Ever since I was in elementary school, I've been aware of how much society placed importance on a girl's hair was, that many women are defined by it. Media imagery, in everything from TV to movies to pop music, influenced me to believe that the prettiest girls had long, voluminous hair. Even though our society's beauty standards are still based on European characteristics, having long hair is something that is expected of all women.
As I got older, I realized the lengths that women would go to just to achieve that conventionally feminine look. Many of my Black and Latino friends would braid down their natural hair to get long, silky weaves sewn in on top. Some would take a flat iron or hot comb to their hair every day to just give it that extra inch or two of length. My white friends would spend hundreds of dollars on extensions. Celebrities would market pills that promised to grow your hair longer and stronger.
It seemed as if the only way a woman could be labeled truly beautiful was if her hair fell half-way down her back.
I noticed that girls who did not have this look never received the same praise for their appearance. Some were made fun of if their hair was very short, especially in the African-American or Latino community. They'd receive comments calling them "bald headed" for not fulfilling the long-hair standards. It seemed as if every time a group of girls my age got into a heated argument, the punchline would always be, "At least my hair is real," or, "She's just jealous cause she wish she had my hair."
Assumptions were made about girls who opted for short haircuts. Some were questioned about if they were lesbians because of the stereotype that men don't find a woman with short hair attractive. Others were called edgy, tomboyish, or crazy for cutting off so many inches.
I caught onto this unfortunate trend very quickly and refused to cut my hair short. EVER. I had been growing out my hair since I was about 12 years old. No matter how damaged it became, no matter how unhealthy it looked, I refused to take scissors to it. When I did receive trims and the hairdresser cut off more than an inch, I'd have a breakdown once I got home.
Some of my insecurities stemmed from the simple fact that I've always had a chubby face. Before I decided against short haircuts for good, I once requested that a hairdresser cut my hair to my shoulders. I'll never forget that moment because she looked at me and said, "I don't think we should go that short because you have a round face. If I cut it short, you'll look even bigger than you do now." I was 11 years old.
I truly believed that my long hair was the only thing that could make me be seen as beautiful.
My long hair became my security blanket. It held all of my confidence, hid all of my flaws, and made me believe that without it, I wouldn't be deemed attractive. Every man I've ever dated has had the same opinion about my hair: "You look so pretty with long hair." "You should grow your hair even longer." "Ugh, don't cut your hair short." The men I surrounded myself with always had an infatuation with how long and luscious my hair was. I don't blame their views on them because they, too, have been conditioned to think that long hair makes women sexier.
About a week ago, my sister, Keila, who is a hairdresser, spent the night. I toyed with the idea of allowing her to cut my hair short, but I had no intention of actually going through with it. I had been growing out my hair for eight years — it fell to my lower back when it was soaking wet. Who would I be if it was all gone?
But against all odds, I went for it.
She did one big chop — about seven inches at first. I'm glad she started with that amount instead of a trim because, at that point, I couldn't take it back even if I wanted to. I shed a tear when I saw the hair fall to the floor — and then I never felt more free. I was letting go of all the comments that influenced me to keep my hair long. I was letting go of years of feeling like I'd never be good enough without all of that length. I was telling society to fuck off, and it felt great.
When my haircut was over, I felt like a different person. A weight was lifted off my shoulders, both physically and emotionally. It was then that my sister said something that really spoke volumes to me: "There's no reason to hold onto all that dead length."
She was right — there was no reason to keep holding on to something that was really not benefiting me in any way. I had been trying to rejuvenate my curls for months, and it was impossible with all the damage. I was letting loose of the dead ends on my hair and the dead ends in my life. It prompted a growth within myself that I had never expected.
A simple haircut can be so liberating. Once you cut off that hair, which is a security blanket for many women other than me, you have to truly look within yourself and gain your confidence from within. Letting go of that length can be so hard, but in the end, it's worth it.