A month ago, I had about 14 inches of my hair cut off.

Before this, I had “shampoo commercial hair.” It was normally anywhere from waist to hip-length, and it was straight, but I often curled it. I loved my hair, and it was a large part of my identity.

So, why did I cut it off if I loved it so much? I did it because my hair was such a large part of my identity.

Like many young people do, I grew up with a very fixed sense of what beauty was. A beautiful woman had flawless skin, perfect teeth, a toned yet “feminine” figure, she was sexy yet youthful, and, you guessed it, had long, flowing hair. That is what most of the beautiful people looked like in the media, so that is what I wanted to be.

In my mind, the only thing I had going for me was my long hair, so I focused on it and tried to make it the focal point of who I was in other’s eyes. It worked. I received endless compliments on how beautiful my hair was and questions as to how I got it to grow that long.

These compliments were not, in themselves, a negative thing. I felt more confident every time someone mentioned my hair. But this caused some cognitive conflict when I grew tired of my long hair, yet I felt it was my only redeeming physical trait.

For years, I told people I was going to chop off all my hair, and for years, people told me not to. It became this constant cycle of gaining enough confidence to cut my hair, getting excited and telling people, them telling me “but, your hair is so beautiful! Why would you want to do that?” and then me falling back into the mindset that my hair was what made me beautiful.

This doesn’t mean I didn’t think women with short hair weren’t beautiful. In fact, I loved the way it looked, but I was at a point that I was trying to compensate for the confidence I lacked in other parts of my appearance.

Since coming to college, I have been trying—as many students do—to transform myself into the person I want to become. This looks different for everyone. For some, it is professional development, and for others, it is an improvement of mental health, becoming more organized, volunteering, or anything that facilitates growth. For most of us, it is a collection of many different things.

One of the main things I wanted to work on was self-image and confidence. I had redefined what I thought beauty was. One of the most impactful things I discovered was that there was not one type of person that I defined as beautiful. I could see the beauty in all of these different women, so why was I confining myself to such a rigid standard of physical beauty?

Cutting my hair played into many of the things I wanted to do improve myself. I was able to donate my hair and contribute to my community. It made me feel more polished and professional going into my career. Most importantly, it was a was my symbolic rejection of what I had told myself was my worth for so long.

It would be crazy to tell you that cutting my hair fixed all my problems because it didn’t. What it did do, is prove to myself that I could feel beautiful and strong without my luscious locks, and my physical appearance was only a small part of what made me feel beautiful.