Excuse the title gore- there was no shorter way of saying this.
I’ve echoed this event in Family & Other Catastrophes, but I might as well write about it because well..what the fuck, right?
Like any tragic saga, there is a backstory. This backstory began in 2007, and probably also involved a low-rise asymmetric hem skirt in chocolate brown. Throughout this part of the story I want you to play Sean Paul’s “Temperature” on a loop because that’s what was probably playing. I was dating a boy from my high school (who we’ll just call Steve) for two months, although to me, it felt more like two years. I initially pursued Steve because he seemed like he’d be nice. And by “nice,” I really meant “obsessed with me.” See, I was tired of always being the one to text first, always being the one to care more about the other person. A year earlier (cue Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl”), I had dated a boy in the grade below me who was somehow so embarrassed to be seen with me that he asked me to hide behind a telephone pole when his friends walked by. So naturally, after that soul-crushing experience, I was ready to invest heavily in the Nice Guy. And back then, Nice Guy didn’t mean “fedora-wearing wannabe poet who comments prolifically on reddit’s /r/gonewild sub telling women they’re more valuable than their bodies.” When I said I wanted a nice guy, I literally wanted a nice guy. A guy who would be just as into me as I was into him, who would text me back (or, gasp, actually text me first!) Enter Steve.
At first, Steve fulfilled this role quite well. He would tell me I was out of his league, that he was so lucky to have me, he would even admit to being nervous around me…but of course, even Steve wasn’t able to match my natural level of insecurity and self hatred. Within two months, Nice Guy Steve somehow had all the power in our relationship, and even bragged to his math class that I would “probably kill myself if he ever dumped me.” Finally, I snapped, during a late night viewing of Sixteen Candles. And by that, I mean that I asked him, on the verge of tears, if he even still liked me. His answer was that he liked me, but having a girlfriend had proven too difficult for him because he wanted more time to play Ultimate Frisbee, and he didn’t want to date me anymore.
Now, looking back, this was no big deal, but I was seventeen, so everything was a huge deal. As soon as I realized Steve and I were definitely not getting back together, I decided the best course of action would be to cut my hair off and dye it blonde.
Now, more backstory. My identity as a long-haired brunette is, and always has been, weirdly important to me. When other women preface their comments with “Well, as a woman,” I find myself constantly framing everything as “Well, as a long haired brunette.” I’m not a woman in the workplace. I’m a long haired brunette in the workplace. I came of age in the nineties when blonde hair was a prerequisite for being a socially acceptable woman, so since then I’ve really doubled down on my brown hair pride. And as for the long hair aspect, I wasn’t able to even grow hair until I was about two years old, and already by then I had developed a deep sense of insecurity that hair was the one thing keeping me from looking like–nay, becoming–a boy. (To make matters worse, my brother was born with luscious black waves like Gal Gadot, and weird adults would often ask me if I was jealous of my “little sister’s beautiful curls.”)
Anyway, my decision to cut and dye my hair after breaking up with Steve was against all my better instincts. I knew blonde wouldn’t be flattering on me, and I knew I’d regret the chop. But I had such a strong desire to make this change that I literally found myself trying to cut my hair using my fingers as blades during class, fantasizing about waking up with blonde Meg Ryan layers and shaking my head while jumping on a trampoline, letting my hair whip around me in the wind like I was on some kind of tampon commercial. The desire was so strong, so innate, that even I couldn’t fully explain it.
My mother knew that, left to my own devices, I would bleach my hair until it melted off and wind up cutting it with rusty safety scissors from my school’s art room, so she took me to a small hair salon in town. The hairdresser, a middle-aged bald man with hipster glasses, accomplished exactly what I asked. Unfortunately, “what I asked” was a pale orange soccer mom haircut (see photo).
Now, I know what you’re thinking. It’s not that bad! Okay, well, for me it was. I loved it for the first month or two, but after that I felt like a sexually irrelevant piece of macaroni with a dollop of Velveeta on top. As I grew out this chop, I looked longingly at other girls with beautiful long hair and remembered how feminine I used to feel. And before anyone hops in with “Short hair can be sexy!”…of course it can. But I learned the hard way that it didn’t feel that way on me. On the bright side, I didn’t get carded much during this time.
The point is, once my hair finally grew out to its previous long brunette stage, I promised myself that I would never do something like this again. Sure, I might dye it again, but I would never again chop half of it off, no matter how many times my friends told me it would be “funky” or “mature” or any other adjectives I’d rather not be associated with.
Fast forward to 2014. I’d spent the past several years coddling my hair with coconut oil and protein treatments, not dying it, and growing it as long as possible. When I returned to New York for my wedding, my mom surprised me with–wow!–a trip to my old hairdresser, the same guy with the hipster glasses. How nostalgic! I always loved his sense of humor, and although my previous hairstyle was horrible, it was exactly what I asked him for. So really, it wasn’t his fault.
He didn’t expect me to have such long hair. The first thing he said to me as I sat down was, “It’s a shame how millennial women insist on long hair. Back in the nineties, I used to style so many models and they had no qualms about a pixie cut.” I politely told him I really loved my long hair, and wanted to keep it long. I only wanted a trim if it was absolutely necessary to get my hair to hold style (my hair is stubborn and refuses to take curl, and it’s even harder at the ends where it’s a bit damaged.) Throughout the cut, he continued to muse about the beauty of short hair and talk to me about how I was unnecessarily clinging to my length. Rude, I thought. But oh well, he’s entitled to his opinion.
He promised me he would only cut what was absolutely necessary. The “damaged ends.” He even showed me with his fingers how much he was taking off. It appeared to be less than an inch. I sat in the salon chair, staring at my phone and probably taking a quiz called something like “Which type of Sour Patch Kid are you based on your favorite sex position?” Then, the haircut was over. I looked into the mirror and realized he had taken quite a few inches off–at least four. And since he had curled my hair, it looked to be about half the length it really was. It had gone from nearly waist-length to…with the curls, shoulder length.
Again, I know it “wasn’t that bad.” I know there are gorgeous women with hair much shorter than that who totally rock it. But I am not one of those women. I am a deeply insecure woman whose long hair is intrinsically tied to my self image. And remind yourself that although my hair isn’t even really that short in my wedding photo, I had intended for it to be down to my waist. Plus, I’ll just say it: my nose needs all the distractions and diversions it can get, and long hair is perfect for that. Before anyone starts to lecture me about internalized misogyny or some other sociology buzzword–IT WAS MY FUCKING WEDDING DAY. On a woman’s wedding day, she is allowed to do whatever she wants, and that includes hating herself.
I didn’t want to hurt the hairdresser’s feelings, so unlike Emily in my book, I didn’t have a full-blown meltdown at the salon. But I suddenly regretted not investing in hair extensions before the wedding. My husband told me he hated the concept of hair extensions, but I knew he wouldn’t be able to tell if I was wearing them. Why didn’t I get the hair extensions?!
At the end of the day, my wedding was the best day of my life. My love for my husband and joy of seeing my family and friends outweighed any kind of neuroses I had about my hair. The biggest wedding problem didn’t even turn out to be my hair–it was actually a tie between the impending thunderstorm (severe weather warning- nice) and the fact that someone lost all our wedding video footage (we later recovered the videos, and discovered that they only contained my brother’s Mandarin project from eighth grade- anyone who was trying to use the cameras to record the wedding apparently hadn’t pressed the right buttons.)
But I’ve never forgotten the hair. I would advise anyone who is preparing for a wedding (and who cares about the length of their hair) to get any kind of trims several months before the wedding–not on the wedding day in conjunction with the styling. Because that’s more than enough time to buy extensions, or even a full wig if you need it.
I want to end this post by saying that in the end, I learned that hair and my looks aren’t important, and that it’s what’s on the inside that matters, and since then I’ve dropped my obsession with keeping my hair long. But none of that is true, so I won’t say it. Instead I’ll say this: if your hairdresser regularly complains about your chosen hairstyle as he’s styling it, run.