It's funny, the things you are wired to choose because of the messages you were fed ad nauseam as an impressionable child; and it's difficult, the older you get, to recognize you have the option to rewire your brain and make your own decisions.
I cut my hair.
A week ago I had a hair appointment, and as I flipped through photos of short hairstyles I was considering, I confessed to my stylist my lack of confidence about wearing my hair a certain way. Running her fingers carefully through each strand, like a doctor examining an open wound, she nodded, "I'm not surprised. Being raised Christian, like me, we've been programmed to hide under the guise of modesty and not drawing attention. You've carried those fears into adulthood."
Her insight twisted my stomach, she was right. I am often a slave to making myself invisible - a product of growing up "the religious girl" and my introversion. It's no surprise something as simple as how I wear my hair would encourage me to do just that.
It's never been "just hair" to me; "it will grow back" was never a reason to go for it.
It took me until my 30s to choose the pixie cut I've wanted since I was five years old. I was told only the boldest of women opt for such a short style, and that I was such a woman. I felt like my hair was finally the way it was always supposed to be. But as I've been confused for a boy and picked up by women, I began the slow process of growing my hair out, wearing it as subtle and controlled as I could. I stopped believing I could be bold; I was confusing others due to my lack of ownership, and continually letting myself down.
Some of you may be thinking, "Is she really writing a blog post about her hair?!" Yes. Yes, I am. If you weren't raised to believe women cutting their hair was a sin, you can't understand.
For 19 years, my hair's purpose was to grow.
In my teenage years I'd sneakily trim a few centimeters once or twice a year because, rebellion, but by the time I graduated high school, my hair was thick, heavy, and reached my waist. I knew other girls in the same religion whose hair was at their knees and would get tangled in their school desks or caught under their butt when they'd sit down. Most girls would pile their hair atop their heads to get it out of the way, pretending the weight didn't strain their necks. I was thankful my hair grew slowly, but it grew all the same.
I'll never forget my first haircut. I went to MasterCuts in the mall and asked for a trim, only a couple inches. The stylist spritzed my hair with water and began cutting. The sound of the scissors made my stomach quiver with nervousness and excitement. I marveled at how much lighter I felt, physically and mentally. It was a strange sort of freedom, leaving a small pile of my hair behind.
I'll also never forget the day I had to tell my parents about the length of my hair. I remember sitting on a hand-me-down couch in my first apartment with FRIENDS playing in the background. I was going home for a long weekend because of my homesickness and I wouldn't be able to hide my haircut. I'd grown addicted to getting trims and my hair was hovering at my shoulders. I cried to my mom, scared of disappointing her.
At almost 35, my hair still causes me to withdraw pieces of myself; I am still trying to remain hidden.
Last weekend at my hair appointment, I let my stylist go nuts and I came home with product, a round brush, and new techniques to practice keeping my pixie cut bold and sassy: representative of who I am without requiring words of explanation. And every morning since, I've forced myself to leave the house with my hair styled in a way I'm unsure of; a style I'd normally retreat to re-do, even if it meant being late to work or washing my hair a second time. When I see myself in the mirror I worry I can't carry my hair the way my stylist told me I could. I tell my reflection how stupid I think I look but also how much I really like my hair flipped and curled and BIG.
It may be a small revelation - and totally ridiculous to some - but it's a revelation all the same, and it's caused me to reclaim the power of choice; my freedom to be who I am. I have been considering other wires begging to be ripped out and reconfigured, "Why do I think that? Where did that thought originate?"
Much like being drawn to short hair, I am drawn to dramatic eye makeup but I rarely allow myself the time to get to know how to use or apply it. Makeup was off-limits in the religion I was raised in, too - so were tattoos, but I don't seem to have a problem there.
In fact, when we were on the road this summer, not a single day passed without someone approaching me to ask about my tattoos. Conversation allowed me to share who I am; and as I offered a unique perspective through the stories behind my ink, people left curious and wondering about me. Why should my hair be any different?
Being creative with my appearance doesn't need to threaten my definition of modesty, and I certainly don't need to adhere to what makes others comfortable. Maybe I'm supposed to draw attention to myself; maybe, for me to effectively help someone else, they need to be able to see me standing out in a crowd.
That's a scary thought for an introvert, but it sure does sound like me.