I have noticed that within many families, long hair on the girls is a given. It’s a source of pride and a sign of beauty. There are pictures of me, a young girl with a heavy dark hair hanging down her back, miserable with the weight of it. I remember having to adjust how I sat down in school, so as to not sit on my own hair and give myself whiplash, a suffering which happened frequently.
When I was in the sixth grade, we were struggling financially, my father was away for work and my mother said that I could choose one big but inexpensive gift for my birthday. I told her that I wanted my hair cut. She panicked, this would not go over well with my father when he returned home, but she agreed, cutting inch after inch off of my hip length mane, until I was left with a blunt haircut which fell to below my shoulders. I loved it.
My father did not.
I kept that length throughout school, finally cutting it to a short boy-like cut when I was in my last year of high school. This short cut remained, small adaptations over the years, until I started to wear the more traditional Mexican clothing, consisting of primarily ankle length skirt and loose fitting, embroidered blouses. Then I began to grow my hair out. I became known for my intricate braids, unusual buns, even head wraps and scarves became accessories for my thick hair, but I kept it traditional and long.
As an adult, I didn’t have the problems with sitting on my hair or even brushing it as I had in my youth. In fact, my hair never has grown past my waist again. I have colored it, layered it, given myself bangs, twisted, teased and tortured it. My hair has been through hell and back…all by my own hands.
However, now I am trying to decide whether I should cut it. I miss the ease with which I can get ready when my hair is short. I miss the weightlessness. Then on certain occasions, when I have my hair up or under a hat, my father will say “DID YOU CUT YOUR HAIR?” and he sounds like an ogre about to attack an unsuspecting traveler, so I reassure him that I didn’t, and life goes on. I am not looking forward to the day that I say “yes” and have to hear a lecture on women having long hair and that it’s a sign of beauty and femininity and that I looked better with it long. I suppose that if I do decide to cut my hair, I could just avoid seeing my father in person for a little while.
But really, what’s the big deal? It’s just hair. It isn’t really a sign of anything other than how much you might spend on hair products or professional cuts and color. In reality, it’s nothing more than insulation and a sign that I’m a mammal. It shouldn’t be a big deal if it’s short, long, braided, wrapped up in a scarf, kinky, straight, blond or black. I am not going to lose my strength if it’s cut and I’m certainly not going to lose my femininity.
So why is there such an emphasis on it? Why are we so vested in what happens with our hair?
I remember going to a friend’s chemotherapy appointment with him many years ago and seeing a stunning woman sitting near us, a completely bald head and full makeup, along with the most gorgeous earrings I’ve ever seen. I suppose it should have been a shocking sight, to see a woman with a completely bald head, yet all I could think of was how powerful she looked, sitting there, not hiding her hair loss, but wearing it like it belonged, wearing the side effects of her illness and the treatment, as if she had nothing to be ashamed of. Without her hair, I could see her features on their own, without a frame of hair. She certainly didn’t need to express herself with feathered bangs, layers upon layers of highlights.
So who knows, maybe I’ll cut it, maybe I’ll wait. Either way, I guess I’m going to have to explain to my father that hair does not make the woman…the woman makes the hair.