Yesterday, I went to a hair salon and had my usually-shoulder length, blond hair cut into a Mia-Farrow-Michelle-Williams-Twiggy-style pixie haircut. I had tried to get the haircut last summer. I brought carefully curated photo research to the stylist I’d been going to for his consideration. He shook his head as he pieced over the pages.
“This is a skinny girl’s haircut,” he said. I flushed crimson at the unspoken rest of that sentence -- “And you aren’t skinny.”
I am five feet and three inches on a very good day. As an adult woman, I have weighed anywhere from 170 to 210 pounds. I have always worn a size 14 or 16. To paraphrase -- I am not Mia Farrow, Michelle Williams or Twiggy. I am not a skinny girl.
Rather than hold my ground and get emphatic with the guy, I responded as I have always responded whenever the world has decided that I need a reminder that I am fat. I apologetically sat in his chair and let him style my hair in the ultra-conservative chin-length bob he thought would look the best on me.
It is, in fact, a haircut that most hair stylists have decided suits me best over the years, regardless of whatever it was I’d said I wanted.
“There,” he said when he done, “You look beautiful.” I stared at the junior news anchor in the mirror and she blinked back at me. The haircut he’d given me wasn’t ugly. It just looked like a costume -- not who I am at all.
I was angry, and disappointed. I felt like I had played by the rules. I wasn’t getting my hair cut during a tough time in my life, I had brought plenty of photo research, I had done my makeup including my trademark bright red lip, and I was dressed, if not up, than nicely. I know you can’t expect even a stylist you’ve seen a couple of times before to know who you are and what you’re about without providing these sorts of visual clues, and to my mind, I’d done my part.
But instead of leaving with the hairstyle I’d wanted, I was left with hair that was at odds with the makeup on my face, with the clothes I was wearing, with my very personality. I smiled a big fake smile that matched my big fake hair, tipped him a full 20% and walked out of the salon.
I had wanted to try the style for a long time. Since I was a little girl, really. I remember when "Sliding Doors" came out on VHS, and, along with a Scottish boyfriend, I wanted nothing so much as I wanted Gwyneth Paltrow’s short, brightly colored cut. I had ripped a picture of her out of a magazine and taken it to the stylist who cut the hair of everyone in my family. I was probably in uniform -- my grungy kilt and even grungrier white polo, the standard issue of my Catholic Girls’ high school. The stylist looked at the picture for a minute and then said, “I can give you this haircut, but you aren’t going to look like Gwyneth Paltrow.”
She may have meant that I wouldn’t have a SWAT team of beauty experts to tend to my mane. She may have meant that Gwennie and I have different textured hair, and that her piecey ‘do wouldn’t look the same on my thin, stick-straight hair. Whatever she meant -- here’s what I heard: You are too fat for short hair, and me cutting it isn’t going to magically transform you into a movie star.
The resulting haircut didn’t look like the photo. It was longer and more layered -- and, at 14, my beauty regimen didn’t even include a blow dryer. I was mortified. Not just because I didn’t like the haircut, but because it felt like I’d been found out -- pretend to be a skinny beautiful girl and your fat ugly self will always be revealed. I had gotten what I deserved.
A hairstylist telling you that a certain haircut won’t work on you because of the “shape of your face” is a myth just as a great as the idea of “dressing for your size.” The difference being, at the end of the day, you don’t have someone with you as you shop, telling you that you can’t wear horizontal stripes. The critics we have to conquer to buy that sweater are internal ones, and they can be vanquished.
But, with a few exceptions, most of us have to go to someone else to have our hair cut. While we may have done the necessary work battling our inner critics to get the style we really want, there’s still a guardian with the scissors in hand who needs to be convinced.
I avoided getting my hair cut for a year. While going and getting a cut I didn’t really want but figured I needed and deserved for daring to exist as a fat person had become the norm, I was changing. I was doing stuff like buying those stripes, and walking a little taller -- making a concerted effort not to apologize physically when I walked into a room. I started barking RuPaul truisms at my inner critic (“IF YOU CAN’T LOVE YOURSELF HOW THE HELL YOU GONNA LOVE SOMEBODY ELSE, STOKES?”) and I started thinking back to that pixie cut I’d wanted my whole life.
I made a decision to just do it. I started doing my photo research again and began compiling the images that spoke to the cut I wanted the most. I examined them as they spooled out of the printer. Was I trying to be something I’m not? Did I think short hair was going to make me Michelle Williams? I realized all of these questions were the same one: Who did I think I was to get a skinny girl haircut? Only this time I had an answer: I’m me, and I don’t care if I’m "too fat" for this haircut -- I think it will look good and feel absolutely great.
Armed with the lipstick, the photos, and a newfound sense of resolve, I marched into a salon near my office that had been well reviewed on Yelp.
The owner asked “So, how much are we taking off?”
I whipped out my photos. “All of it.”
She was taken aback, and I felt myself waiver, but then she said, “Do you mind waiting? We only have one stylist who specializes in these cuts.” I said I didn’t, and with a cup of green tea in hand, I sat and waited. When the time came, I sat in my stylist’s chair and he looked at the photos.
“A classic, mod-style pixie?”
I nodded, “That’s right.” I said. “I think it will look great. I’ve wanted to do this for a long time.”
He didn’t even blink. “No problem.”
I felt my heart racing, not because I was nervous to part with my hair, but because I had stood my ground, and had been fortunate enough to be treated with respect by a stylist. He treated me like I was more than the full slope of my shoulders, more than ample hips, belly and ass. He treated me like I deserved to get what I wanted, regardless of my size. I think me walking in there and believing it gave him no other option.