Cutting my long hair set me free. For years I’d been tangled in my own tresses, dragged down by the weight of it. I’d worn that curtain of hair like a cape, keeping me warm, keeping me safe and hidden from the world. When I cut it off I was released from so much, from expectations, from rituals and even from the fear of change.
The most immediate sensation I felt after I chomped the scissors through my braided hair was one of lightness. You don’t realise how heavy hair is, because the weight is added bit by tiny bit, so gradually that you never even notice it building. Sure, I noticed the headaches when I wore my hair up for too long. I noticed how the bulk of it would stretch out hair ties. I noticed the sore muscles in my neck from bearing the weight of that hulk of wet hair when I washed it. But when I made that jagged cut, severing the braid from my head, the relief of that burden of hair made me sigh.
After I buzzed my head with the clippers, I couldn’t distract myself from the feeling of the cool hair against my scalp and neck. I couldn’t remember a time when my neck was completely bared to the breeze, without the flap of a ponytail or the wispy baby hairs that remained even when the rest was coiled into a bun. For the first time ever, when I walked outside it was like the air was tickling my scalp, brushing over my ears and running across my neck. And it felt so wonderful, these new sensations.
I felt freed from my usual morning routine of untangling, brushing and styling. I no longer had a need for the drawer full of pins, ties and tools to keep my hair smooth and in place. After I’d shaved my head, all I needed to do was rinse my head in the shower each day and towel it off. My hair care routine shrank from a half hour to mere seconds. Even with my short coiff, getting ready in the morning takes a fraction of the time it used to.
I can’t remember the last time I had to sit with a comb and carefully work a matted knot out of my hair. When my hair was long, even though I brushed it carefully twice a day, the knots would twist and tangle and pull. If the weather was windy, I knew that I was in for a rough time with my brush when I arrived home. The collar of my winter coat and my scarves would ruff up the hair at the nape of my neck, causing burrs that would have to be combed out. And now that doesn’t happen at all.
Cutting my hair short liberated me from a lot more than just physical and practical inconveniences of long hair. My hair was like a security blanket, familiar and warm. When I was feeling down, I only had to tip my head forward and it would fall like a curtain, giving me a private space in which to cry. If I was feeling shy in front of a partner, I could let it fall over my body, obscuring my breasts and back so they could only see my skin in flashes peeking between the locks. I never had to worry about not looking feminine, because my long hair was an instant marker of my gender. Even when I popped to the shops in a shapeless tracksuit, my ponytail signalled that I Am A Woman.
But when I shaved my hair off, I had to let go of all of that. I had nothing to hide behind any longer. There wasn’t a single wisp of hair to fall across my face to obscure the faint lines on my forehead, or to soften my jaw. My whole face was just out there, for the entire world to see, and I had to make my peace with that. I not only accepted that, but I came to love it. I was emboldened by how the short hair made my features look sharper, even more striking. I wore bright lipstick and deep contour, accentuating it, daring people to look and marvel at me.
I also had to let go of some of my ideas of what it meant to be feminine. I reveled in the fact that I felt just as womanly as I did when my hair was long. I enjoyed looking cute and edgy with my spiky hair, all eyes and cheekbones, earrings and lipstick.
The biggest thing I let go of when I cut my hair was my fear of change. When my hair was long, I would consider cutting or colouring it and I would always stop myself. What if it looked stupid? What if I ruined my hair and it took me ages to get it back the way it was? But when I shaved my head, I accepted the fact that I might hate it, and that it would take ages to grow back, but that it was worth doing anyway. I felt so bold on that day, and every time I’ve changed my hair since. It made me brave enough to fearlessly colour my hair, to try different cuts and lengths. Every time I tried something new I thought “Well, if it’s truly terribly I can always just shave it off again”. There’s something powerful in the act of going back to scratch and starting again. And although changing my hair was a pretty insignificant thing in the grand scheme of things, taking that leap has had a ripple effect. I’ve felt bold enough to try new hobbies, to end relationships that weren’t working, to speak my mind in ways that frightened me but ultimately paid off.
Cutting my hair was an act of liberation, an act that freed me in ways both big and small.