So, I cut off my hair last week.
I have been joking for years that I should “just shave my head” or “chop my hair.” Everybody laughed along with me until this fall, when I started at an arts high school and was surrounded by less traditional young people. Instead of being amused, people started responding to that line with, “Well, why haven’t you done it yet?”
I was a little taken aback. For 14 years, I presented as what now seems to me to be an almost painfully traditional feminine female, with long hair and skinny jeans and crop tops, with make-up in middle school and dresses at parties. I have always tried to push myself, be it in climbing (the sport I have fallen in love with), school or facing the world. But much of this motivation has gone into conforming, rather than finding an identity that inherently fits me.
I realized I was afraid of appearing “masculine.” I thought my long hair was important for appearing pretty, for fulfilling some subconscious idea about what it means to be beautiful. As soon as I noticed these thoughts within myself, I knew I wanted to find a way to destroy them.
There’s pressure to be traditionally attractive. There’s also new, exciting momentum toward being young and female and figuring out exactly who you are. It’s thrilling but it can be paralyzing, too.
I’ve struggled with identity and self-presentation in the last year. I was diagnosed with an eating disorder about a year ago, and although I’m slowly recovering, it’s not an easy journey. Clearly, my ideas about appearance were in need of some rethinking. I decided the best way to combat those impulses to hit them over the head with a sledge hammer. Or scissors. Or a razor.
Emma Gonzalez, who is arguably the most powerful teen girl in America right now, perfectly exhibited poise and determination in her powerful speech about the National Rifle Association at the March For Our Lives on Saturday. She oozes emotion and drive, balancing ethos, logos and pathos, and inviting the listener into her ideas. And — I know we’re not talking about appearance; it’s complicated — she looks stunning. To me, she looks far better than any done-up celebrity because she is real with her cropped hair and black tank top. She looks confident in herself. She is terrifically articulate, and uninhibited in calling out people in power. She is using her voice, is taking advantage of her position and she is doing it her way, all of which take courage.
It is not easy to be a teenage girl in America right now.
A lot of the time, there seems to be such a direct contradiction of ideas and beliefs. There’s pressure to be traditionally attractive. Cute clothes. Bubbliness. Lip gloss. You’re supposed to do well in school, but not too well. At the same time, there’s also this new, exciting momentum toward being young and female and figuring out exactly who you are. It’s thrilling but it can be paralyzing, too. Who are your role models going to be? Which person feels right? And the inevitable, for every teenager, maybe every person: What will people think?
So last Saturday I walked to a salon. I was nervous but excited: sun shining, Beatles jamming, my hair tucked up under a hat because I felt so done with it.
Then I got to the salon, and sat in a chair with big mirrors all around. The hairdresser asked me what I wanted. I told her shorter. Much shorter. “Oh, are you sure you want to do that?” she said. “That’s a big change.” I could tell she didn’t want me to hate it.
But I was sure. I was so sure. She braided my split end-filled locks and clipped them off, and there they were, lying on the counter in front of me. It felt liberating. I had an intense A-line bob, which caused a five-minute tangential identity crisis of what if I was punk? But then that too was gone, and the right side of my head was covered in less than an inch of hair.
I can’t say I didn’t have a single moment of regret. But then she washed it. It felt really short wet, but so much more practical. More me. When it was done, I loved it ― cleaner, better. I feel more confident.
At school on Monday, all the girls loved it. A close friend said I looked “too hot to trot,” which isn’t true, but was wonderfully enthusiastic and supportive.
I felt great until I got to geometry class. I finished the classwork first, and a boy who sits near me said, “Maybe your short hair is somehow making you better at math.”
I felt disappointed in him. Then I felt pity. It seems like it’s hard to be a teenage boy right now. It feels mighty to be a short-haired woman.