I wake in the middle of the night to sweat soaked hair sticking to the back of my neck, a sensation I haven't felt in a while. It's June and my hair is at a strange little bob that hovers just under my ear lobes. I can lose my fingers in my hair.
When the air is still cool in January, I call my friend Emma over and hand her my clippers with a simple request even I wasn't really ready for:
"Shave my head. All of it. Off."
We laughed, awkwardly at first, then in loud bouts. She shrugged, I shrugged, and the clippers buzzed against my head taking with it patches of hair.
It always makes me laugh when I look at the picture on my ID. There is the face of a girl with a bleached hair that swept her collarbones, a small bun sitting atop her head. Even before I shaved it all off, I had done a number on my hair; dying it to the black-blue of a stormy night, getting bangs, chopping lengths off, bleaching it to platinum blonde, and finally dying it a warm honey color.
I did what I did not because I needed to or had to, but because I wanted to. For nineteen years, I essentially barricaded myself behind my hair. I let it cover the areas I wasn't comfortable with both on my person as well as who I was as a person. I knew that stripping myself from that layer of comfort would put me in a place of physical and emotional vulnerability, but that's what I wanted.
So there we were, two girls, one with clippers still humming in her hands, and the other unable to recognize herself in the mirror.
Is that really what I look like? I've seen myself with my hair pulled back into a ponytail, but this is different. I can't stop looking at myself; the curl of my eyelashes, to the soft curve of my nose, to the shallow crevasse of my philtrum, to the childish pout of my lower lip. Have I always looked this way?
Never had I felt more beautiful and feminine, strangely enough.
Flash forward through all the acceptance from my peers and the newfound confidence I felt when I saw a shadow walking beside me, to the beginning of the semester. A month since shaving it off, routines began to form: wake up, get ready, finger guns and a wink to the mirror because I don't have hair to worry about doing, classes, work, homework, sleep, and then repeat.
This is what February is like. I can feel cool breeze followed by warm sun on my scalp and I smile because I'm glad that finally after nineteen years of not knowing this feeling, I finally do.
March is just about the same routine wise, but my hair's growth is substantial. What was fuzzy and stuck straight up into the sky in February now falls flat. I can't see the skin on my head. When I visit my hometown for the first time since Christmas vacation, I am unafraid of what people will think of think. I have seen my face, I have seen my eyes, my nose, my mouth, my ears, and I like to think that because of this I know myself. My mother buys me a special shampoo that will stimulate hair growth. It works.
April breathes warmer air. I am less patient in these days, staring at blank Word documents, small paychecks, and mirrors waiting for some kind of miraculous change. My hair grows uncooperatively, longer on the bottom, giving me a mullet. I have to take time out of procrastinating on assignments to trim the rugged edges. I am terrified to look in the mirror. I can’t even recognize myself these days.
Is that really what I look like? My hair hasn't grown that much, but this is different. I can't look at myself; the bags under my eyes, to the oil slicked on my nose, to the small mustache I've been avoiding, to the frown lines around my mouth. Is this really what I look like?
I couldn't hide out in my room until my hair grew out, I couldn’t wear a beanie out in this weather, and shaving my head again isn't the answer.
April breathed on the back of my neck, taunted me. I tried to play it cool and remind myself that there were more important things to give my attention to than just the awkward stage my hair was in. I tried to remind myself that this was just an awkward stage, that it will pass eventually and I will be okay once it passes. It wasn’t until the slower days of May that it occurred to me that no change in my hair’s length would make me feel happy or confident or beautiful.
Watching the waves crash on the shore, bringing back with it names dragged out in the sand, reminded me of that day in January.
I’m not writing this now because I have it all figured out. Just the other day I had to keep myself away from sheers so I don’t try to chop my hair off again. If there’s one thing I learned about myself it’s that cutting my hair became addictive for me. It was exhilarating, the high was something else. I couldn’t relying on cutting my hair as my source of happiness, confidence and beauty. Right now I am practicing patience and just a whole lotta self-love. I am combing my hair, I am tussling it, I am tucking it behind my ears. I am looking in the mirror, into my eyes, following the curves of my features. This is what I look like. I am not compromising. I am not settling. I am loving myself, or at least trying to, and it seems to be working.