“Never judge a book by its cover.”
This phrase is taught to us from a young age. Be accepting, open-minded, and sympathetic to beings of all walks of life—every color, shape, size.
Seriously. Good luck maintaining this mindset for very long.
It has become so engrained in our way of verbalizing and describing our selves and our surroundings.
We seem to spend much of our early life unlearning this practice from one traumatic lived experience to the next. Within each life stage, we are suffering from judgment bestowed by others, offering our judgment, or moving between the two from one moment to the next.
In conversation, we describe an individual by their appearance. I used to find my mom in a crowd by looking for her hair. We describe an individual in a room with us to another person by beginning with their skin color, but only if they are not white.
I spent much of my childhood and young adult life heeding the judgments offered by those in my community. They have meant well, but their words were branding to my fragile ego and succeeded in feeding the already strong and growing voice of my inner critic.
My mom told me not to worry about my box shape body and that the boys would eventually come around, but I still looked at my cousin as the epitome of beauty and possessing appearance I would never attain—big boobs, blonde hair, and so on and so forth.
One boyfriend told me he hoped that I would never get fat because he didn’t want to stop being attracted to me.
Another boyfriend threatened to break up with me if I ever cut my hair (so, I waited and cut it after we parted ways at the end of my first semester in college).
Hopefully, there comes a time for each individual to decide to put an end to these behavior patterns. Just because something has endured for centuries doesn’t mean it needs to be perpetuated ad infinitum for generations into the future.
Replacing our old habits with new ones is no easy feat, however. Case in point, at some point in high school I thought it would help me stop biting my fingernails if I started picking at the cuticles to give my fingers a job and distract my eyes and teeth. I know, odd choice, but I have not yet claimed normalcy yet in my time on this planet. I do not see myself making this claim any time soon. So, essentially, I succeeded in creating a new habit and have been trying ever since to quit the two.
Changing behavior is only one part of this tricky game. Learning to be less affected by what other people think about us is an even more difficult task.
For the past couple of months, I have been imagining cutting off my hair. What freedom, what bliss I would experience. No more tangles. No more struggling with shampoo, conditioner, and the unenviable task of brushing it out after a shower.
But hair is yet another one of those covers we hide behind. And while short hair may be lighter on daily maintenance, it can weigh heavily on the psyche when others offer up judgment.
I looked to my community for help with the decision. I created a photo album on facebook and called it “short or long: telle est la question.” I uploaded a dozen photographs of myself with varying lengths of hair. Far and away, the response was for long hair with less than a handful of those suggesting short or encouraging me to make my own choice (wild idea) with the assurance that I would look beautiful no matter what I did.
I struggled with the choice and went back and forth daily for weeks. There were people close to me who felt strongly that my hair was one of my most beautiful qualities and that I should celebrate it by keeping it a part of myself.
The words from the Pavement song “Cut Your Hair” ran on a cyclical track around and around in my head.
Darlin’ don’t you go and cut your hair
Do you think it’s gonna make him change?
Finally, this past Friday, I had enough. I left work at 5:15pm, walked across the street to a salon, sat down in a chair, and asked the beautician to chop it off.
I cannot claim to have been completely independent in my venture. I called a dear friend who is visiting for moral support (and photo documentation, of course).
And the feeling of liberation was remarkable. I sat in a chair while she tied a rubber band around my hair and measured ten inches (the requirement for donating ones locks to someone in need). And then, just like that, she took a pair of scissors, cut, cut, cut from right to left, and set the entire ponytail on the counter in front of me.
There it sat, limp, dead, this mass of dark curls streaked with red that had been such an integral part of me and my identity only moments before.
Or was it?
What makes us who we are? Who decides our value and worth?
It should be a decision for each of us to make and express to the world.
I am trying to celebrate the fiery, fiercely independent spirit that is as much a part of me as the inner critic and voice of self-doubt.
And I am attempting to listen to words of love and support in celebration of short hair and liberation from within to without.
Words like my cousin’s response via email:
it’s great! how fun!! i love it.
its the physical manifestation of the liberated woman you are.
And another from a dear woman friend:
You look absolutely fabulous, Marieke! And what I love best about your haircut is that YOU love it and that you are able to express how you feel- your desire to simplify, freedom, happiness, and bounce! It also makes me smile because I see not only how beautiful you are but also how happy you are.
I imagine the struggle will continue. For now, I am finding pleasure in the simplicity and wildness of closely-cropped curls!