As I wander along through my 20s, I’ve found myself – like many of my college-educated peers – searching for transformation. I’ve made mistakes, contemplated becoming a lawyer and fallen in and out of love. After these stumbles, I reached for the same, symbolic action to start anew. I got a haircut.
At first, it started as something just for fun. As a timid high school freshman, I slowly gathered up the courage to chop off the long locks I’d donned since childhood. I trekked to the salon, sliding into the seat as my hairdresser asked those immortal words: “So, what are we doing today?”
I paused, then held out a crumpled photograph of Winona Ryder and waited for the woman to gasp. Instead, she smiled. “Are you sure you want to do this?” I nodded furiously. An hour later, I waded across the piles of hair gathered at my feet and left. I felt lighter, noticing the breeze on my neck for the first time. I was born again.
Eventually, something triggered another need for a change. I alternated between growing my hair long and then abruptly cropping it short, usually, as tradition requires, after breaking up with a long-sought after boyfriend. The pictures that accompanied me changed over the years: After Winona came Penelope, Cameron, Claire Danes and Mandy Moore. The new hair embodied my resolve that I could change, because the image I saw in the mirror every day after was changed. I was someone new, a woman I could reinvent from that day forth.
Over the years, my hair repertoire expanded to include color changes and highlights; funky gel products and flat-irons. My haircuts became like the tree rings of my life, markers of who I once was. Looking back at pictures, the different strands remind me of the moods and challenges that came with my desire to grow and mature.
My last visit to the hairdresser was just a few weeks ago, when it finally sunk in that my two-year relationship was over. This time, I made no pretenses. “My boyfriend broke up with me,” I told the stylist, “and I need new haircut.” The woman nodded. She understood. And as she spent time washing my hair, cutting it, carefully explaining how to style it a la Katie Holmes, I felt better. I remembered life continues to move on, even with changes we can’t quite understand.
Yes, I believe in haircuts. For me, they are an avenue for change, a way of looking forward to the future. They remind me that I can evolve, too, even if only a few inches at a time.
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