My Husband Loved My Hair, But I Cut It All Off
Can you find healing through a haircut?
I stare at myself in the bathroom mirror, wrestling my curls into one lump and pulling it back, trying to imagine actually doing it — cutting it all off. Would I become a whole new person?
I open the bathroom door, and I announced to my husband, “For my birthday this year, I’m going to cut my hair short.”
“I’m bracing myself for your reaction,” I tell him, as one voice in my head worries my furrowed brow makes me less attractive to him. Another voice tells that voice to shut up and be a better feminist. A third voice is about to chime in when my husband replies:
“You’ve talked about doing this for a long time.” He speaks slowly, carefully. “And you told me this time. You didn’t ask. Usually you ask. If you ask, I’ll give you my opinion — ”
“ — Okay, okay, I’m not asking.” I cut him off, afraid to hear his opinion again. I know his opinion. He loves my hair. He loves when I look femme. Each time he weighs in, my courage wanes.
“Alright,” he says. “It might even look cool.”
My hair is very curly, and I spent a decade frying it with at-home chemical relaxers, attempting — and honestly, failing — a charade of straightness.
Then I met my husband. When he saw pictures of my childhood curls, he urged me to go natural, told me he’d always loved curly hair.
At the time, his opinion felt freeing. I stopped straightening and slowly grew out my natural curls. I felt thankful to him then, and when I think about that time, I still do.
It felt like a partner telling me they loved curls gave me permission to love my hair too, to love myself.
It may sound dumb, but back then it didn’t occur to me that I didn’t need permission from anyone to love myself.
Before today, I cut my curly hair short exactly once, and it was a horrible experience. It was 1999, and I was 16 years old. I had the house to myself, as my parents were out-of-state tending to my dying Grandmommy.
Alone, I watched the Felicity episode where Felicity cuts off her thick, long wavy hair.
I always dreamt of short hair— I kept folders of magazine clippings of pixie cuts— but I thought of it as something for straight-haired folks only. But if Felicity could do it, so could I.
After school the next day, I went to a bargain salon in a Central Florida grocery store strip mall — yeah, hindsight is 20/20 — and told the worker I’d like my hair short: “About an inch off of my head when you’re not touching it, so probably like 3 inches if you pull the curls straight.”
I took off my glasses and trusted her, the professional. Until, halfway through, when she said a racial slur. The context — not that there’s any reasonable context for slurs — was to tell me she wasn’t going to make me look like a… well, perhaps you can imagine.
She was halfway done my haircut, with scissors poised next to my head, so I stayed silent while she finished, then went back the next day and got her fired. (“That’s not the first complaint we’ve gotten about that sort of thing.”)
Meanwhile, she’d cut my hair as short as scissors could: 1 inch when pulled straight.
My haircut got roped in with Felicity’s: a cultural punchline, an obvious mistake. As Felicity’s ratings crashed, I tried to dress up my self-hatred with sequined headbands, but it didn’t work.
When my hair became long enough to chemically relax it, that’s what I did. So there was never really a moment where I felt totally at peace about my hair.
But today, I did it. I didn’t wait until my birthday. Once I announced it to my husband, I couldn’t wait another day. The first moment I had the house to myself, I grabbed the scissors.
I got to this place, of making my own decision — yes, I understand it shouldn’t be this hard, but for me, it is — because of a lot of positive feminist influences. Each time you say something about body autonomy, and you wonder if it makes a difference, yes, it does.
These instances built up slowly, until I had the strength to listen to the feminist voices in my own head.
Recently, a friend posted on Facebook about how sad she feels every time a woman comments she has her hair a certain way because her husband likes it that way.
How did she know what I was going through? It was like the post was meant for me.
It’s embarrassing to admit, but I was shocked at all the comments agreeing with her, that it’s sad and messed up to ever let your partner’s opinion of your appearance sway your decisions. I mean, sure, most of the voices in my head say that too, but other voices have always overruled them. And so I’ve compromised, again and again.
One of my daughter’s friends cut her hair short recently, and I watched multiple kids tell her girls don’t have short hair — even though she repeatedly told them, yes, she’s still a girl. I stepped in as an ally, told those kids anyone can have any hair.
But if I cut my own hair the way I wanted, wouldn’t that action speak much louder than my words? The more kids see it, the more they’ll believe it.
I mentioned my desire to shave my head in a piece I wrote for P. S. I Love You this week, and I received this comment by Bre Bitz: “I think you should shave your hair. You have to be in love with you before he can be, and it sounds like you need a new way to be you to reconnect with yourself… though who am I to have opinions.”
I did want to reconnect with myself. Hair is so personal. When we cut our hair, we have a chance to cut away emotional baggage that no longer serves us.
And I know I don’t need permission. Not from my husband. Not from other women. Not from strangers on the internet.
And yet, I’ve waited years, waited for some self-assurance that I won’t ruin my marriage by cutting my hair, as if my marriage was such a fragile thing. (It’s not perfect, but I do know it’s stronger than any haircut.)
Today, I cut it. And I love it. I love me.
Is there a change you want to make, but something’s been holding you back? There’s really no time like the present.