It's been almost 3 months since I sat in a fancy salon and let a stranger cut off a foot of my hair.
Before I cut my hair, the bravest I ever reached taking risks was dying my hair bright red for 4 yrs or the yearly “bangs or no bangs” debate where bangs usually won out. I would then regret it within 3 mos and spend another year in that awkward growin-my-bangs-out-with-long-hair phase. Ew.
After "talking" about making a change, on Valentine's day I was surprised by my boyfriend with a spa appointment and I couldn't turn back. I had no idea cutting my hair would have such an impact on me until I saw 12 inches hit the stained concrete floor. Not only did the Universe conspire to give me a haircut, but it gifted me something deeper and far less superficial in the form of a mini breakdown.
Now keep in mind I have NEVER been a salon girl as I'd rather travel or spend way too much money in the dollar section at Target.
My hair regimen was wash, braid, let dry, repeat. But as I sat in that fancy chair surrounded by fancy women that I could tell were there on the regular… I was shaking and not just because of Texas air conditioning (which is like the Artic in every establishment!) But also because while I scrolled a dozen looks I had pinned to pinterest, I just couldn't do it.
Fear was flowing through my body as if I had to choose to cut off a limb or as if someone had just asked me to choose which food to never eat again… pizza or cupcakes? I mean come on!
While a few women watched me concerned that I was going to lose it, I was busy having a private conversation in my mind to the sound of blowdryers and top 40 pop music blaring overhead. “Damn you pinterest! Why do you have to have so many options! I'm feel crazy. I can't do that one because I don't have her face. Ombre (what's an ombre?), platinum, dark, short, bob, lob (what's a lob??), pixie, layered, layered bob or lob, red, purple, bangs, purple bangs??? Okay Kim, just tell the guy you want a trim and run out as fast as you can!"
Instead, I just sort of sat there and let the stylist go with what he decided. I figured that because I said “lob” and he saw what my “inspiration” photos looked like, I would end up with something close.
I did not. Apparently he heard “bob"! Then...He asked “Are you...” and as the word “ready” hit my ears, I heard the sound of shears swipe across the back of my hair. I literally gasped as I saw a foot of hair float to the floor. It was as it were happening in slow motion and I could see every inch land in a heap atop one another.
“Excuse me,” said the stylist as I was jolted back into reality and everything was in real time again. “Oh what?,” I muttered. “Did you want to keep it?,” asking a second time apparently. “Oh um no.”
I felt a strange feeling run through my body. I couldn't identify if it was anxiety or excitement and I wasn't sure whether I wanted to cry or to smile. But underneath it all, I felt this feeling of relief hit me hard. Then I really felt like I wanted to cry. But the tears didn't come. Just yet.
As vain as it sounds, my hair has always been my identity. I've always felt a familiar feeling to Samson from the Bible. I always felt my power lie in my hair's length. And there it was, being swept away to the trash by a salon worker. I had no choice but to let it go. And by letting it go, I was about to gain so much more than I ever expected.
What came next is the five ways my life changed:
1. I had to let go:
"In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you."
Buddhist principles teach that avoiding the process of change is paralyzing. As the weight of my hair fell to the ground, I felt the weight of a thousand lbs lift as well and it took me a moment to comprehend what I was feeling and why. I finally recognized that not only had I been avoiding change with my appearance, but I had also been avoiding letting go of some core beliefs of anger, inadequacy, grief and need to control that were hindering my ability to grow and to step into a new version of myself. I had built up so much weight. Between the recent death of my sister and years of struggle due to illness and trials, I couldn't see my true self through the layers of pain.
I realized I had also let other's dictate what I thought of myself for way too long. Sitting there, I had a random flashback of my first husband telling me that he chose to marry another girl before me because, “You cut your hair and she had long hair.” I didn't realize the impact that memory had on me until I sat with short, wet, hair, with the feelings of that statement and thoughts of unworthiness creeping in once again. But this time as they came and went, I realized that I may not be able to keep the memory from coming again, but I could choose a new way to handle the feelings that accompanied them. I decided that if they were to arise again, they would hit my mental trash as quickly as my locks had hit the literal one. I felt an absolute freedom that I would never again make decisions about my appearance based on a person's opinion and I would stop dragging around weight I was never meant to carry.
2. I was a new person:
Sitting there I shivered at the thought that I would not walk out of those shiny doors the same person. I could no longer hide behind my hair because it was such a small part of my appearance now and I would be forced to explore different parts of myself to base my identity on. The thought of that process was filled with fear, but also a lot of excitement and relief. I knew that I was now forced to face who I was, what I wanted to keep and what I had to change if I wanted to fully and pridefully step into my new self. One that would be much more serving and hopeful going forward. One that could not blame the past and one that would not fear the future.
After battling chronic illness for years, I was afraid that letting go of my hair would give me one more thing to be insecure about. Strangely the process has given me more confidence and seeing myself as a new person allows me to see my body in a new way and love it just the way it is. And love leads to healing.
3. I had to live in the present.
As the stylist was done and my chair turned slowly like a judge on The Voice waiting to see the face behind the person singing , again I felt like the world had been put in slow motion. Through what sounded like a tunnel, I heard him ask “So. What do you think?” Sound and time began to come back into clarity as I caught a glimpse and said “Um. Wow. I just don't know. I think it's at least going to be easier to take care of.”
I wanted to cry; I felt anger; but I loved it; and I hated it; and I wanted to just go back. Because it was different and I didn't want different. I didn't know if I could handle different in the middle of trying to control everything else.
But there was no going back. This was my new reality. There was no gluing my hair back on. It was too short for extensions and for the first time in my life, there was no way to “fix” this. Clinging to what once was would likely lead to no movement and causing more destruction to my growth.
I got home and immediately hated it and wanted to throw on a hat. Between sending photos to my boyfriend who was so complimentary and adoring, I finally cried. And just let it all go. That allowed me to move forward. I loved it and couldn't wait to try new styles and colors and options I had never be able to try before. It took me a few days to acclimate to my new self but with each day that passed, I genuinely felt a new person taking shape. I noticed I wasn't carrying as much baggage and I was literally able to see a different person each time I looked in the mirror. One I was proud of. I even whispered “You did it! You go girl.” a few times during that phase.
Fast forward to now and I'm fully living in the present, as well as, my new presence.
4. Vulnerability lead to transformation
In the following days after my haircut, I laid my new self out there in the ever-so superficial of social media world in the form of selfies. At first, I thought I would wait for my hair to grow before showcasing the change out of fear of judgement. And while I got many compliments about my hair than when it was longer, I still felt that maybe people were just being nice. But then something amazing happened. I started to get messages from friends or online acquaintances saying that I had inspired them to cut (or drastically color) their hair. People in person would be genuinely complimentary and engaging with my story of cutting my hair. I started to feel that my power did not lie in my hair or people's opinions of it, but rather my ability to transform myself in a way that inspired others to do the same. That first few months was filled with many conversations with women who were debating making a change or those who had made it and felt the exact feelings of relief and moving on that I had. Being vulnerable allowed me to bond to women I never felt I could connect with. The transformation that came as a result was both welcomed and long overdue and I believe in no way a product of my own doing. But rather happenstance of the Universe's way of giving me a forced change. That one choice started a ripple effect of changes and new opportunities in my life and how I've viewed them. I am embracing change and enjoying watching what evolves
5. Substance over superficiality
As many women that I met who applauded my choice, I also met a lot of women who would throw out comments like “You are so brave, I would never do something like that because it takes forever to grow back.” Or, “Aren't you scared you are going to look older?” and even, “But I loved your long hair!” Teaching me that we have a long way to go as a society in the way we connect to others through our own insecurities. Not having my hair be a crutch only further taught me that my instincts in seeking a persons' soul, that lies behind the surface is much more rewarding and fulfilling than making small talk about one's appearance.
The women who shared stories with me of cutting their hair after really trying times will forever be a part of my journey. The moments of happiness I felt reading messages from those inspired to take a jump because I did, has been life changing. I no longer subscribe to the idea of one type of beauty. And not that I did before on a large scale, but I did for myself. But now I'm able to truly see myself. Figuratively and literally and I'm learning so much more about the woman who lies on the other side of that mirror. One without all the hair that held years of drama and superficial pride.
I no longer look at a woman and see her hair first. I now look and see her entire being. Her eyes, her style, the way she carries herself, the tone of her voice. Because it is in seeking the true her, that I find my true self.
Cutting my hair taught me to let go of attachments and expectations in order to heal and rise. I am thankful for everyone who has extended kind words and compliments and shared stories along the way.
So if you are debating a major change, remember it's just hair, and it will grow. As will you.
Tweet it: "Hanging on to things extends suffering."
Photography: Kassia Phoy