Around two weeks ago, I did a very un-Rachel thing. Snatching a pair of scissors, I stood before my full-length mirror and cut off three inches of my ponytail as my roommate looked on in horror. Holding my damaged hair in my palm, I began to laugh: I had just channeled my inner-Britney Spears.
As a child, a trip to the hair salon was a nightmare-and-a-half for my mother. My Shirley Temple curls never extended past my shoulders, despite my dream of Hannah Montana’s long locks. In order to achieve that dream, I became a haircut rebel. While most people overcome their hair anxiety by their tweenage stage, mine followed me deep into my high school years. My dead, Keratin-laden hair desperately needed a severe chop for years on end, but I strategized and masterminded ways to escape my semi-annual cut, continuing to burn my hair away.
Imagine my mother’s shock when I sent her pictures of my new, uneven hairdo. After all the meltdowns and panic attacks that occurred throughout my childhood, the idea that I would casually cut my own hair was obviously concerning. My mother repeatedly asked if I was okay, my friends thought I had gone crazy, and the hairdresser in Chicago thought I had performed a crime against humanity.
Staring at my broken hair, visions of female television stars in sudden, chaotic, emotional hair-cutting scenes came to mind. Why do female characters experiencing some form of trauma oftentimes chop off their hair? What is it about our internal feelings that we outwardly show in our hair? In “The Newsroom,” Maggie cuts her hair to cope with the mental anguish she endured after voyaging to Africa. In “Degrassi,” Darcy Edwards violently cuts her hair in reaction to being raped. My own mother once told me that the day after she underwent a traumatic experience, she made her way to the nearest salon and took up a Scarlett Johansson-esque pixie cut. There is clearly a pattern that when women face turmoil, they punish themselves by stripping off a source of their femininity – their hair – as if no longer deserving of this beauty.
Yet, I’m not undergoing any traumatic events at the moment, and I don’t believe that a shorter haircut is less beautiful or should be deemed a punishment for struggling. Regardless, the message that emotionally-distressed women cut their hair short to rebel against their feelings troubled me: was I too experiencing some form of a mental breakdown? Was this just teenage angst? What had college done to me?
Evidently, a haircut is not always a symbol of internal problems. Happy women too, in fact, get bobs. With all the new and exciting opportunities and memories of my first quarter of college, I designated myself a relatively happy person. I knew, however, that this aloof outlook toward my much-protected hair was telling of something, and I was determined to discover what that something was.
After much Google probing, a repeated pattern emerged: cutting one’s own hair was a symbol of rebellion. In the past, I epitomized type-A, a goody two shoes galore, and always dressed to impress while wearing my straightened hair sleek, volume-free, and boring. So far in college, my behavior has been vastly different. My bed sheets are no longer tucked in, my grades are not on par with those from high school, and my regular attire consists of an oversized sweatshirt and battered leggings. My roommate laughs at my type-B personality, and I laugh at these unexpected changes that have transformed my identity.
Freshman year of college is undeniably weird, and falling into past habits is understandable. However, college is a time to explore beyond academics and extracurriculars. By cutting my hair, I left my comfort zone. The dead layers were the remnants of my past that needed a change, so I took to the scissors and actively created that change. I didn’t consider the fact that one side would be undeniably uneven, that my customary layered look would be ruined, or the struggle I’d encounter to achieve a side braid – but deliberating every outcome takes away the thrill of living. My pre-college self hyper-analyzed every situation and possessed an unhealthy respect for consequences, but I’m learning to free myself from this obsessive habit and live a liberated, exciting college experience.
My DIY hair revolution was an adrenaline rush that I don’t think I’ll be repeating, but one year ago, my meticulous self would never have even remotely considered such a defiant act. But here I am – with my short hair and changed attitude – ready to challenge myself and delve deep into my newfound passion for the unknown.