, if I had great hair, then that would be what other people would remember about me. Like in my mind, if I was having a good hair day, they wouldn’t see that I was overweight, and insecure, and hiding my shame. I was somehow convinced that if someone was trying to describe me to someone else, that instead of saying “oh, she was the heavy girl with the red hair,” they would say “oh, she was the red-head, with the long wavy hair .”
It was as if no matter how unattractive I felt in every other way, having great hair gave me control of whether or not I felt beautiful. It helped me to project a minuscule amount of pride in myself at a time in my life when self-esteem was in short supply.
I never really felt brave enough to wear my hair short, because I was afraid to lose the one thing that made me feel better about myself. I was convinced that short hair would make me look even heavier, and somehow older than I was. I associated it with “mom hair”. I was too afraid to change what I thought was a necessary accessory.
I think I had a Rapunzel complex.
I was trying to hold onto a moment in time when I felt good about myself- at a time in my life when I really needed to feel that way.
And sometimes when you cling to something very tightly, you can’t let go even if you want to… you can’t find a way to let go, until you are forced to.
But time, change and mother nature made that decision for me.
Going through menopause at such an early age brought changes to my hair that were unwelcome and frustrating. It just started to feel so lackluster and dry. Like it or not, my hair was changing.
The three things that most affect your hair:
I may have survived the transition of all of my recent lifestyle changes, but my hair… well, lets just say that my hair, it did not.
It volunteered itself as tribute.
My hair became the virgin ritual sacrifice that was thrown into the volcano by the natives to appease the gods of change.
And over the course of last three years, after all of the aforementioned physical changes had occurred, I started to notice that my hair was different than it used to be. It was slowly breaking off, and getting shorter. The new growth had a completely different texture, and a different curl. I couldn’t treat it the same anymore and get the same results as I used to. I tried to ignore it, but after a while it became glaringly obvious that what was left of my old hair was hanging on by a thread. It was dry, and lifeless, and frustrating. And the ruins of my former crowning glory that remained did not mix well with the new hair that was growing in. It was a hot mess, and I felt as if it was actively working against me.We were definitely not on the same page anymore.
I had always admired those women who could just take charge, and rock a short and sassy do with confidence. Those super cute and textured cuts that flipped and tapered and said “hey, I’m brave AND beautiful”. But I had my doubts about the realistic expectations of my hair type, and I didn’t dare to get my hopes up. I was gun shy, and prone to playing it safe, so I tried to ride it out.
But finally, after one too many bad hair days, I just couldn’t take it anymore, and I folded. I marched up to my hairdresser in tears, and asked her to do the only thing I could think to do to fix it…to cut off all of the old growth, and start anew.
I went all in, and finally decided to listen to what it was telling me.
It needed me to let it go.
It was almost like the last act of the year of the purge, as I did the one thing that I have been dreading doing for some time…relinquishing Rapunzel. Or the idea of her at least.
And after cutting it, and crying for about three days, I finally decided to make the best of my situation. It needed some serious taming (the metaphorical “whip and a chair” lion taming analogy comes to mind). But lo and behold, with all of the dead weight cut off, my hair had actually started to come back to life. It actually started to feel a lot healthier, and bouncier, and I’m pretty sure I don’t hate it. It also turned out to be a whole lot curlier than I thought it was.
So what if its a little wild, and messy, and unpredictable? Turns out, that I am all of those things too. And I’m okay with that.
I started to realize, that it really is just hair. I can still be my own version of Rapunzel with a sassy new do. I can embrace what it is, and finally accept that it will never be what it was. Just like my body, that has been forever changed, my hair now represents this new version of me that has been forged from this journey that I have been on.
Sometimes the only thing you can do, is to take the leap, make the cut, and hope for the best.
Sometimes, the only thing you NEED to do, is the very thing that you don’t think you can do.
So whether it’s day one of a weight-loss journey, day one of a new haircut, or just day one with a whole new perspective…make it the first day of something that strengthens you.
Do I miss my long hair? Yes I do. But it WILL grow back.
It was inevitable that it would eventually surrender to the slings and arrows of the new regime, and I no longer feel like it needs to be as it was, in order to allow me to feel good about how it is.
Because, truth be told, it was never really about the hair. It was about allowing myself to accept an unwelcome change that I wasn’t ready for.
It was ultimately about letting go.
It was about relinquishing what I thought I wanted, in favor of a myriad of new possibilities.
After all, Rapunzel was just the story of a girl who didn’t know that she was strong enough to rescue herself. She never needed to “let down her hair” to be free.
And after everything that has happened, I’ve come to realize, that I don’t either.
Since I’m fairly sure that if I needed to, I could shimmie out that tower window and rappel down the outside of that fortress with a length of tactical rope, a carabiner and a grappling hook, all on my own…like a bad-ass Cross-fit ninja.
Because dammit, I’m a Princess…
And I work out.