It's Hairy: On Shifting Moods of Haircuts & Womxnhood
About the Series: “It’s Hairy”
Hair is one of those things that’s always, well, there, whether we like it or not. It grows, it shifts in color and texture, it pops up in places we don’t really mind for. But more importantly, it tells a story about who we are, whether previous childhood memories about it pave a complicated journey or current feelings towards our follicles say a lot more than just a hair style. It’s Hairy was created to encompass these complex stories for several identities: Black, trans, Middle Eastern, nonbinary, lesbian, and more. Each piece, written by the people who personally go through these hair journeys, tells a story of how hair is always about more than hair, where hair acts as a lens for diverse narratives, revealing that no hair journey is the same.
I was an ugly baby. My hair looked like what you might pull out of a college shower drain and my nose protruded upwards like a little piglet. As soon I was old enough to have any sense of personal identity, I insisted on doing my own hair each day. I hated having my mom brush through my hair, which resulted in me showing up to early elementary school with ridiculous pony tails, braids and barrettes protruding from all sides of my head like a mix of Lisa Simpson and 2002 Lizzie McGuire. I famously, at least within my family, undid the hairstyle of my Kaya American Girl Doll so that I could redo it myself, completely ruining the $100 toy’s precious mane. I regularly insisted that I wanted to be a hairstylist when I got older.
I wore thigh-high rainbow socks, dress-code-breaking cloche hats and glittery hair tinsel for all of my childhood. I have always held a strange juxtaposition of being extremely introverted while also not caring what other people think of me, even a little bit. This led to a classic slew of bad haircuts, interesting outfit choices and questions from boys on my middle school bus about why I look “like that.”
Over the years, my clothing choices began to mellow out into a still-quirky but slightly more socially normative style that screamed “I am 14 and I know what’s popular but I don’t care.” Sophomore year of high school, I made the big decision to dye my long, healthy hair a deep, vibrant purple, and continued to regularly dye my hair every couple of months for the next two years. This choice was so important to me that I gave an English class speech about it right before graduation at the end of my senior year, where I talked about identity, and how I chose to primarily express about myself using my appearance, therefore forcing myself out of my comfort zone whether I wanted to or not. Having sometimes-lavender sometimes-grape shaded locks forced me to stand out, at least a little, in any situation. I was told, at age 16, that it made me look unprofessional, that potential romantic partners wouldn’t like it and that I was ruining my appearance. It always mattered to other people that it didn’t go well with my eyes, that I didn’t have the right face shape for it and that it made me look pale. When I said that those things didn’t matter to me, I often got the response of “Well, it should.” All of this sounds extremely dramatic, but it really did feel like a big deal sometimes. I was so unsure of every single other part of my identity, carrying this hair with confidence was the one thing that I could be sure about.
As a late bloomer, I went through years and years of emotional turmoil relating to my appearance and the policing from those around me. Summer camp was relentless and when I look in the mirror today, I still hear comments that were made about me when I was 11. I’ve been told that I look eight months pregnant while standing in a YMCA locker room, I’ve had friends try to steal their older sibling’s razor for me to use on my legs, and I’ve been offered several “useful” tips on how to properly cover up my freckles. It is so absurd that people can feel like they are being helpful, genuinely, when critiquing a young person’s appearance. I was left confused, lost and embarrassed for much of my childhood.
Being so young, knowing how to express my sexuality, my gender, my everything felt impossible. I have gone through phases where I have wanted to present extremely feminine, and phases where I have not. Near the end of high school, I grew over six inches in a year and stretched out into an entirely new silhouette. I had to relearn what I looked like, relearn what I wanted to look like, and relearn how other peoples’ gazes were going to fall on me. I began insisting that I wanted to shave my head, force away some of my own girly-ness and pull away from the womxnhood that was quickly developing. Looking back at my iPhone’s camera roll, I have images of pixie cuts that I pulled from Google Images saved in as early as 2014.
Just about every single person in my life told me not to do it. The purple faded out and my natural, brunette bob took shape in college. I thought about making the chop for years, before eventually making the spontaneous choice in July of 2018 to search “hair salon” while visiting my friend Elena in Philadelphia and just cut it all off. I immediately felt extremely connected to myself and was more than happy to have done it. My now almost-buzz cut feels so intrinsically mine that I often feel disconnected from photographs of myself with long hair. I love feeling androgynous, even if I do not always present that way to other people. It has never been a confidence thing necessarily, but more of a marker within myself that I do not need the physical protection that a long head of hair might provide to a womxn. I am often told that people like my look in spite of my hair, while I like my look because of my hair.
Gender identity and expression is a topic that I have neglected to come to terms with on my own throughout my life. Sometimes feeling and looking masculine has made me feel good, but at the same time feel guilty. There has been an inexplicable guilt that I have carried for several years surrounding the dilution of my womxnhood. If I decide that I maybe don’t like how I feel in dresses anymore, I feel bad that I own so many. If I decide that I still really like painting my nails and wearing makeup sometimes, I feel guilty for the opposite reason. When I cut my hair, I was told that I was lucky that my bone structure was so womanly and that most womxn wouldn’t be able to present femme with my haircut. I sometimes feel jealous of gender ambiguous people that I see on the metro, because I don’t think that I could ever look as androgynous as them, even when I try.
I know that it sounds silly to allow a haircut to pull so much weight, or to philosophize about my own life because of it. Ultimately, this is my experience and I don’t want to apologize for it. Reflecting on my hair has been rather therapeutic for me, as I have not really delved into this topic much in the past, and it has helped me to articulate my feelings and relationship with my hair. I rarely talk to the people in my life about my journey with identity, and still don’t have answers to these questions. I do know that I have spent my 20 years extremely connected to my hair, and I know that hair will continue to being a vessel for how I look and how it makes me feel, time and time again.
About the Author
Lucy (she/her/hers) is originally from Central Pennsylvania and is now a student at the George Washington University working towards a Master’s in environmental resource policy. Lucy is passionate about environmental justice, urban planning and sustainability education.