One of the unexpected gifts I received when I was sick was the experience of having short hair. It was disheartening to see my long black hair disintegrate to brittle nothing. I had to cut it off and start over. I went to the stylist and found a picture of Amy Tan in a magazine. She had a short, sexy bob. I thought she looked smart.
I showed the photo to a stylist, a Korean man, who could not speak English. He shook his head, “No..no.” “Why not?” I asked. He tried to tell me in half-broken English/Korean that I did not have the face for it and that I wouldn’t look pretty with short hair. “It’s OK,” I said. I was going to come out with Amy Tan bob whether he liked it or not.
Afterwards, I felt a dramatic shift. It was liberating. I felt like my IQ shot higher. Suddenly, I felt permission to be as smart as I wanted. By the time I got home, I realized that I had played a role with long hair and “being pretty” and because of that, I hadn’t really expressed myself, most especially my intelligence and ideas. “Being pretty” was part of “being accepted.” For me the idea of being pretty had a lot to do with being agreeable and making other people comfortable. I hadn’t realized how for most of my life, how attached I was to having long hair, and how I played a role with that… a role that actually limited me.
It was a revelatory experience.
I had tried to grow my hair out again, but when I returned back to the Korean stylist, and said “grow out” with big hand motions, he misunderstood me and cut my hair even shorter. How ironic that happened!
I was aghast, but noticed something interesting. Every time I cut my hair, it was a new experience. It changed my experience of being in the world. I felt more free.. more vulnerable.. more me. I also noticed that people were kinder to me. Women treated me differently, so did men. Women were more receptive and men were more neutral. I no longer got asked out on as many dates.
The truth is, I always wanted to short hair, but never had the gall to do it. One day I cut it down to a boy cut. Suddenly, I fell off the radar of sexual, male attention. This lack of attention felt weirdly .. freeing. I didn’t realize how much energy I put into receiving that kind of attention. I felt more invisible. “Who am I when men aren’t attracted to me?” “How can I still feel feminine with short hair?” It was humbling to feel less attractive yet freeing to be more in my own space.
With shorter hair, I felt strangely exposed. My face was just “out there.” There was nothing to hide behind. No shield of separation. Because of this, I was made to be more myself. This was an uncomfortable experience, but one worth having.
I understood why nuns cut their hair short. Without focus on my external appearance, I was able to turn more of my attention inward. It allowed me to focus on spiritual retreat and writing. Short hair in a way, felt like “spiritual protection.” It released a layer of static noise.
All of this hair stuff made me wonder why men traditionally have short hair and women have long hair. How could the length of our hair affect our own psyches, individually and collectively? After speaking to other women, I’ve noticed how they’ve had similar experiences when they cut their hair short. My friend Jaime calls it “hair ego” and how we change when we have hair and feel “beautiful” in the eyes of others. Our hair changes our experience.. Imagine changing other things like a our gender or skin color.
“Being what we’re not used to being” can be a liberating experience. We all experience loss, whether it be health, relationships, looks.. and with that some loss of identity. It’s in those ambiguous moments that something beautiful can happen. We find more of our Self.