Let’s cut right to it: I am a long-hair person, from a long-hair family, with 36 years of long-hair photos and detangling products to prove it. All my life, I’ve associated long hair with femininity, beauty, and my identity. I always thought short hair was suited to quirky personalities, little pixie types, and people from back East. I am Texan, of average build, and no one has ever used the word “bubbly” to describe me.
Recently I chopped off more than eight inches of my hair. Over the course of a single day, I saw a photo of Michelle Pfeiffer in Scarface, lost a job, and launched my column on Refinery29. The volume of highs and lows that went into that day’s cocktail shaker resulted in drastic action. Honestly, I can’t tell you how I summoned the strength. It just happened.
I don’t think it’s just my three-decade association with long hair that led me to hold onto it for so—no pun intended—long. I think it was also fear. I have always been afraid to be a short-hair person. Much in the same way I wasn’t a sword swallower or a keeper of bees, I was not a person with short hair.
Two incidents led me to fear short hair and shaped my belief that I could never—nay, should never—be a short-hair person:
First, when I was five or six, I caught head lice from a girl at school. This is a massive inconvenience for any parent, but my mother is, shall we say, more concerned with cleanliness than the average head of household. Not only did she cut off my tush-length hair (she cried as she did it) to aid in the process of obsessive combing, but she also made me walk around with a sheet under my feet, held up by my hands for mobility. The idea was that I would shuffle along and catch any dead lice that would fall out of what was left of my hair. I am not kidding. Neither of us came out of that experience unscathed.
Then, in college, I decided to donate my hair. I had an abundance, I had just learned about Locks of Love, and my grandmother was battling cancer. It seemed, on several levels, like the right thing to do. The wrong thing was to have my hair cut at a shopping mall salon with a filthy floor and a punishing soundtrack. The least-skilled hairstylist I hope to ever come into physical contact with chopped off my hair without the slightest regard for the style remaining in the stump left behind. I spent months—months, I tell you—with shapeless shards of hair doing their best not to be noticed. I also had nightmares in which my hair was back (the scary part was when I woke up and it wasn’t). The donated hair was uneven and split. I doubt Locks of Love could have used it, but I like to think they did.
You can just do more with long hair. Short hair seems confined to its style. It is much more challenging to mold and shape short hair to match the formality of the occasion, such as messy top bun for lazy evenings or long, perfect curls for a special event. A French braid for workouts, if you like.
But the reality of my long hair was that it had an air-dry-wear-down-do-nothing existence, apart from when I brushed my teeth, washed my face, or cleaned my apartment, at which time I pulled it back into a device that had teeth.
One day I caught a glimpse of my long hair in a mirror positioned opposite another mirror. I was disappointed. It wasn’t even, it wasn’t cute, and it didn’t have a discernible style. Apart from keeping my head warm and hiding my unplucked eyebrows, I’m not quite sure what purpose it served.
I paid a visit to a skilled friend at a reputable New York salon. I knew what I was doing was intense when she asked to take before-and-after photos of me for her portfolio. This wasn’t any paltry trim or touch-up; this was genuine change. I showed her my inspiration photos and we discussed how to make them work on my nonfictional-character head. Then off she went, expertly slicing, leaving me to listen to the sinister sounds of metal on metal on hair.
Three months into my new short-hair existence, I can count many perks. I never catch my hair under the strap of my bag or in my coat zipper, and a typical shampoo no longer feels like cardio. I get a lot of compliments on my hair, which is new. In fact, the first one came the morning after from the guy who picked up my laundry. He was very kind to say something.
Short hair is, however, more labor intensive. The air-dry days are long over for me. I must carefully force every strand into submission via round brush and blow-dryer, preferably with the aid of a volume-developing product or two. I don’t know what I’ll do in the summer, when the temperature of my apartment plus a blow-dryer would be tantamount to fainting and hitting my head on the bathtub.
When she was finished, my hairstylist friend said the cut had more personality than my previous style. We agreed it looked awesome, was a genuinely fun change, and suited me, but the personality thing was interesting. If so much of me had always been wrapped up in my long hair, what traits would I assign to this new shorter ’do?
My short hair does feel less feminine. RIP my Twitter mentions, I know, but I’m telling the truth. What is most interesting, though, is that I don’t focus on what I have less of. This new perspective has given me more confidence. I look more put-together and purposeful. I am more confident that if people are looking at me, it’s in a positive light. The cut is really cute, and I had never thought of my hair that way—at any length.
It’s interesting to consider all that I associated with my hair as a woman and why it took so long to even contemplate real change. Ultimately, I overcame a fear. The bottom line is I’m lucky to look in the mirror and not only like what I see, but learn from it too.
With every short-hair day, I’m teaching myself new lessons about a lifetime of misconceptions, a reprogramming from the chin up. It’s a long story, but there’s a shortcut.