So recently I chopped off all my long, sun-bleached, surfer girl hair.
I’m happy with the decision and digging my new shorter style. That’s not to say I don’t have moments when I glance in the mirror and think “WTF did I just do?” Granted, these moments tend to occur in the morning, when my bed head is on full and inglorious display. Turns out there is no such thing as sexy, tousled morning hair when one’s hair is short. At least not for this lady. Eeek!!
The moments also occur after I get caught in a rainstorm and my precisely smoothed and straightened microlayers revert to some sort of vintage early 80s feathered look. Seventh grade called, it would like its hairstyle back.
But at the end of the day, I’m digging it. In fact, I wish I had done this years ago. Which makes me wonder why I didn’t. And the answer to that is simpler than I imagined it would be. Hardly any introspection required at all.
I held on to my long hair for decades because it made me feel safe. It helped me blend in. It was what society told me a woman in her 20s, 30s, and even 40s should have. Cropped hair was for someone else. Rebellious girls giving the middle finger to society. Women edging closer to their golden years. Surely not for me. In my head, my long hair made me pretty to others, and in turn, to myself. My identity was wrapped up in the length and color of my hair (among other things).
The crazy thing? Now that it’s all gone, I feel better than I have in years. I also think I look better than I did with long dyed and fried hair.
Which made me think about all the other things we cling to that don’t necessarily serve us. The things we tell ourselves we need in order to be pretty or successful or popular or loved. Whatever adjective, really. You can fill in the blank.
For some, it is a big house in the right neighborhood. For others, the kind of car they drive. For still others, the latest designer handbag. Or maybe it is like the unfortunate woman I met during my ill-fated time in Guernsey. The one married to the CEO. The one who’s husband spoiled her with exotic vacations and extravagant birthday presents (after meeting him I got the vibe he was banging his secretary).
The things that she, in turn, bragged about at social gatherings. Sadly, it was ALL she talked about. She had nothing else to add to any conversation. At least not a conversation with me – the newly arrived American woman. While I’m sure she wanted me to be impressed by her over-the-top lifestyle, I just felt sorry for her. Not sorry for her luxury experiences, but because it appeared she needed those things to define herself.
Let me be clear. There’s nothing wrong with having the finer things in life. Hell, I’m first in line to appreciate (and occasionally still covet) a classic Louis Vuitton handbag. And who in their right mind wouldn’t be thrilled with a birthday ride in an F10 fighter jet? I feel the need, the need for speed.
The trouble comes when these material possessions define you as a person. When you rely on them to feel good about yourself. When what you have is a crutch to who you are.
I used to be that person.
And it’s all fine and good living that way until one day you wake up and walk downstairs into your chef’s kitchen to make a cup of coffee with the Italian espresso machine that has too many knobs and buttons, then sit down at the table you had custom-made by Amish artisans and stare out the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the million dollar view and wonder to yourself, with tears streaming down your face, “Pills or a razor blade?”
Turns out, all those material things you strived for – thinking they would make you happy – weren’t doing jack shit. Other than making you appear to be a spoiled, east side princess. The one with flawless skin, perfectly-highlighted hair, and the latest iPhone.
It also turns out that giving those things up in pursuit of finding – and living – a more authentic life is easier than you’d imagine. Much more satisfying, too. Not every day, mind you (I still miss that table and a new iPhone would be great), but in the overall, bigger picture.
But back to hair.
A few months ago, when I decided to grow out my natural hair color – gray and all, I joined a few going gray groups on Facebook. They are fun, a great source of information, and a way to connect with other women who are going (or have gone) through the same transition.
One of the struggles that so many women have is growing out the gray and keeping their long hair during the process. Some try to camouflage the new growth with highlights. Others say fuck it and let it grow out naturally, which guarantees a year or two of two-toned hair color. Also jokingly referred to as a skunk line.
I know myself well enough to know that a DIY ombre look was never going to work for me. Certainly not for two damn years. So at first I went the expensive highlighted route and chopped what – at the time – I considered a drastic amount off my length. I was still convinced I needed long hair to secure my identity, and that shoulder-grazing bob was as far as I could commit. My thinking was, at least a bob would grow out faster and I’d be back to long hair a few months sooner.
But as things go in my life, the bob just wasn’t working for me. Too much like my old life as a lawyer. A chapter I never wish to revisit. So, in a fit of impulsiveness (my middle name), I returned to my hairdresser and told her to chop it off. All of it. Including all those expensive and carefully placed highlights. I eventually ended up in the periphery of pixie world.
I really thought I would be crying by the end of my appointment, but I wasn’t. Instead, what I felt was free. Unencumbered. Fierce. Independent. I no longer had my long hair to hide behind. This was the new me. And since I couldn’t glue it all back on (and the back is way too short for extensions, which I loathe anyway), society had to take me or leave me. That was liberating.
And for the first time in my adult life, I felt like I owned how I looked. That I wasn’t bending my appearance to suit the expectations of others. I have this haircut because it works for my needs at this exact moment, not because I am trying to impress anyone else. How liberating.
Now I know some women are saying “But I have long hair because I like it,” and that is great! If you’re doing something for YOU (and it’s making you feel good), then keep on keeping on, darling. Let those locks flow. I may even join you again someday.
I’m also sure there are other women shaking their heads and thinking, “Bitch, please. It’s just hair. You’re making it about so much more.” And to that, all I can say is “It IS about so much more.” At least for me. And I suspect for others, too.
Whether it is your hair, your house, your husband, whatever, we all have something we cling to because it makes us feel secure. Something we’re too scared to live without, even if what we’re clutching so desperately makes us less than happy – miserable even.
But it’s hard to let go, isn’t it?
At first, sure. But it gets easier. As most tough, yet worthwhile, things tend to do.
All I can say is if you’re feeling like things in your world are not right (or are rock-bottom awful), sometimes you have to take a chance – give something up – and see what happens. You may regret it, this is true. After all, there are no guarantees in this world. But the good news is that most everything is fixable. Hair grows. You grow.
Thinking more positively…you also may end up on the other side wondering why you didn’t make the change eons ago. In fact, I think that’s far more likely where you’ll be. Fear of the unknown is a shitty thing, especially if it is keeping you from living a satisfying life. Yet fear is what keeps us rooted in place, even if that place brings us misery. No matter how outwardly perfect it all may appear.
And who wants to live like that?
I don’t. Life is short (just like my hair). I want to make the most of every moment, even if that means – to borrow a very tired cliché – leaping without a net. What I’ve discovered along the way is even if you make a change and the immediate repercussions don’t seem all that awesome, down the road things will come together. They always do.
But only if you’re not afraid to make a change in the first place.
Got questions? Want to know more about island life? Thinking about making a big life change (whether that includes short hair or not)? I’d love to hear from you. Check out this post or send your thoughts to email@example.com and let’s connect.
I’m a writer living on the Dutch Caribbean island of Bonaire. Originally from the U.S., I followed my heart to the tropics in 2011 at the wizened age of 43. Since then, I’ve been blogging to inspire and entertain. I love kitesurfing, a good gin & tonic, and corgis.
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