When I told my husband I was going to get a haircut last month, he canceled all of his plans in order to wait for me at home in fear.
Newly shorn, I put my key in our front door and walked in. Slowly, I saw his eyes fill with terror. He was waiting to see if I was going to lose it. He had good reason.
I have cried uncontrollable tears every time I’ve cut my hair for the past four years. I knew I had a full-fledged problem when my husband confessed to me that he got nervous every time I mentioned getting a haircut. “Anytime you are on Pinterest and you are looking at a picture of a woman, and that woman has hair, I think, ‘This could be it.’” The poor soul.
Clearly, I have gone nutters. Which is to say, even though hair dysmorphia is not a thing and I’m pretty sure I made it up, it IS a thing. And I have it.
My hair has been shaved, shoulder length, bobbed, blonde, red, brown, pink, asymmetrical, perfectly symmetrical, and with and without bangs. That's just since 2009. Never in all of these various experiments did I ever once come home and say, "Boy, I sure do love the hair on my head! I am so glad I did this!"
Naturally, I have some theories on how I got this crazy, one of which is that I take far too much pride in my hair. While other women have nice boobs or great asses, I have my hair. Regardless of the length and style, it's what people compliment me on. It's what people talk to me about and somewhere along the line, I got the cockamamie idea that it's where my value lies.
In turn, I have become desperate to have exceptional hair in an attempt to be exceptional.
My other theory is that while I know in my heart of hearts I look best with short hair, I struggle with the inherent lack of femininity that it can bring with it. I realize plenty of women do look feminine with short hair. Their pixie cuts highlight their big eyes or their graceful necklines.
But those women are often willowy and lithe. Carrying a buck-seventy on my 5'7" frame, I've never been accused of being dainty. Despite knowing my hair looks best short, I don't love it when a six-year-old confesses she thought I was a boy, or I get called “sir” on an airplane. These two examples have only happened once, but you know what? Once is enough for me!
Ultimately, though, I think my problem lies where almost all problems lie: I'm insecure as fuck.
And just like the actual disease of body dysmorphia, or even everyday women who struggle with body image and self-worth, I just want so badly to look like the girl in the picture. So when I grow it out and it doesn't look like Heidi Klum's does on the runway, I can’t stand to look at it. When I cut it off and it’s doesn’t look like Rihanna’s does on stage, I weep.
And I realize that all of this is just one woman being entirely, unacceptably vain about her own hair, but it's also about how hard it is to ever measure up to the ideal.
Somewhere along the way, I processed the fact that I won't have Jennifer Aniston’s body, because I place such a high value on full-fat cheeses and not sweating. But what my emotional self has trouble understanding is that her hair is just as unattainable. No one's hair is naturally that beautiful.
Certainly not mine.
So the last time I got my hair cut, I wrote myself a letter beforehand. I didn't type it. I hand wrote it like you would to your best friend. And I told myself that it's OK if I look ordinary. It's OK if someone thinks I look like a boy. I told myself that I have much more to offer this world than a haircut.
And when I walked out of the salon, when I got in the car, when I got to my front door, I didn't cry.
When my husband stared at me in the entryway of our home, prepared to catch me if I fell to the ground, I hugged him and thanked him for his patience with me, and then I calmly asked him if he wanted to get tacos for dinner.
That day, I forgave myself for not having perfect hair; for not being perfect. And sort of like a ghost that disappears once you ask it to leave, my hair dysmorphia put an egg in its shoe and beat it.
Whether hair dysmorphia is real or I'm just terribly vain and confused, it doesn't matter. (Except that it's real, goddammit!) What matters is that we have to stop hating on ourselves for being ourselves. Maybe you don't do that. Maybe I'm projecting. But if you're anything like any other human I've talked to, you're cripplingly insecure about something.
So what is it? How can I help? If nothing else, I'm happy to give it a name and demand it be added to the DSM.