So, I chopped off my hair again: musing on hair and identity

I chopped off all my hair again.

My hair was almost hip length and becoming burdensome in the hot, desert climate I call home. Every few years I decide to grow my hair out to see how long it will grow. Then, I inevitably get tired of caring for my ridiculously thick, easily tangled, locks and chop it all off to donate. As I was driving home from the salon, and friends were reacting to my new look on social media, I got to thinking about hair and why it’s so important to us, and how it interacts with our sense of identity.

Yes, I cut my hair because I wanted a change.

Yes, I am doing the typical Millennial coping mechanism of dying my hair instead of dealing with my problems. I am completely self-aware about this. But, hear me out, sometimes a small change can help. These little alternations to our outward appearance is a little way to boost our mood and gives us a sense of control over our lives. With hair being an aspect of our appearance that is so closely tied to our identity (think about how often you refer to someone as “the redhead” or “the dude with the man-bun”), it feel like you are shaping or reclaiming your actual identity. So, it makes sense that changing your hair’s cut or color can be the first step in making actual life changes.

So why do I donate my hair?

I’ll be honest and say, it makes me feel good about myself. But also, I think about someone I knew when I was 13. Back in Texas, I had a neighbor who was a several-time survivor of cancer. From the time she was 14 to the time she was 36, she had cancer coming in and out of remission. As a result, she lost her hair to chemotherapy every couple of years. Her room was full of wigs in every length and color you could imagine. I asked her once if it bothered her to lose her hair so often. She said that, at first- it did. Especially when she was a teenager, but she said she was lucky to be from a culture that always embraced weave, so that no one really cared if her hair was “real” or not. She maintained that “my hair doesn’t have to grow out of my head to be mine”. She knew that she was beautiful even with her bald head, but her favorite pieces always helped her feel fun, sexy, and strong. In my own selfish way, I hope that by donating my hair I can help someone else feel that confident too.

The same action can feel so different depending on circumstance.

While I was making dinner, I started thinking about hair in an even broader sense. I know people who shave their head, dye their hair, get extensions, and wear wigs. I also know people who keep their hair uncut for religious reasons, wear religious head coverings, or purposefully break such rules as a sign of their rebellion. What I came to realize is that the same decision to cut or cover hair, let it grow or shave it off can have completely different meanings to different people. The same style or covering can convey completely different meanings, depending on the person. What matters most is the choice. Whether we realize it or not, our hair, how we style it, cover it, cut it, or remove it is a big part of our identity. It shapes how other people see us, and how we want to be seen. Even people who seem not to care at all choose to care for their hair (or not), choose to cut their hair (or not), choose to style it (or not) as an expression of who they are, and what they value- whether they like that fact or not.

I know I got a little carried away here, but this is what’d been on my mind today. And all these musings just came from a simple hair cut.

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